Your Polk County, Wisconsin hometown newspaper since 1883 .
For more information, please
"After all these years, still doing a great job!!" -Ron Hermanson
More questions than answers
By Lynda Berg Olds
In this day and age of rising costs, it is no wonder municipal governments struggle to make ends meet, much like any median income and below family.. Hence, when the Village of Balsam Lake came to find themselves without a police chief, they began to explore the possibility of joining forces with the Village of Centuria. At first blush this concept of having a joint police force with another municipality may not seem too complicated – but it turns out there are a great many details and legalities to consider prior to firming an agreement up.
In fact, right out of the gate at the joint meeting of Balsam and Centuria's Public Protection Committees held in Centuria Monday night, Centuria Village Attorney Tim Laux stated:
“We think we have way more questions than answers...the main question is whether or not the two communities really comprehend what would be entailed in creating a separate legal entity to manage, administrate, run, operate a joint police department. If the answer is yes, then from that point I can tell you there are some questions that we can't answer right now (By 'we,' Laux meant Balsam Lake Village Attorney Paul Mauer) and they come down to two or three main things:
“This proposal that you put together, spring-boarding off the Village of Hobart/Town of Lawrence format really is a statement of intent and very close to simply a contract for services...with a Joint Police Commission, which is not a legal entity for taxing, finances, organization, operations...in other words, the functions that now both of your municipalities perform independently – would join together the commission and the document that is in the draft doesn't do that.
“Number two, if you were to put together a police department, the question is still, 'Who is the employer?' That is a really big deal. Would it be the entity you create, or still each village? Who takes care of payroll? Compensation? Fringe benefits? And the one that really sticks out as a potential problem is the WRS Wisconsin Retirement System. What entity would it be that pays those retirement benefits on a monthly basis?”
Laux said that at the very least, they would need to talk with the WRS and see if this “merger” is even possible. He brought up the issue of being a taxing entity, which both Trustee Chuck Ellsworth, of Centuria, and Trustee Jim Duncan, of Balsam Lake, objected to. Duncan said, “We weren't looking at this as their being their own taxing entity at all. If you are saying that this is a contract for services, is that possible?”
“Yes,” stated Laux, who said a contract for services is far more typical and is a simpler agreement, which does not require an additional entity and does not bring in issues about who is the employer, who is the boss, who is in charge of hiring, who is in charge of firing, who takes care of issues having to do with discipline, demotion or discharge.
Ellsworth said he thought Centuria's biggest concern was what would happen if, say in three years, one of the villages wants out – and the other loses everything. He was concerned with financial protection. Laux pretty much said there isn't any.
Duncan and Trustee Stan Swiontek indicated this is one reason why they were looking at a joint force as opposed to a contract for services, where, if it works, all the money goes into one pool – and all the expenses come out of it.
Laux said he did forewarn, “The devil is in the details. These employment issues are real. And they have substantial impact on whomever your officers are and whomever is doing the bookkeeping.”
It appeared to be something of a stalemate for a bit and then they got into the nitty gritty of the “contract” where it spelled out that Balsam Lake shall serve as fiscal agent for the joint department and make disbursements.
“If we can do that, that means that everybody is basically a Balsam Lake employee for WRS pension purposes,” Laux said.
Duncan asked if there was an option that they are still joint employees even though they were paid through Balsam Lake?
Laux wasn't sure, but he did agree, “If we are going to do it we have to get answers to some of these questions.”
Swiontek said he wants to see a joint department with both names on the sides of the police cars.
Duncan wondered if they need two attorneys working on this now, or if it made more sense to let Laux run with the ball and and Centuria can bill Balsam for half his time.
Swiontek said he didn't think they need two attorneys, but Centuria Clerk/Treasurer Karen Edgell cautioned to the Balsam contingent, “Don't you want your attorney representing your best interest? Not that Tim wouldn't...”
Duncan noted that Laux has evidently spent considerable more time on this matter than Mauer.
“So all of a sudden you guys are going to have $5,000 invested in an attorney and we are going to have $1,000. It should be joint.”
