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SCF works towards K9 officer
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
The St. Croix Falls Police Department and Police Chief Erin Murphy have expressed interest in procuring a K9 for police work and in particular for drug interdiction.
This has caught some blow back from at least one council person, but the rest actively supported their efforts. With the blessing of most of the council, the department was given the go ahead to start collecting donations. A police dog is not an inexpensive option. The dogs and the required training can cost upwards of $13,000. This includes handler training. Most departments in this area get dogs from the St. Paul and Minneapolis Police Departments or another private vendor.
Then there is the equipment expense. This can be the most expensive part as a dedicated vehicle is used by most departments. The additions include a kennel which runs about $3,000 and a temperature sensor/warning alarm $1,500-$1,800.
There are also miscellaneous equipment costs such as leashes, bite sleeves or suits, and eventually, hopefully armor/stab proof vest to be worn while the dog is working.
The K9 units in the area have been blessed by the kindness of local vets. In particular, Valley View Vet, who provides heavily discounted healthcare at cost as well as food for the K9s and has done so for several years. In a recent press release, the police department announced “the formation of a K9 program to serve the residents of St. Croix Falls and surrounding communities.
“The program has been established as a tool to combat the flow of illegal narcotics that are brought to our city and other areas of Polk County. “The St. Croix Falls Police Department has seen a steady increase in felony drug arrests to include sales, possession and crimes related to drug abuse. “The addition of a K9 can also aid in building and vehicle searches, locating missing persons and provide officer and citizen protection.” The K9 program is dependent on donations as it is not a budgeted item.
“The successful implementation of the program will result on a zero tax burden to the residents of our city while benefiting our city and beyond.”
Polk County Sheriff's Deputy Del Stone heads up the Polk County K9 Association and expressed his stalwart support of the project.
“The Polk County K9 Association is in full support of the St. Croix Falls Police Department's efforts to get a K9,” said Stone. “We do a lot of drug related work in that area. It will be a great benefit to the community.”
Drug abuse and the crimes attributable to it have been steadily increasing. Methamphetamine is a one drug that has been responsible for the decline in quality of life in the area, but local law enforcement has also seen an increase in heroin and cocaine as well as other narcotics.
Currently, there are two K9s, Jaeger and Zeke, that cover all of the Polk County for the sheriff's department.
The K9 would be trained in patrol as well as well as narcotics searches and criminal apprehension and lost person searches.
The Polk County K9 Association is a 501.c3 non-profit organization. Donations can be made through their website at SCFK9.org, in person at the St. Croix Falls Police Department, or by mailing a check to the St. Croix Falls Police K9 Association, 710 State Highway 35 So., St. Croix Falls, WI 54024.
If you have any questions contact Chief Erin Murphy at 715-483-9282.
April 25, 2019
Council denies permit for short term rental
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
For the past few months the City of St. Croix Falls has been wrestling with the quandary of short term rentals and the challenges they are presenting to municipalities throughout the country.
On Monday night, the city council was slated to make a decision to grant or deny the request for a conditional use permit for a residence owned in the Rock Pile neighborhood down on the river.
The home located on Hamilton Street was recently purchased by Frank and Deb Dusenka. While they intend to use the home themselves, on occasion, they wanted to be able to rent the property out to guests.
It is, however, a rather unique situation down at the Rock Pile. The driveway as well as infrastructure to include water and sewer are privately owned by the 10 property owners. Any repairs or improvements that are made are divided 10 ways. This includes the maintenance and care of the common shared areas.
There was a Rock Pile Association about 50 years ago, but it was disbanded as things were going well and there is an annual fee to be recognized by the State as a housing association.
Unfortunately, for the residents of this small enclave, when they stopped being an association, the protections that would have been granted by that status would have protected them from the situation with their own bylaws. Now, residents may be in agreement, but their decisions have no teeth.
While the plan commission recommended denying the conditional use permit, when it came before the council at their last meeting, they asked for the Dusenkas to meet with their neighbors to see if they could come to some sort of agreement.
According to Rock Pile neighborhood resident Terry McCune they had met with the Dusenka's a couple of times. Once, the night of the last meeting when they spoke in the foyer of the building for about 45 minutes and once at the Dusenka's residence.
Deb Dusenka spoke to the council during the public comment portion of Monday night's meeting.
“We were asked to talk with the association a couple of weeks ago to discuss the issues at hand,” stated Dusenka. “There has been a lack of contact and we were told point blank that there would be an agreement allowing a short term rental.”
