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"After all these years, still doing a great job!!" -Ron Hermanson
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a budget”
By Lynda Berg Olds
It was clearly with some relief and no small amount of fatigue, that Polk County Board of Supervisors Chairman Dean Johansen announced the adoption of the 2019 budget at about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday night. The public hearing for the budget was held at 7 p.m., an hour into the almost six -hour meeting.
Only one person spoke during that public comment period and that was a plea for the supervisors to “fully reimburse” libraries for the services they provide to residents of Polk County who do not reside in the municipality where said library is located.
The minimum, by state statute, for this county reimbursement funding is 70 percent. Polk County has been paying 80 percent – and evidently some time ago they agreed to “fully fund” the libraries. On Tuesday night, after the requisite debate among supervisors, Brian Masters made the motion to amend the “100 percent resolution” to 90 percent. That amendment passed by a vote of 10 to 5. It was 9 to 6, but Supervisor Russ Arcand blew the whistle on Masters for not supporting his own amendment, according to Roberts Rules of Order (and the rules by which the county governs itself).
Those voting against the 90 percent amendment then were Supervisors Chris Nelson, Tracy LaBlanc, Jim Edgell, Kim O'Connell and Brad Olson.
Masters made a second amendment, which basically demanded the libraries be transparent and provide financial documents for the supervisor's perusal, which passed 14 to 1. The ironic thing about that is the libraries have autonomy. They do provide fiscal records to the DPI (Department of Public Instruction), which are a matter of public record.
John Thompson, of the Wisconsin Public Library System, traveled from Eau Claire to support the 100 percent resolution, but to no avail. He noted the reimbursement funding is for services provided by the libraries in 2017 that were billed in 2018 and would be paid in 2019.
Debate continued until finally the question was called and in a tight vote of 9 to 6, the libraries were bumped up to 90 percent. The same cast of characters voted 'nay' – plus Masters this time.
Finance Director Maggie Wickre gave the lay if the budget land after providing a handout to the supervisors. Brandishing the six page document in the air, Wickre told the supervisors they had seen similar documents for the past five years or so.
“This is every department, every fund, every operation where we have revenue coming in, every expenditure. This is every service. This is every employee. This is every product. This is everything that we've been used to funding that has been funded this year, except for extension and the initiatives they've talked about. Everything that you have seen is coming to you in this budget.”
Wickre noted that the '90 percent library resolution' has the fiscal impact of increasing the county's payment from 80 percent to 90 percent.
“And of course the amendments that we have will make some changes, but what we need for tomorrow morning is the levy. Tomorrow morning we will get together and set the apportionment and by Thursday we have to send it in to the State, so that is why you have to adopt the budget tonight,” stated Wickre.
Wickre swiftly, but thoroughly went through the technical amendments, which in the aggregate do not significantly impact the tax levy.
The final item on the county board's agenda was the “Resolution to Adopt the Polk County Operating and Capital Budget for the Calendar Year 2019 and To Set the 2019 Tax Levy.”
In spite of the tremendously long day many of the supervisors had, to their credit they pushed through and got the job done, although this final adoption would undoubtedly have taken longer were the 15 supervisors fresh.
In the final analysis, the taxpayers will not notice much change, but the budget passed is not sustainable as it is dipping relatively deep into fund balance – to the tune of $358,300.
The bottom line(s):
The 2019 operating and capital budget was adopted in the amount of $55,850,523, with a tax levy of $21,961,981. This is (only) $107,639 more than 2018's levy of $21,854,342. Great news for the taxpayer is the the actual tax (mill) rate went down 0.22. The 2018 rate was 4.99, so last year, for the county portion of property taxes on a property assessed at $100,000 was $499. For 2019, with a tax rate of 4.77, taxpayers will pay $477 on a $100,000 property. That is, if all things are equal. The tax rate is associated with the total equalized value of the county, which increased by $227,117,000 – so the rate decreased.
November 15, 2018
Supervisor wants to keep Gandy Trail issues in the spot light
By Lynda Berg Olds
In the public comments portion of the recent meeting of the Polk County Board of Supervisors, Brooke Waalen, of the Town of Bone Lake, spoke up about ATV use on snowmobile trails.