So Duncan thought Laux should run with it (at joint expense) and when they get it all figured out, their attorney can look at it.
Laux indicated. he and Mauer have had no disagreements or any kind of adversity to date. He was pressed on the point, “Can this be done?”
“I think it can be done,” he said.
Balsam Trustee Faye Brittan asked if he had an idea of the time frame, to which Laux responded, “No.”
Duncan asked if they were on track for possibly the first of the year and Laux said he thought so. He said there didn't appear to be anything insurmountable, but there are a number of serious questions.
And so the wheels of government are ever so slowly moving forward. Hopefully the track is clear for proper police coverage for all concerned.
The joint committees will meet again Oct. 21 in Balsam Lake.
September 26, 2019
Fifteen year-old fatally injured on bicycle
By Lynda Berg Olds
Last Thursday, Sept. 26 at 7:58 a.m., the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch Center received a call of a motor vehicle and pedestrian (bicyclist) crash on County Road M, just to the west of Mulligan Drive, in the Town of Osceola.
The bicyclist who was fatally injured was 15 year-old Isaiah Munn, of rural Osceola.
The press release issued to the County Ledger Press from Polk County Sheriff Brent Waak states, “Upon arrival of the Osceola Police Department and Sheriff’s Deputies, it was learned that the bicyclist had been traveling out of a driveway and facing northbound onto County Road M to travel to the west on County Road M. At that time, a vehicle was traveling eastbound on County Road M, approaching that driveway.
“When the bicyclist entered onto the County Road M, it traveled into the path of the eastbound vehicle. The vehicle impacted the left side of the bicyclist. The bicyclist was thrown from the bicycle and redirected to the north and east. The bicyclist tumbled into the north ditch where he came to rest. The driver of the motor vehicle continued to travel east on County Road M and pulled over after the collision.
“The driver indicated that the bicyclist pulled out in front of her and she was not able to see him until it was too late. She did indicate that environmental factors made it difficult to see.”
Waak noted that young Isaiah Munn was transported to the Osceola Medical Center where he later succumbed to the injuries and passed away. He stated, “I would like to express our sympathy to the family and community of Osceola for this tragic loss.”
Assisting the Polk County Sheriff’s Office with the crash were the Osceola Police Department, the Dresser Police Department, the Allied Fire Department and First Responders, the Osceola Area Ambulance Service, and the Polk County Medical Examiner’s Office.
This crash will remain under investigation by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
October 3, 2019
Hog factory opposed by all speakers
By Lynda Berg Olds
In last week's issue of the County Ledger Press, top of the fold, was a press release stating, “Town Hall meeting: Pros and Cons of hog factories. The release invited to the public to discuss the large-scale “hog factory” proposed in Northwestern Wisconsin (Trade Lake) for a farrowing operation. It went on to say, “A group of private citizens believe the time has come for a non-political discussion on the pros and cons of industrial swine operations in Northern Wisconsin.”
Mike Miles was one of the coordinators, along with the first speaker who identified herself only as “Mary.” Mary said they just wanted a public discussion so people could “learn what they need to know.” She made the point to thank Luck School for providing the facility – and to note the school is neutral on the subject. She was also enthusiastic about this grassroots effort.
Miles said he works with the Northwest Wisconsin Grazing Network and is on their board of directors. He noted that he is into animal agriculture – and was amazed by the panel of experts who agreed to come. Without too much further ado, Miles turned the mic over first to the moderator, Doug Grow, who was a (very) longtime columnist for the StarTribune.
Ramona Moody, who has been a real estate agent for 30-plus years was present to educate about how (horribly) property values can be affected by CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations).
Andy Marshall introduced himself as a lawyer and a litigator and he was the resident expert on ordinances and moratoriums.
Then came Dr. Richard Huset, on public health – and he expounded on the close relationships between humans and hogs – and how quickly and easily disease can be spread – through soil, through water and even through bird droppings. Moody added that Trade Lake has only one aquifer.
