County Board rejects plea to spare big cat refuge from fines
By Tim Damos / News Republic
Despite the protest of one citizen Tuesday evening, a committee chose not to waive fines levied on a big cat rescue facility in the village of Rock Springs.
Reedsburg resident Ardell Ladd said Wisconsin Big Cats Rescue and Education Center, which opened this month and has filed for nonprofit status, does valuable work and can be a valuable tourism asset for the county.
She asked members of the Sauk County Executive and Legislative Committee to waive a portion of the $7,500 in fines the organization owes.
The committee directed county attorneys to pursue legal action against the rescue facility — which takes in abandoned lions, tigers and leopards — before it moved to its new village-approved location in Rock Springs.
Neighbors complained of smell, noise and the manner in which animals were kept at the facility's previous locations, which were unlicensed.
The organization's founder, Jeff Kozlowski, eventually pleaded no contest and was found guilty of creating a county public health nuisance and keeping restricted animals. He is scheduled to start paying fines this month.
Ladd said she realizes the facility has been problematic for some of its neighbors in the past, but said the service it provides is critical for animals that became too large to be pets, and were abandoned. She also said the facility could help the local economy, but needs additional money for advertising.
"I hope every board member realizes what a great asset this can be," Ladd said. "It can be a diamond in the rough. And it gives people a chance to learn these cats are not pets."
Committee members said they pursued fines because of numerous citizen complaints. The facility only became compliant because of pressure placed on it by the county, they said.
"I feel comfortable, if not happy, that this is a fair settlement," said committee member Bill Wenzel of Prairie du Sac.
"We did not act hastily at all," said supervisor Joan Fordham of Baraboo. "We spent nine months or more trying to work with Mr. Kozlowski to get things into compliance."
Acting Corporation Counsel Alene Kleczek said it was possible to make a court motion to dismiss the settlement, but supervisors did not direct her to do so.
Following the meeting, supervisor Bob Cassity of Rock Springs said he disagreed with the committee's decision.
"I don't think they should have ever fined him in the first place," Cassity said. "This was a vendetta about Jeff and should have been about the cats."
Ladd said she was not speaking on behalf of the refuge, but only as a concerned citizen.