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It's big, it's beautiful, it's the Gandy Dancer Marathon
By Lynda Berg Olds
Excitement is mounting for Luck's Annual Gandy Dancer Trail Marathon as they are celebrating their fifth anniversary this year on Oct. 13. Runners, walkers and volunteers by the score are gearing up for another fabulous fall event.
And this year, those who have participated for all five years will get a special commemorative memento (see photo).
In addition to the official 26.2 mile marathon, there is also the Half Marathon, the 5K and the Marathon Relay.
There is one tiny glitch this year due to the Village of Luck's Main Street Improvement Project. The course has changed a little bit due to the construction. Runners will go a bit further to the north on the Gandy to make up for not being able to run down Main Street for that final leg.
Organizers Seth Petersen and Eric Olson advised they had no other option than to change the course of the Marathon.
“By doing this we are unable to make this year's course a certified Boston Qualifier. However, the Gandy Dancer Trail Marathon guarantees the course will be 26.2 miles and will still qualify as a marathon for 50 states club, etc.”
Olson and Petersen thank everyone in advance for their understanding. The races will simply end where they began by the Fire Hall.
Peterson advised that the 26.2 mile marathon route has a total ascent of 537.91 feet and has a maximum elevation of 1,262.76 feet. 
All finishers receive a T-shirt and medal.
On race day, Oct. 13, bibs can be picked up at the Luck Fire Hall starting at 6 a.m. - or on ?Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Parking is also available at the Fire Hall and attendants will direct folks where to park.
The marathon starts at 8 a.m., the half marathon starts at 9 a.m., the 5K starts at 9 a.m. and the relay at 9:15 a.m.
Participants may register online or mail their forms to:
Gandy Marathon
PO Box 444
Luck, WI 54853
As for the relay, the registration price is per team and not for each individual. Teams can be co-ed and individual runners are welcome to run more than one leg of the relay.
It should be noted that there are significant discounts to be had for registering early.  
September 20, 2018
Trail recommendations moving forwarded 
By Lynda Berg Olds
At long last, Polk County's Trail Planning Subcommittee, has arrived at recommendations regarding the Master Plans for both the Cattail Trail and the Stower Seven Lakes State Recreation Trail.
The seven-member subcommittee, chaired by County Supervisor Brad Olson, finally arrived at a plan that at least a majority of the members could get behind. At the Aug. 14 meeting, with one subcommittee member absent, the vote was 4 to 2 for the recommendations for each of the trails.
In a nutshell, the biggest news is the trail committee's recommendation, which calls for allowing snowmobiles on the Stower Seven Lakes Trail (conditions permitting) and also horses (with no caveats). The current use of the Stower Trail strictly forbids any motorized use whatsoever, with horses also verboten. The silent uses allowed right now are: hiking, biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
As for the Cattail Trail, the only new use being recommended to the full county board is horseback riding. To date this nearly 18-mile corridor, which goes from Amery to Almena (passing through Turtle Lake), has already been a multi-use trail, permitting users to hike, snowmobile – and ride their ATVs and motorcycles. If the recommendations of the subcommittee gets approval by the Polk County Board of Supervisors – and ultimately the DNR, then equestrians will also be able to ride their horses.
The regular September meeting of the Polk County Board of Supervisors (Sept. 18) was canceled. They typically meet at 6 p.m. on the third Tuesday of the month, but some key players were not going to be on hand for that meeting – Interim County Administrator Jeff Fuge and Board Chairman Dean Johansen. Additionally, Fuge said at the special (and lengthy) county board meeting Sept. 6, that no resolutions had, as of yet, come forward for the regular meeting.
At any rate, the board will meet at their regular time in October, on the 16th and that is presumably when the new trail recommendations will be debated. Should they be approved then there is still one more step – getting the okey dokey from the DNR. How long that may take is anybody's guess.
But for now, the trails need to maintain the status quo. One of the liveliest and most outspoken groups throughout this process has been the motorized contingent. Snowmobilers in particular have been debating the quiet use of the Stower Trail since 2004 when a judge banned motorized use of the trail on a technicality in the verbiage of the state statute. It has been said time and again that the intended use of the trail has been for multi-use all along.