Howard Pahl, of the Iowa Policy Project, has been quoted recently at length as he has spoken before the Polk County Board of Supervisors on a number of occasions. Readers may recall how he talked about Dickinson County in Iowa and how they don't allow CAFOs – as they know where their bread is buttered in terms of water quality and tourism. Both Lake Okoboji and Spirit Lake are big tourist draws in that county. To hear him speak, the rest of Iowa is akin to being a trash can with the CAFOs.
Tom Quinn, representing Dunn County and the Wisconsin Farmer's Union also spoke at length, making suggestions as to how to best try and stop the large-scale hog farming.
Dr. Bob Baker, Geologist, also had frightening news to share insofar as no land is safe. That is, he said with the two glaciations over the past 20,000, the geology is variable. That is, manure, antibiotics, urine, etc., can go directly into the water table – or runoff – but there is no magic layer to stop water from seeping ultimately, into the water table.
Finally, conspicuous by their absence, was any representative from the Burnett Dairy Co-op. As they, apparently, would have been the only supporter of CAFOs, this did not seem to surprise anyone.
One of the first questions poised by the group of about 65 had to do with composting. Evidently dead pigs are squished through a tube – or layered with sawdust and ultimately spread as compost on the fields – to the tune of 37.6 tons per year. So into the soil goes everything that is in the pigs and piglets and placentas, including a lot of antibiotics. The good doctor said he would scare the group – and he did. He discussed Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a bacterium that causes infections in different parts of the body. It's tougher to treat than most strains of staphylococcus aureus - or staph - because it's resistant to some commonly used antibiotics. VRSA is a strain of Staphylococcus aureus that is resistant to the antibiotic called vancomycin. The acronym, VRSA, stands for vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
There was much talk about numbers – 225,000 pigs with 18,750 piglets born each month – and 8.8 million gallons of manure from said swine, which evidently does not include urine.
And the pigs are apparently stacked in crates, whereby any infectious disease could quickly spread. Examples were given about swine outbreaks in Iowa – and Dr. Huset was quick to note that Polk County, and specifically the Trade Lake area where the proposed pig farm would be, are on the same flyway as Iowa.
Much reference was given to purchase agreements and other documents that evidently the attorney and others had seen. In it was a contingency Attorney Marshall had not seen before – one of public opposition.
“What that says to me is there is an opportunity to make them really uncomfortable and maybe they will back out of the deal.”
Marshall said the purchase agreement (which is with a Limited Liability Corporation, where only two of several actual buyers are known) has a number of contingencies and is not a foregone conclusion.
The public seemed hungry for any and all ways to stop what they believe is a threat to their livelihoods (as other farmers) or even their very lives. Dr. Huset talked about a syndrome called “Blue Baby,” where infants cannot process nitrates – and they die. The issue went beyond individuals and was considered an affront to a way of life. Some spoke about the very idea that big farmers could come and scarf up valuable land and deplete it for a profit, selling to China, who has apparently developed a voracious appetite for pork – is reprehensible.
And that everyone needs to care for their neighbors in time-honored fashion – and their land.
The public was strongly encouraged to attend the meeting of the Polk County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 15 to show support for passing a moratorium on large scale hog farms. It is already scheduled to be held at Unity School (at 6 p.m.) as such a big turnout is expected.
Another grassroots gathering called, “Feeding our Community” is being held Oct. 24 at the Amery High School Audiorium. This is about small farms and rural economic development.
October 10, 2019
Moratorium on swine facilities enacted
By Lynda Berg Olds
Well over 100 people were in attendance at the county board meeting Tuesday night, which was held at Unity's Performing Arts Center to accommodate the crowd. Most in attendance were farmers - farmers who have been pitted against each other over the CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) controversy.
After a great deal of positioning, with amendments offered and withdrawn, the board finally voted on Resolution 33-19: “Creating a Polk County Ordinance regarding a temporary moratorium on livestock facilities.”
The vote was 11-3 and the resolution was adopted as amended. The three supervisors voting against the moratorium included Supervisors Joe Demulling, Brad Olson and Brian Masters. Supervisor Chris Nelson said after the vote that he wanted to point out that this was originally Olson's resolution. That he signed it, but it was Olson's.