Dusenka went on to note that there is not actually an official association, rather the group operates under a sort of gentlemen's agreement.
Dusenka went on to say that they fully intend to maintain the zoning for R1(residential). She then cited the ordinance stated that it included one family, but did not specify the length of time spent by the family in that dwelling.
“There would also be no commercial activity on the property,” said Dusenka.
However, McCune stated that she believed that it could be a commercial venture as money was intending to be made off from it.
The council voted unanimously to deny the conditional use permit. The Dusenkas may return in one year to resubmit their request and be reconsidered.
In the meantime, residents of the Rock Pile neighborhood are working at establishing bylaws and becoming an official recognized housing association once again.
May 2, 2019
Signs of the time
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
At the St. Croix Falls City Council meeting on Monday night, signs were just one item on the agenda.
Alderwoman Joy Zasadny broached the item, noting that she had first considered the issue of signage.
“Signage reflects on a city,” observed Zasadny. “And we seem to have a hodgepodge of random signage.”
Zasadny went on to say that the city should look into developing a uniform standard, which would include the fonts and colors used as well as an approval process. She went on to cite the Village of Osceola's directional signage as an example of what the city should look to.
Zasadny advocated for the establishment of an ad hoc committee to come up with guidelines for signage, stating that she would be happy to help populate the committee, however did not particularly want to serve on another committee as she already has three committee meetings alone in one month.
It was agreed that Zasadny would help with the formation of the committee, and determine the issues that the committee will discuss. From there any recommendations will be made to either the planning commission or the common council.
In other business, the council rescheduled its meeting later this month. Normally, the meetings are held the second and last Monday every month, however, the next meeting will fall on Memorial Day (May 27). It was decided that the next meeting will be held on the Tuesday after (May 28).
The council also discussed the current city hall building upgrades and repairs. The police department has been splitting at the seams and in desperate need of space.
Thanks to a furnace that caught on fire and a water leak, an effort is being made to improve the situation. Alderman Warren White met with Chief Murphy to solidify the proposed expansion of the police department into the old break room as well as finding an area on the floor rather than in the ceiling that could house the HVAC system.
However, nothing simple is ever easy. The proposed expansion would cost the city about $5,000. However, in order to get the necessary state approval, the cost of the project is doubled.
White noted that the architect that he spoke to stated that some municipalities have skipped that step and have had their building inspector sign off on the project.
“Otherwise we are paying $5,000 for plan approval on a $5,000 project,” observed White.
May 16, 2019
CLC program receives kudos, faces possible funding issue
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
The CLC (Community Learning Center) Programs an after school program in St. Croix Falls that serves students from grades 5-9.
The program is made possible thanks to a federal grant that is to be used to provide academic enrichment. The program is in its fourth year.
This program includes tutoring in subjects as needed, leading a project or activity, and supervision of exercise and health related activities.
Head of the program, Julie Herrick, was present at last week's school board meeting to discuss the program's status.
“We just have to do a couple of small fixes for the grant,” Herrick observed. “You wouldn't believe how beneficial this program has been for some students. I had a student tell me that he was glad that he got to eat a meal here because at home they had to cook over an open fire.”
One of the issues the program is facing is attendance, in particular due to the number of snow days thanks to the numerous weather assaults that the region has endured.
“The goal is 50 kids for 30 days, however it is looking more like 45 instead of 50,” Herrick observed.
The school will be entering into the fifth year of the program as well as the end of the first grant cycle.
Herrick even brought a participant in the program to share her experience, after some gentle prodding, the shy young Chloe spoke to the board.
When asked what she liked most about the program Chloe replied, “How we are able to do a lot of different things there. I mostly like all of it.”
In addition to providing homework help, students have the opportunity to play games, read.
When asked if she would change anything, Chloe replied, “I think it's perfect the way it is right now.”
Jerrick noted that a sincere effort is made to make all students feel like they belong and to help teach empathy and friendship.
“This group isn't as tight as some have been in the past, but we always try and make sure everyone has someone to do something with.”
May 23, 2019
Parks and Recreation may be resurrected
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
At the St. Croix Falls City Council meeting, held Tuesday night due to the Memorial Day holiday, things took an “interesting” turn.
Alderwoman Joy Zasadny has been heading up the effort to establish an ad hoc sign committee. The idea was to establish somewhat uniform guidelines as to what the signage in St. Croix Falls so there would appear to be some uniformity.
The exact scope of the committee was up for discussion.
