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"After all these years, still doing a great job!!" -Ron Hermanson
SCRMC to look at other properties
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
Mayor Arnie Carlson announced to the St. Croix Falls City Council on Monday night that the St. Croix Regional Medical Center is no longer seeking to build a medical campus on the site of the St. Croix Valley Golf Course.
“Even though we took no action on the deed restriction (on the golf course) that does not mean that it cannot be brought back upon request,” noted Carlson. “The hospital is looking at other properties now. I told them we would support them in any way that we can. I don't need to re-numerate the impact if they leave.”
“This started out as a rumor for months,” observed Carlson. “And finally boom it was in front of us. I want to make everyone aware of another rumor that has been making the rounds and that is legal action regarding the improper/illegal use of TIF monies. We have asked the village attorney to render a legal opinion on it. Thus far we have gotten nothing in writing regarding it. Just be aware.”
In other business, the council received some unfortunate information at their meeting Monday night regarding PILOT or Payment In Lieu Of Taxes.
PILOT is a way for non-profits within the city to contribute to services they receive that would otherwise be paid for through taxation.
The City has been long looking for ways to increase revenue while cutting costs. At first, reexamining the PILOT properties seemed like a good idea.
The City went so far as to set aside $2,500 for Bowmar Appraisals to reassess some of the tax exempt properties within the city and then renegotiate each agreement.
However, it was discovered that any new or changed PILOT agreement would require the City to lower their levy by that amount, according to a law passed in 2013.
While it wouldn't increase the city's revenue Alderwoman Joy Zasadny pointed out that it would help shift the tax burden slightly off from individuals and businesses by lowering the mill rate.
“The mill rate is the little man, by doing that, we are effectively helping them,” observed Council President Chris Chelberg.
Alderman Brent Waak moved that the money that had been allocated for appraisals be unallocated.
“We should probably scrap it until we get all our ducks in a row,” agreed Chelberg.
Waak, Chelberg and Alderman Kirk Anderson voted to unallocate the money while Zasadny voted to keep the monies to go for reassessments.
November 1, 2018
SCF Schools closed Thursday due to threat
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
Parents and students of the St. Croix Falls School District got an unfortunate surprise on Thursday when they were informed that the campus was closed. Parents received a “robo call” from Superintendent Mark Burandt informing them that the campus was closing for the day due to the threat of gun violence.
All of the students were accounted for and were taken either back home or to a secondary location provided/approved of by their parents.
The St. Croix Falls Police Department was made aware of the threat from a student and their parent and Chief Erin Murphy immediately made contact with Burandt. They became aware of the threat at 7:15 a.m.
“The words spoken were by a current student,” noted Burandt. “We worked with the police department identifying the threat and securing the campus,” observed Burandt. “The campus was never truly compromised.”
In a joint press release, the St. Croix Falls Police Department and the school district stated: “...While the individual who allegedly made the threat was taken into police custody, there were some other details that we felt needed to be clarified.
“To that end and in an abundance of caution, we decided it was best to not have our children in school today (Thursday). As always the district takes student safety very seriously. We believe that this was an isolated issue. At this time, we have no reason to believe their will be any concerns going forward with school on Friday.”
Burandt noted that this is the first such threat since he started working for the district.
“I really wish that things like this didn't happen,” said Burandt. “There isn't a day that goes by that we don't think about student safety. There is a lot of things we do regarding student safety that people may never see. We have a crisis plan and we implemented it. Then we had a meeting to discuss how we can do things better. I believe we took appropriate steps regarding our students' safety.”
November 2, 2018
Butler vs. bullying at SCF Schools
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
Monday night was cold and rainy as students and their parents made their way to the St. Croix Falls High School seeking inspiration and knowledge regarding the issue of bullying.
LeRoy Butler played his entire career (1990-2001) with the Green Bay Packers as a strong safety. He was selected by the Packers in the second round 1990 draft. He played 181 regular season games, 14 post season games, earned a ring from Super Bowl XXXI, was selected all pro four times, and was selected to the Pro Bowl four times. He was named to the NFL (National Football League) 1990s All-Decade Team by the Pro Football Hall of Fame and inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1990.