After all was said and done, only two of the amendments came to fruition. The first was to strike all but swine from the “livestock” resolution. Cattle, poultry, sheep and goats were removed from the language, leaving only swine. This amendment was a tight vote and passed 8-6. Voting against this were Supervisors Joe Demulling, Brian Masters, Michael Prichard, Jim Edgell, Larry Jepsen and Mick Larsen.
The other amendment that was approved was to strike the following paragraph:
“The Polk County Administrator, the County Board Chair and the Chairman of the Environmental Services Committee, or designee, shall work with staff from the departments listed above and shall coordinate additional participants, if deemed necessary.”
The reference to the “above paragraph” lists the Polk County Land and Water Resources Department, the Land Information Department and the Health Department. They are the ones directed to research the impact of livestock facilities on ground water, surface water, air quality, and other environmental impacts that may impact the health, welfare and safety of Polk County, its residents and visitors.
One of the amendments offered was ludicrous and was evidently put out there to make a point. The resolution was specifically for livestock facilities where the number would exceed 1,000 animal units. Supervisor Brad Olson tried to amend the number to one, just one animal. This amendment failed by a vote of 13-2.
The upshot of approving this resolution was it rendered the next resolution “moot.” That, is, Resolution 36-19 was regarding the creation of a moratorium on large scale hog/swine farming facilities, which for all practical purposes had already been done.
The moratorium begins effective immediately for a duration of six months, and includes a proviso for another six months should it be deemed necessary to complete the research.
October 17, 2019
County gets new Administrator
By Lynda Berg Olds
In the wake of the recent and abrupt resignation of Polk County Administrator Nick Osborne, the Board of Supervisors went into closed session after their regular meeting last week in the hopes of rectifying the situation.
Thankfully for the county, they were successful.
Vince Netherland, the Polk County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Executive Director, who was a finalist in the last go-round, has accepted the position. This will not be official however until Nov. 21 when he comes on board as County Administrator. As Netherland told the County Ledger Press Wednesday morning, “As the EDC Director, I am the only staff person and I can't just drop everything.”
Netherland is in the middle of the County-wide Housing Study and is busy implementing a Workforce Mobility Campaign. He said, “First we have the high-speed internet, then we need the homes, then we need people to move here and work here.”
A tall order to be sure, but Netherland is a man with vision. He also shared with the Ledger:
“I am very excited to begin working with the Polk County Supervisors, staff, and employees to serve the citizens of our county. There are tremendous opportunities that lie ahead and it is an honor for me to be a small part of developing and implementing our future path.
“My enthusiasm for our future is reinforced by the professionalism and commitment I have observed in the county employees who work every day to fulfill their duties in serving our residents. I believe that with teamwork and maximizing all of our resources we can achieve the goals set forth by the County Board.
“The confidence that the County Supervisors have placed in me is truly appreciated.”
It was Corporation Counsel Malia Malone who actually made the announcement about Netherland (actually a few announcements) on Monday. She said:
“I have accepted a short-term interim appointment to serve as the County Administrator for Polk County. My role as Corporation Counsel is legally incompatible with the role of County Administrator, therefore I will be taking a leave of absence as Corporation Counsel. Mr. Joseph Loso, who has proved to be an extremely competent attorney in his short tenure as Assistant Corporation Counsel, has graciously agreed to take on the responsibilities of Interim Corporation Counsel during this time.
“At the County Board meeting last week the Board provided staff with direction on filling the vacancy created when Mr. Osborne resigned. Based upon that direction, our team approached Vincent Netherland, who was a finalist during the last round of County Administrator recruitment. We were able to negotiate an agreement within the parameters set by the Board and I am pleased to announce that Mr. Netherland will be our new County Administrator. It is anticipated that he will begin his tenure in the position on Nov. 21, 2019.
“Mr. Netherland’s appointment comes with significant County Board support. Mr. Netherland joins us after a long and successful career in the private sector and currently is the Director of the Polk County Economic Development Corporation. Although his current office is housed in the Government Center, the Economic Development Corporation is not a County department. However, his location in the Government Center has allowed him to develop good working relationships with many County staff and this will serve to set him up for success. He also has a strong educational background in public policy and public administration.