It took until 2013 for the state legislature to change the language to reflect its alleged original use (including motorized use).
In the meantime, the quiet sports enthusiasts have prevailed for more than a decade. But the ATVers have banded with the snowmobilers, strengthening their numbers and lending their considerable weight and organization.
And the equestrian voices have also, finally, been heard. The fervent hope is that everybody can ultimately get along. There has been a lot of talk about respect - especially from the Luck Area ATV Club, who has shown up to multitudinous meetings to lend their voice to the fray. Over and over again the public has heard them talk about the slower speeds at which they travel - with the average age of the group over 50 years old. Plus they talk about the economic benefit they bring to communities where they are allowed to ride. They stage all kinds of fundraisers for worthy causes, whether it is for signage or to take the elderly – or veterans – or both for lovely rides complete with picnics.
The “quiet” contingent also engages in numerous fund raising activities, with maintenance of the trail at the forefront of their mission.
One thing is certain, the DNR will prevail – at some point.
September 27, 2018
Unity taxes drop by $112 on $100,000 valuation
By Lynda Berg Olds
“We anticipated that we were going to spend into fund balance slightly this past year because we had some projects we wanted to complete that would normally be in our long range plans,” explained Unity Superintendent Brandon Robinson during the 2018-2019 Annual School District Meeting on Oct. 22. He began with the treasurer's report, which works with the school's fiscal year, so wrapped up June 30, 2018.
“As we were working on our construction of our facility and all the renovation that was occurring, we decided to do those projects at the same time. It just made sense to do that from a maintenance perspective,” Robinson stated.
He specifically mentioned upgrades to the middle school restrooms, the bus access road, the security camera system, public address system, phone system...all of those items were done at the same time as the infrastructure of the facility had already been torn into.
“So it made sense to do those things then, as well as some upgrades like classroom lighting in the middle school and things like that of great importance,” Robinson clarified.
He discussed some projects that are being carried over, such as the spa overhaul, where concrete should be poured soon before moving into the presentation on the proposed budget levy.
Providing a historical reference, categories that are impacted by the revenue formula include equalization aid and the property tax levy.
“These two areas make up the vast majority of a school district's budget, pertaining primarily to Fund 10 (general aid and the tax levy).
The revenue limit formula came into effect in 1993 and can only be exceeded by referendum and is relatively locked at the level of spending, Robinson said, adding, “It usually provides for annual growth of less than 2.4 percent, historically.”
At the last school board meeting, Robinson mentioned that schools don't get their property equalized valuation back until Oct. 1.
“So you don't really know what your property values are until that time. Secondly, you don't have your general aid certified until Oct. 15. You don't get that back from the DPI (the State Department of Public Instruction) until then...and thirdly, you wait for your enrollment counts all the way back to the third Friday in September, so you are not really getting that calculated until the beginning of October as well.”
Robinson's point was that the school is already a few months into their fiscal year, before knowing what their budget numbers are going to be.
“That's how it works in the State of Wisconsin,” he said. Specifically for Unity, you can see that back in 2006-2007, we received about $3.7 million in general aid and now this year we received $1.464 million. What is interesting about this is we did go up from last year, which is atypical for us as it has only happened one other time back in 2015-2016.”
Robinson continued, “That is beneficial from a property tax levy perspective – because your revenue limit is determined and is based upon your aid and your property tax levy. So if aid goes up, your tax levy goes down and if aid goes down, your tax levy goes up. And we have been in a cycle where we've lost about 15 percent of our aid annually, but we do have a couple of these years where we have, thankfully, ticked back up.
So the bottom line is the equalized valuation increased by 5.26 percent in the district - from $1,058,056,638 in 2017-2018 to $1,113,700,357 (up about $55.64 million). The total aid increased by $175,378 – from $1.404 million to $1.580 million).
“The allowable revenue limit was a reduction from the previous year and therefore, because of that change and several others, we have a lower proposed levy – nearly a quarter of a million dollars lower than last year, a two percent reduction in our levy – and that's why you see the significant change in the levy rate.”