The question is, what was this celebrity doing in this small Midwestern town?
The answer is fighting against bullying thanks to his Butler vs. Bullying program.
Within its first year, the campaign reached more than 20 schools and over 6,000 students. In the second year, they strove to reach an additional 10,000 students.
In Butler vs. Bullying, LeRoy is taking a grassroots approach to bring professionals, teachers, and parents and families together to discuss, in an open microphone format, the social problems that derive from bullying.
Over the past year, Butler has traveled throughout Wisconsin to sit down with people who are the recipients of bullying tactics, and those who have bullied.
The format that Butler uses brings awareness to the impacts that bullying can have. It is an open forum to discuss the problems at hand.
“This approach allows the kids to be leaders and not followers,” observed Butler. “This problem cannot be ignored any longer and it is our goal to provide a place for these kids to feel free to open up about the problem and be a leader in helping us solve the issue.”
Butler can no doubt draw on his difficult childhood. Butler's problems went beyond poverty and crime. He was born so pigeon-toed that the doctors had to break bones in both his feet when he was only eight months old to correct the problem.
Walking was a major challenge for Butler, who spent much of his early youth in a wheelchair. Between the ages of six and eight, he had to wear leg braces.
Much of his early childhood was spent staring out the window and watching the neighborhood kids play kickball, something at the time he never would have been able to imagine doing.
At the time, doctors predicted that he would be lucky if he was ever able to walk normally.
As fate would have it, when he was eight years old Butler discovered that he no longer needed leg braces.
On that amazing day, he was accidentally knocked out of his wheelchair and his leg braces went flying. Picking himself up, he discovered that he could not only walk normally, but he could run pretty well too, faster than most of the kids in his neighborhood.
Having overcome the trials of a challenging childhood and proven himself on the athletic field, Butler has earned the respect of his peers and youth, especially die-hard Packers fans are inclined to listen to what he has to say, and perhaps are somewhat braver when asked to come forward in regards to being bullied. And perhaps, talks like this will help those who bully think more thoroughly about the consequences of their actions.
November 8, 2018
Alderwoman accused of behaving egregiously
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
Fireworks started at the end of what was already a long and trying meeting at the St. Croix Falls City Council Monday night. The last item on the agenda brought forth a whole new “energy” for lack of a better word.
The last item on the agenda was an item regarding cellphone use by council members during meetings and the use of social media. It was placed on the agenda by Alderwoman Joy Zasadny.
“I asked that this be placed on our agenda this evening,” stated Zasadny. “I also gave our legal counsel a heads up that this would be coming.
“Two meetings ago there was a message through a cellphone, you were taking public comments and they had been closed. It said that I couldn't abstain unless there was a conflict of interest, which was wrong.
“I was at a Public Works meeting and there was someone making a presentation and three out of four people were on their cellphones,” observed Zasadny. “I was appalled by their behavior.
“I also know Kirk (Alderman Anderson) posts and is active on social media,” said Zasadny. “And I have gotten questions from some of those posts.”
The City's legal counsel Anders Hellquist was on hand to answer any questions that the council may have.
“There are generally some things you ask yourself,” began Hellquist. “First, what is the purpose of this policy, is it enforceable, are people held accountable and why.”
Hellquist went on to note that many cities are staying away from policies regarding the use of social media because it could infringe on first amendment rights.
“When you think about it we have been doing the same thing for centuries,” noted Hellquist. “After the meeting you may go down to the bar or tavern to discuss it. There might be letters to the editor, or mass e-mails...you don't want to get to the point where you are over regulating speech. It would be a messy policy to write and enforce.”
Zasadny produced a stack of papers from her pile and held it up, “Actually, the Wisconsin League of Municipalities has a draft of one...”
Alderman Brent Waak, who is often quite reserved during meetings proved to have had enough of Zasadny's antics and lambasted her for her latest overreach.