“Personally, I believe Mr. Netherland will bring a calming leadership style to the County. In my interactions with him he has expressed a real understanding of the challenges facing our organization.
“Once he is on board, I will go back to my role as Corporation Counsel.”
The Ledger invited Ms. Malone to elaborate and she further shared:
“I just feel like we have such great employees at the County. Chief Deputy Chad Roberts and Moe Norby from the Highway Department did such a great job during the tornadoes and the aftermath. Now adding Vince, it really rounds out our leadership team at the County. I know things have looked a bit chaotic from the outside looking in, but our staff has really stepped up and I am very humbled and proud to be a part of this organization.”
October 24, 2019
Unity holds the line on tax levy
By Lynda Berg Olds
Longtime Unity Board of Education President Debbie Peterson presided as Chair, as usual, at the Unity School District Annual Meeting on Monday night. In short order she welcomed District Administrator Brandon Robinson for the Treasurer's Report, followed by the presentation of the proposed budget and tax levy for the 2019-2020 school year.
Unity is one of the last area school's to hold their annual meeting, which makes sense as at this time all the numbers are in from the state.
Robinson likes to begin his presentation with Unity's mission statement as he believes it is very important and wants to share it with the community:
“Our mission is to prepare each student for a changing world by building strong character and developing skills to become a life-long learner through a safe, caring and challenging environment in partnership with students, families, school and community.”
He noted the mission, along with their school's belief statements and goals, are reviewed by the board every spring.
Getting on with the Treasurer's Report, Robinson noted that $20,000 was added to the fund balance this year.
“So we more/less under-spent by $20,000,” he said.
He called attention to referendum approved debt, and said it still shows a balance as per the difference between the fiscal year, which ended June 30 of 2018, and the calendar year. He called it “goofiness” to be expected, and the $304,000 is just waiting on pay requests of the contractors.
Robinson also noted that $25,000 was added this year to the long term capital trust fund, bringing that balance to $75,000 for future expenditures.
“You have to put money into this Fund 46 and leave it there for five years before you can touch that money.
Next, he addressed capital projects and the amount of $616,000, which was a loan that was taken out for bleachers and the child care center.
Robinson said he wanted to share basic facts about revenue limits, which started in 1993.
“It caps how equalization aid and property tax levy interplay to create a total revenue limit for the school districts. If one goes up the other goes down correspondingly. This only impacts the general fund and there are other revenue streams outside of the revenue limit. It can only be exceeded by referendum and it is relatively locked at the level of spending and usually provides for annual growth of less than 2.4 percent.”
Robinson noted that building a school budget takes a lot of time and the process begins in January.
The time came for the “meat and potatoes” of the meeting and an interesting number was revealed: Current membership is exactly the same for the 2019-2020 school year as it was for 2018-2019 at 1040. This means that enrollment is not declining and so Unity will lose their declining enrollment exemption, a loss of over $71,000.
The equalized valuation, the property value of the district, went up just shy of 5.5 percent, by almost $61 million (from $1,113,700,357 to $1,174,548,793). Robinson observed that this is a significant increase.
“Total aid went up by $276,921 and so our allowable revenue limit is $86,796 more than last year (to $10,923,799). So the proposed levy is $3,852 more than last year or about .04 percent. (The actual proposed levy, which was summarily approved, is $10,767,256.) That's about as even as it gets.
“That is a maximum levy and the levy rate is 9.16,” stated Robinson.
This represents a decrease from last year's 9.66, but there is actually a .04 percent increase due to child care center start up costs – otherwise there would have been a $50 decrease over last year on a property with an assessed value of $100,000.
Of note, Unity has worked hard to hold the line on taxes with steady decreases over the last five years. From 11.23 to 10.76 to 10.39 to 9.66 – and now to 9.16.