What this means to taxpayers is with a levy (mill) rate of $9.66, the district portion of the property tax bill on a $100,000 of assessed value will be $966, compared to $1,078 last year (with all things being equal) representing a decrease of $112. 
Robinson has long been tracking the reduction in general aid for Unity and showed that the school has lost 61 percent of that funding since 2006.
October 25, 2018
Couple killed in one-car crash
By Lynda Berg Olds
It was Saturday night, Oct. 27, when a rural Luck couple were reportedly headed home from a wedding in their red 2017 Jaguar. Roads were wet and possibly slick on Highway 8 not far from the roundabout at Highway 46. At 10:46 p.m. the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch Center received notification from SIRIUS XM service that the Jaguar's airbag had deployed.
Donald Kelley, 60, and his wife Robin, 54, had lost their lives.
Donald, who was driving, evidently lost control of the Jaguar about ¼ mile east of the intersection with Highway 46 (south junction).  Emergency medical services and Polk County Deputies were dispatched to the area.
Upon arrival at the scene, deputies discovered a red, two-door Jaguar on the north side of Highway 8 resting on its roof.  The vehicle had been eastbound on Highway 8 and appeared to have crossed over the westbound lanes of travel, entered the north ditch and struck a property access drive – launching the car airborne. It struck several trees before coming to rest on its roof at the edge of the woods/highway right- of-way.
Both subjects were pronounced deceased at the scene by responding EMS personnel – Apple River being first on scene. Of note, they were the sixth and seventh traffic fatalities in Polk County this year.
This incident is being investigated by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Polk County Medical Examiner’s Office. Polk County Sheriff Pete Johnson said both Don and Robin had their seatbelts on.
Amery Area Ambulance also assisted with this incident in addition to the county and Apple River Fire Department and First Responders.
The couple lived on Blake Lake and owned Kelley Gallery Art and Frame, which had showrooms in Hudson, Wis., and Woodbury, Minn. Funeral arrangements have been entrusted to the O'Connell Family Funeral Home in Hudson.
November 1, 2018
Midterm election filled with upsets and drama
By Lynda Berg Olds
It was a dramatic election night on Tuesday, with the Republican Party retaining control of the Senate - and the Democrats gaining control of the House of Representatives. Pundits predict that now it will be much harder for President Trump to push his policies forward.
Similarly, here in Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker was nudged out of office by State Superintendent Tony Evers. Evers won by such a small margin (Evers 49.6 percent; Walker 48.4 percent) that running mate Rebecca Kleefisch went on record Tuesday night saying there would surely be a recount. This is a long-awaited victory for the Democrats, who tried to unseat Walker in the recall election in 2012.
Of note, Evers running mate, former State Representative Mandela Barnes, will become the state's first African-American lieutenant governor when the two are sworn in in January.
Congressman Sean Duffy kept his Republican seat by a wide margin against challenger Margaret Engebretson, getting 60 percent of the vote to Engbretson's 38.
Likewise incumbent Tammy Baldwin kept her seat against Republican challenger Leah Vukmir. Baldwin too 55.4 percent with Vukmir at 44.6 percent.
Attorney General Brad Schimel lost his seat to Democrat Josh Kaul in a too close to call race of 50 percent over 49 percent.
Closer to home, Republican Gae Magnafici defeated Democrat Kim Butler and will be the new State Representative to the Assembly District #28. She won handily with 59 percent of the vote, compared to to Butler's 41 percent.
Even closer to home, here in Polk County, Republican candidate for Clerk of Circuit Court Joan Ritten bested Democrat Jackie Patterson, with 10,649 votes to 7,673.
The Sheriff's office was not really a race. That contest took place in the primaries where Brent Waak edged out Tony Grimm. There was a write-in, Patrick McLafferty, who got 43 votes...compared to Waak's 15,715.
There were dozens of races across the country that were neck and neck throughout the night. It seems the nation, right on down to local hamlets, is divided mostly right down the middle between blue and red.
November 8, 2018
“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