“I disagree,” declared Waak. “I think that this is an egregious overstep. I answer to the people that elected me, not to you. I find it an offensive, egregious overstep of the bounds of an alderman.”
Alderman Kirk Anderson pointed out that his cellphone does not only serve as his phone, but as a portable computer.
“Everything for the meetings I have is on here, everything I do is on here,” said Anderson. “As far as social media posts go, my page is what helped get me elected and it is one of the ways how I've been able to communicate with my constituents.”
“I would like to hear from legal counsel regarding Facebook posts,” stated Zasadny. “Shouldn't we have a disclaimer. Shouldn't these posts be a matter of public record and archived appropriately?”
“Then that is something brand new that I have never heard of,” stated Hellquist. “Some kind of indemnity clause or something.”
Waak spoke the most clearly against such a move stating that it was not the job of any alderman or alderwoman to impinge on the rights granted by the first amendment.
December 6, 2018
Civic Auditorium in suspended animation
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
The Civic Auditorium still stands, though its eventual fate is unknown.
So many people over so many years have remained committed to the project that being forgotten out of existence seems unlikely, though some would wish for its ultimate end.
At their meeting on Dec. 3, members of the St. Croix Falls City Council refused to give any approval on the proposed path forward, save Alderman Kirk Anderson who as served as the council liaison to the Centennial Committee.
Although it has been stated in numerous articles, there is still some confusion on the part of the public as to the Civic Auditorium and the Festival Theatre. Even residents who know better have used the terms interchangeably.
The Civic Auditorium is the actual building which is owned by the City of St. Croix Falls. The Festival Theatre is an incorporation of people that put on shows.
For a number of years, the Festival Theatre was the primary tenant of the Civic Auditorium.
The agreement that existed between the Festival Theatre and the City was terminated a short time ago, but that was an expected result of the work that has been done by the Centennial Committee.
Some members of the city council wish to divest themselves of the property completely and sell it to a private developer.
Some members of the council would prefer to cash the TIF in early in 2019 and add the one time $500,000 payment to their general fund.
The council was asked to adopt the “path forward” and the conceptual business plan that had been put forward by the Centennial Committee.
The path forward provided for the establishment of a committee that would handle the management of the theatre so that the city would not have to become involved in its day to day operations. This committee would eventually take over from the Centennial Committee.
With the proposed path forward, the Festival Theatre would be brought in as a primary tenant.
As the days of 2018 pour out their last measure, the future of the Auditorium is still in question. The silence of the current council has been a reality check for individuals who have dedicated countless hours to the project.
While the council remains stunningly silent, however, there are those who are vocal supporters of the project. One of them is former mayor and council member Brian Blesi.
Blesi responded to a memo that was sent out by current Mayor Arnie Carlson who has remained steadfast that the city should not borrow money for the project.
“...Further the structure of your memo implies that there is $2,794,694 available that can be applied towards the reported $13 million in projects. This is simply false. According to the Department of Revenue, 29.94 percent ($836,731 and the $2,794,694 will come to the city's general fund following the 2020 retirement of TID should the Auditorium Expansion and Restoration Project not proceed. The rest of that money goes to the school district (44.51 percent, which would be offset by a reduction in state aids), county (23.74 percent) and WITC (1.81 percent)...
“In your memo, you mention that TIF funds may not apply to this project now that the hotel project was eliminated. Using the word 'eliminated' is a mischaracterization, The hotel portion of the project was not eliminated; the initial developer withdrew from the project...Further this question was presented to the CDA, city attorney and city financial advisor before moving ahead on the full design work for the expansion and restoration project.”
Blesi went on to ask the questions echoed by many within the city:
“Is the city better served by A.) canceling the project to direct $837,000 into the general fund to support ongoing city operations, or B.) Investing the same $837,000 to leverage an additional $2,464,622 (from CDA and WEDC and donations) to expand and restore the city owned Civic Auditorium?”