October 31, 2019
Saturday morning crash kills one
By Lynda Berg Olds
On Nov. 9, at 9:03 a.m., the Polk County Sheriff’s Office received a report of a two vehicle traffic accident on Highway 87 near 210th Avenue. Deputies and emergency medical personnel from Milltown, Cushing and St. Croix Falls responded to the scene.
Sheriff Brent Waak said in a press release to Ledger Newspapers, “The drivers of both vehicles were transported by ambulance to St. Croix Regional Medical Center for injuries received in the accident. One of the drivers was subsequently airlifted to Regions Hospital in St. Paul. The driver transported to Regions Hospital was pronounced deceased at Regions Hospital. The deceased driver is identified as E Lor of St. Paul, Minn. The second driver was treated for injuries and released.”
Waak stated that according to the preliminary investigation, the accident “appears to be related to icy road conditions.”
A tremendous number of comments on social media, from motorists who travel that route every day, said, “Everyone just drives too fast.” Several also complained they were often passed on double yellow lines.
The accident is being investigated by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Waak extended his condolences to the family and friends of the deceased.
Update on previously reported crash in Hwy. 87 in Polk County. The accident resulted in the death of one of the drivers.
November 14, 2019
Jump in Village of Luck's taxes
By Lynda Berg Olds
The recent meeting of the Luck Village Board had a jovial tone throughout as Village President Dave Rasmussen presided over the meeting via telephone. Business was tended to quickly and efficiently.
Most importantly, the 2020 proposed budget was approved. Nary a soul showed up for the public hearing to question or discuss the budget tax levy in the amount of $582,483, which is only a few thousand more than the 2019 budget of $577,115.
However, there is a marked jump in the mil (tax) rate over last year's $8.69 per $1,000 in assessed property value. Although Luck Village Clerk Laurie Cook said she didn't have the “final, final” number, her best estimate, which she provided to Ledger Newspapers Tuesday morning was $9.185. That is about a $50 jump for a property with an assessed value of $100,000.
Luck Municipal Golf Course Superintendent Kevin Clunis was approved to attend the Golf Industry Show in Orlando, Fla., in January of 2020, at the recommendation of the Golf Commission; and trustees put their stamp of approval on the 2020 course budget as well.
Public Works Director Seth Petersen showed the board a video of a new “articulating snow pusher” for which he sought approval to purchase in the amount of $16,590.
“The other snow pusher I got a quote on was for $9,500. That one does not articulate and is 12-feet wide, straight the whole time, and we cannot drive down Park Avenue to go do cul de sacs and other things we like to do with this, without articulating.”
Petersen said the new articulating plow would go on the loader. He noted trustees have likely seen this type of plow in the Walmart parking lot and also that he can buy it local, out of Osceola.
Rasmussen's disembodied voice asked if the “pusher” would come out of this year's budget.
“It would. You know we found that extra $45,000 that we were saving and we've been talking about this for over a year. The plan would be since we have a plow for the loader, to keep that plow and when we replace the backhoe, possibly be able to put that plow on to the backhoe so would even have another tool that we can use for winter.
“Grantsburg bought one of these and has gone down to hardly any hauling of snow. They actually just push it in piles and push it to places. And we have some [places] at the end of Second, Third and here behind the Village Hall. So between those areas we are hoping to eliminate some hauling on smaller snows. Another benefit, after last year's snows, where we had so many between 8 a.m. and 11:59 a.m., we would be stuck with all these inches downtown and no way to get it off with cars everywhere. The idea would be to be able to push the snow off of Main Street, while there are cars down there and get it out of the way so we can open up Main Street – and not end up with people getting stuck like they were. Because we couldn't get to that until everybody was off the street in the middle of the morning. I could go on Dave...?”
“No, no! That's good enough! I just wanted to know what budget it was coming out of!”
Petersen responded that it would come out of the Street Equipment Outlay.
The motion, which had already been made and seconded, bringing the matter to the floor, which is how all such decisions are made, was put to a vote and unanimously approved (As, indeed, nearly all motions are, at least at the municipal level.)
Finally, the village also opted out of the County Library Tax Levy, as has long since become par for the course.
November 27, 2019