“It is my humble request, I can tell you guys have a hard job, but humbly my request is for less thinking and more action. What I mean by that friendly request is, we've been talking about trails a lot lately and right now there is effort to put ATVs on a 13-mile trail segment (Stower). Over the past 10 years we have opened up town roads and even county roads to ATVs. And I saw a map and it looks like there are 1,300 miles of ATV routes, roads and trails in the county. And that 13-mile segment, the Stower Trail, would add one percent. So that's interesting, to add one percent. But back to the action. Let's consider, we have a Polk County Snowmobile and ATV Club. With one fell swoop we could add 300-plus miles of ATV trails to this county if we would open up our snowmobile trails to ATV trails. The ATV group has been talking a lot about how multi-use works – and this would make for a really interesting and varied terrain for ATV riders. This is thinking big. This is going to bring the people. As soon as we put ATVs on the Stower, the next step is let's open up those snowmobile trails to ATVs.”
Some time later, the board convened into a COW (Committee of the Whole) session, where supervisors are a bit more free to speak their minds there were two issues, the first being discussion on uses of the Gandy Dancer Trail and discussion about the Fairground Grandstand construction (written about last week).
Supervisor Chris Nelson was the one who brought the Gandy Dancer issue to the table. He began:
“After we got done with the Stower Trail, I'm sure many of us heard from a lot of people. I have been hearing about this (trail use) from people in this part of Polk County for 10 or 20 years...and I thought after we went through that planning of the Stower Trail system...the thing I realized is we have all these different trail uses on this rail bed, and it was a rail bed.
“Why do we have all these different uses where you dead end, you dead end, you dead end. So I thought our board really courageously stepped up and passed those amendments to the Stower Trail to say, 'let's find multi-use, let's find a way it can work. Not everyone has to share the same trail. I think the City of Amery is doing a great job of that, where they have their walking trails and they're coming up with their own plans. They are tying into the Stower and the Cattail – and how can we protect the silent sport people?
“I had asked Administrator Fuge on how to do the process. I was told it had to come up through this process, and I did talk about it at Environmental Services...we have an opportunity, this trail stuff shouldn't just come and go where we pass it and it is over with. We need to be working on it. I think this is such a major county issue that our Environmental Services Committee should not just move on. I think we should be engaged with this every month – and I'm a silent sports person, so I fill both sides of the issue. Yet I recognize that our little communities from Highway 8, clear to the other side of our county – there may be a few businesses that are a little concerned with the rumors out there that it is going to kill your business and I think it is exactly the opposite. I think these communities have an opportunity to work with everybody and to work with the county to develop some really unique trails in their communities. I just really want to see the Environmental Services Committee maybe do an even bigger job...and think a little further outside the box. I talked to Deb Peterson about this and she said there is no grant or no other issues hanging over our heads with the Gandy. There's no reason that we can't do it. But the committee should start on the process – and address people's concerns. That's why this is on the agenda tonight – because I asked for it and I appreciate getting to talk about it.”
County Chairman Dean Johansen asked for more comments on the Gandy Dancer Trail issue “as articulated by Supervisor Nelson.”
But, perhaps surprisingly, no more trail comments were forthcoming at this time.
November 21, 2018
Out with the old and in with something new
By Lynda Berg Olds
The grand old lady who used to house the Polk County Highway Department, took her leave somewhat gracefully. That is, when the demolition was all said and done, there was no soil contamination from underground tanks – and the asbestos was abated properly prior to what many times was a piece by piece demo. Care was taken to stay within the footprint and on some days whole buildings were dismantled and all but disappeared.
Now there is a large, vacant lot on a prime piece of real estate entering the beautiful Village of Balsam Lake. So what comes next? There are several stakeholders who are vitally interested in this question and they are working hard to find the perfect investor to grace the entrance to the village.
A hotel feasibility study has had positive preliminary results, prompting further study. The hope for a grocery store remains on the table, as indeed all possibilities do. Village Trustees and Smart Growth members are engaged in “possibility-thinking,” while they consider how to best attract potential investors, while paying attention to long-term goals, which involve keeping the the village quaint – where residents “live and work where they love to play.”
Part of the whole Highway/Village transaction was for the Highway Department to demolish the buildings and to deliver to the Village of Balsam Lake, a fresh, new location where they may do as they choose. The Ledger spoke with Highway Commissioner Moe Norby, who concurred that they have fulfilled the terms of their deal with the village and the lot is ready for them to do with it what they may.
“The demolition is complete with only some seeding to do in the spring,” Norby said, adding, “As far as what is next for the space, that is in village hands.”
There is also a Housing Study that is coming down the turnpike that will help answer some questions about what the smartest construction would be for the various communities participating. Senior housing? Single family homes? Apartment buildings? That there is a shortage of housing in Polk County is already known. But what the best fit for certain communities is unclear at this time.