December 13, 2018
Protection fees discussed by council
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
The amount of time and resources spent by police at certain locations in the City of St. Croix Falls was up for discussion at the city council meeting on Monday night.
One member of the council, Alderwoman Joy Zasadny, in particular has questioned Police Chief Erin Murphy, frequently, on the amount of time that members of the police department spend at locations such as Wal-mart, Menards and the hospital.
For instance, in the month of December, officers with the department spent 12 hours at the hospital, six hours at Wal-mart, and 16 hours at Menards.
The agenda item was listed as discuss establishing fees for excessive use of protective services. It received a less than lukewarm reception from both the police and fire chiefs.
The effort was suggested by Zasadny in an effort to recoup losses and gain revenue for the city, especially since the PILOT monies they receive would be a wash.
“I would encourage you to keep a couple things in mind,” stated Police Chief Erin Murphy. “For the hospital, a lot of that is transport time. It has to do with mental health issues. It ebbs and flows. When we arrive there, according to state statute we cannot leave until the matter is resolved.”
Zasadny questioned whether or not there were a way to increase the fines paid to the city.
“Traffic fines are determined by the state,” Murphy informed her. “However, there are ordinances that haven't been updated (or the fines increased) in years.”
Murphy mentioned the city's ordinance regarding fines for retail theft.”
Murphy was also quick to point out that while the big box stores can seem to demand a lot of officer time, he noted that the grants and donations that they receive from those entities every year are a help to his department.
Fire Chief Mike Dorsey was also on hand. He noted that in the past that there had been some issues with false alarms that had been triggered. Some businesses/locations were repeat offenders.
Dorsey noted that the fire department eventually started charging a fee if false alarms exceeded three within a six month period.
“Taylors Falls actually charges a $500 fee to respond to Lodge Living (senior housing),” noted Dorsey. “Yeah, I'd like to see some money like that, but I am not in favor of it per call. Some of these people are on a fixed income. I don't want anyone to be fearful of calling asking themselves how they are going to pay for it.”
No formal action was taken on the matter.
January 17, 2019
No rezoning required for structure
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
It was quite a light agenda for the St. Croix Falls Planning Commission on Monday night. Their main order of business was to consider a request from the Wooly Bike Club to rezone the Wooly Trailhead as conservancy to allow for a storage building and to set a public hearing for said request.
Douglas Thompson of the Wooly Bike Club Managing Board were on hand to discuss their request.
The property in question is located near the firehall by the industrial park. It is currently zoned R2 – Residential.
The R2 District is “intended to provide a quiet, pleasant and relatively spacious living area for single family, two-family and multi-family dwellings be dispersed throughout the district on a conditional use basis...”
“We have a lot of equipment that we use to maintain the trails, and it is all done by volunteers,” observed Thompson. “We have a brush mower and snow groomer and a snowmobile.”
Thompson went on to note that right now the equipment is being stored on a trailer, but there is not enough room for all of the items. The planned structure is a temporary 12' x 24' storage shed.
“...The land that the City of St. Croix Falls graciously allows the Bike Club to use is currently zoned as residential, thus would not meet the current zoning requirements,” the organization noted in a correspondance to the commission. “Therefore, the Wooly Bike Club requests the city planning commission consider this land as a city park to align with its present use and rezone the land for Conservancy so that the proposed building can be considered a park structure. The rezoning would allow the maintenance building to conform with the approriate property zoning. The Club would then submit an application for a conditional use permit...”
It was pointed out that the area may soon be the location of the well and that a change in zoning could eventually complicate the installation of said well.
Plan Commissioner Warren White also pointed out that the change would also create spot zoning, which the city has been trying to avoid.
“I think we have different options here,” observed White. “The first option is to allow for the storage shed by treating the trail as the principal structure.”
There was some question as to whether or not this had been done before. White stated that he had not heard of it, but that it should be allowable.
The Plan Commission unanimaously voted to recommend to the council that they allow for the structure under the current R2 zoning.
The next Plan Commission meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 19, as the Monday on which it normally occurs is President's Day.
January 24, 2019