The County Ledger Press spoke with Polk County Economic Development Executive Director Vince Netherland Wednesday morning and he advised the study is being put off for a month or two as some of the rules and regs are being re-written. It is the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission that is applying for the matching grants for the Housing Study through the State. Netherland shared that what was originally going to be 50/50 matching of funds for this study, may now turn out to be 2 to 1, which would likely prompt even more communities to be involved in what will likely be a county-wide study.
Ledger Newspapers is located just blocks from the now-vacant lot and everyone is interested in what the future will bring for this prime chunk of land. In fact, on Wednesday evening, a joint meeting is being held of the Smart Growth Committee and the Economic Development Corporation.
At one of the EDC’s meetings, Netherland recalled, “One guy raised his hand and said, ‘Why do we need a study? I know what we need. Senior housing.’ And the guy next to him said, ‘No we don’t. We need apartments for young people.’ Then the next person said, ‘We need single family homes.’”
The housing study could also help municipalities coordinate plans, which reduces the risk for developers. Facilitating and retaining jobs is another whole verse of this chapter in Polk County history. There needs to be housing for potential employees – and investors. There is something of a “chicken/egg” mentality out there. What came first? The job or the place to live? While this may be a matter of perspective, the current vibe is, “Build it and they will come.” 
Netherland also said he was “excited about the positive trend in Balsam Lake and optimistic about finding an appropriate investor.”
November 29, 2018
Unity “exceeding expectations”
By Lynda Berg Olds
“I am going to lead with the district and school report cards,” stated Unity District Administrator Brandon Robinson at Tuesday night's meeting of the school board. “We did exceed expectations with our district report card and are very excited about that.”
Robinson went on to say that he very much appreciates all the hard work that the staff has put in - “to make sure that we are providing the best quality services that we can for our students.”
“Our programming is second to none,” effused Robinson. “There's just a lot of great things going on in our School District and we are constantly trying to improve and we have an eye toward improvement. I think it is great to work with administrators and educators that are really always, constantly focusing on doing things better...
“...We are really proud of where we are now and feel good about where we are heading in the future to provide the best possible education for our students.”
Robinson cautioned that there is a whole bunch of data in these reports.
“It is in an algorithm, but there are certainly things you can pick out of it. I added the caution as you look at district report cards because there is so much information there. So if you have questions about a component, ask a principal or myself. There are things we can share with you about what a number means, what the data means and how it compares to last year and how we have improved.”
 Unity School District, like all the public school districts in Wisconsin, received its district and school report cards in November. Unity School District received an “exceeding expectations” district designation, as did, specifically, Unity Middle School. However, the elementary and high schools received a “meeting expectations” designation.
Robinson shared that this is the third year that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) used legislatively-mandated growth and value-added calculations for the 2017-2018 School and District Report Cards. Statewide, more than 80 percent of Wisconsin’s public and private school report cards had three or more stars, meaning the schools met or exceeded expectations for educating students. As part of the state accountability system, the DPI produces report cards for every publicly funded school and district in Wisconsin.
“These Accountability Report Cards include data on multiple indicators for multiple years across four Priority Areas (Student Achievement, Growth, Closing Gaps, and On-track and Post-secondary Success). In addition, given the impact on student success, the Accountability Report Cards also measure chronic absenteeism and dropout rates.
“A school or district's Overall Accountability Score places the school/district into one of five Overall Accountability Ratings. It is important to be cautious about drawing conclusions from the overall results noted in the report cards. It is important to analyze the specific results behind the scores to determine what is working well and what needs to be improved upon. Report cards are an important part of the conversation about what happens in a school or district, but it must be paired with local data, student opportunities, and programming that is unique to each district. Report cards are intended to help schools and districts use performance data to target improvement efforts to ensure students are ready for their next educational step, including the next grade level, graduation, college, and careers.”
As has become protocol fro Robinson he urged everyone to download Unity's App.
“It is in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store and it is now fully synchronized with our District website (at So what is neat about that is, is as things come up on our District website, then they are also on the app. Before, we were trying to get information on both and it was a little bit complicated and cumbersome – but now if you have the app you are getting the same information that is on the thanks to a lot of people who were working on that project.”
December 13, 2018
After a decade of being frugal, it's time to bite the bullet
By Lynda Berg Olds
Luke Schultz is a facilities management adviser with CESA 10. He has been providing guidance to Luck Administration and the school board, assisting with putting together both necessary maintenance and a number of facility upgrades, which can only be managed via referendum dollars that the community needs to approve. Of note, Schultz (and his team) specialize in school and government energy efficiency upgrades, project management, performance contracting, auditing, renewable energy, natural gas and electrical savings estimates.
A tremendous amount of 'homework' has taken place to date to come up with the most viable and economic plan for the betterment of the Luck School District.
Schultz took the reins of the meeting and called the board's attention to Luck School District Referendum Options: #1 - $4 million in maintenance projects; and #2 - $8.5 million in maintenance projects, with base gymnasium (with two courts, lobby and toilets). Additional items of consideration included a locker room remodel, loading dock (only if locker room remodel were to move forward) and a weight room remodel.
“With the gym space you will see that Wold (architects and engineers) laid out a very nice design, but I think before we get into all that, we need to determine what is your appetite? We've gone through this before. I think option #1 gets you your maintenance projects and the second, looking at $8.5 million, that's your maintenance projects included in that and then you get a gymnasium with two courts and then a lobby area and toilets – and the maintenance items include the auditorium (in option #2). That's your telescopic bleachers, that's your addition to the stage, storage, a synthetic floor and curtains.
“Option #1 does not include the stage or the telescopic bleachers,” Schultz clarified. Both options do include your parking.”
Schultz said that Wold was outstanding to work with, quickly providing designs and estimates, also showing additional features to build on for the future in terms of lockers and lobby space, etc.
The board began examining and questioning potential plans, and Schultz brought them back saying, “The question before you tonight is whether you want to go for the $8.5 million or the $4 million plan.”
As numbers and projects were bandied about, it was said that with a $9.5 million referendum, the cost to the taxpayer would be about $77 per $100,000 of assessed property value.
Luck School Board member Todd Roehm said his opinion is this: 'If we don't do it right the first time we are never going back to do it right. When were the current classrooms done? (1979 was the answer) How about the science rooms? (since the 1970s). If we don't do the lockers rooms now, they will get left for 40 years...if we are not going to do it right we shouldn't do it at all, which is where I stand on everything in life. It's embarrassing. Those classrooms should have been replaced 30 years ago.
“Even in my little family with four kids, we were impacted several times. No gym class because there was a presentation in the gym, which is an auditorium – so they skipped gym, which I just read an article about the importance of physical education at schools and we are pulling kids out of there because we are going to sing in the gym. That, I think, is unacceptable. And secondly, you've got kids set up for basketball practice, but then they can't practice as there's a presentation in the gym.
“There's no question we need the space and there's no question that the stuff needs to get fixed. So we either do it right – or don't do it at all. I get it. It is real money, but why would we do it half way?”
School Board member Rick Palmer (and former superintendent) said, “We just need to show the people how the mill rate has gone the last 10-15 years – and let them see that we've been easy on them. I hate to say that but we have been very, very conservative, very frugal. But I think it is time we go after this too – I agree with everything you just said.”
Roehm added, “We want kids to come here, then we have to have reasons for them to be here...”
“Absolutely,” concurred Palmer.
School Board President Jacob Jensen agreed that with open enrollment they have to be competitive.
“But that's not the only reason,” he said. “Our kids deserve to have these things. We owe it to our kids to have the right spaces – and we also have to make ourselves attractive to others.”
Palmer said, “We really owe it to our kids to give them a better performing arts area. In Pine City they have a $6 million auditorium. You go to Siren and they have an auditorium, you go to Frederic and they have an auditorium – and our kids have a gym with a stage...”
Roehm asked, “Do you know the amount of time our administration and our staff wastes to set up our gym to be an auditorium? The public doesn't have a clue how much time is wasted setting up metal chairs on a gym floor. You go to a science room and the sink doesn't work – and the eyewash station isn't legit. All that stuff. It isn't fair that my kid lives in Luck, Wisconsin and doesn't get the same opportunity that some kid in Hudson gets. It's not fair. We've been financially sound for a long time. I don't think it is wrong to ask.
Schultz chimed in and said the surveys came in about 50/50 and noted it is all about what the community will support. It seemed everyone was confident that if the public is properly educated about the needs of the school, a very vital and important part of the Luck community, they would be in favor of the referendum.
Jensen observed, “We have to be prepared. We need to focus on how we can make what we are discussing a reality.”
Palmer said, “I think now is the time to take care of some of the things we have put off for a long time. Interest rates will rise and the economy is as good as it is going to get.”
Superintendent Hinkel posed the question, “How did things get this way? If we are going to invest in improvements, we must also commit to maintaining them.”
A word about CESA 10 staff – they are a non-profit educational agency with “a team of professionals dedicated to providing high quality services to school districts throughout Northwestern Wisconsin, providing facilities management services to help school districts reduce energy costs, practice sustainable initiatives, become more energy efficient, and provide a safe and healthy environment for staff, students and community members.”
December 27, 2018
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