“We need to discuss criteria such as location as well as placement and amount,” said Zasadny. “And we should work with the public works department on locations and understand the infrastructure, locations, the allowable framework and installation.”
In particular, Zasadny points to the directional signage of the Village of Osceola as an example of what could be done. Also noting that perhaps they might want to approach the City of Taylors Falls since they do share the (Falls) Chamber of Commerce.
“I am not opposed to the mission,” stated Alderman Jeff Virchow. “But I would question its sustainability. I would propose resurrecting a standing committee that could take on more issues. The trails and parks committee was disbanded in the past. I also believe that we should approach other stakeholders. I am sure that the Wooly group (for instance) would like to have a voice at the table.”
Virchow also referred to the city's outdoor recreation plan that takes the city through 2021, and would like to see the city take action. The plan just happened to be written by their new city administrator Bob Kazmierski, when he was employed by University of Wisconsin – Extension.
“There should be an updated description of the functions and responsibilities of the group,” observed Mayor Arnie Carlson. “For those of you that don't know, that committee was disbanded because there was no money.”
“I think if we can get the right people on the committee, and with our administrator, we can seek grants,”said Virchow.
Kirk Anderson stated that due to the lack of budgets and the thought that the city already had enough park land/non-taxable space, is why the committee hadn't yet been brought back.
It was pointed out that the committee wouldn't seek additional park space, but could better manage the resource that the city already has.
It was determined that Administrator Kazmierski, and Alders Virchow and Zasadny would get together and review the plan and track the best course of action.
When asked why she chose the route of the ad hoc committee, Zasadny noted that she thought that that would like be the best way to get it accomplished, as when she has approached the council on other matters, apparently she doesn't feel that she is being heard or her ideas considered.
May 30, 2019
RCU Bank firms up construction plans
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
At the May St. Croix Falls Plan Commission meeting, the proposed site plan put forth by RCU (Royal Credit Union) was not well received by commission members.
The primary concerns put forward by commissioners had to do with the ongoing traffic issues on Glacier Drive at Highway 8. The congestion experienced at that location is a safety concern as drivers wanting to go to anyone of a number of businesses served via Glacier Drive cause bottlenecks.
While the Plan Commission did not vote to approve the site plan and wanted RCU to meet with its neighboring businesses, including a competing bank, to see if there were a way for them to possibly share driveways. They also wanted the engineer to tweak the site plan. One commissioner went so far as to ask the engineer why the building couldn't be faced sideways to the highway.
The engineer promptly pointed out that RCU was paying a premium to have frontage property on Highway 8, and it would make little sense to not have the building face the highway.
At the end of that meeting, the engineer left without the Plan Commission's approval, but RCU does not need the approval of the planning commission to proceed on their current course. They have met all of the requirements and are only waiting on one (storm water) permit from the Department of Natural Resources.
“We are excited to be building a new branch in the vibrant and thriving community of St. Croix Falls,” noted CEO Brandon Riechers. “This new location will address both parking and access issues that we've had at the current location and help us to better serve the needs in the region.”
At last Tuesday's St. Croix Falls City Council meeting, the matter was again broached, as the council was informed that since the site plan complied with the requirements, the plan commission could not require changes be made to RCU's current site plan.
RCU had gone so far as to offer the city a 30 foot easement to accommodate future plans for a street.
Alderwoman Joy Zasadny also commented as she had been in attendance at the plan commission meeting.
She noted that she was surprised by how the matter was handled by the commissioners and the overall tone that was taken. Zasadny pointed out that the commission and the city should be glad that businesses are wanting to stay and relocate within the city and that the attitude of the Plan Commission seemed far from welcoming.
June 6, 2019
Park and Rec committee may soon be reincarnated
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
The St. Croix Falls City Council may soon be resurrecting the old Park and Recreation Committee in one incarnation or another.
The idea was put forward by Alderman Jeff Virchow at the last meeting in response to Alderwoman Joy Zasadny's efforts to establish a sign committee.
“I am still in total favor of Parks, Recreation (and Trails) as a standing committee,” said Virchow. “The outdoor recreation plan is a living document. There is the additional issue of signage. There are a lot of items listed as tasks for each one of the parks. It's natural to group them together.”
Virchow's rationale was that as a stand alone, ad hoc committee that it wouldn't have the sustainability of something that was broader based.
Mayor Arnie Carlson stated that the committee was originally dissolved because there was no money. However, it was later discovered during a 2017 audit that there was actually $15,000 in the account, which could have only been accessed by the committee.
It was also clarified at the last meeting that the city would not be seeking more park land in addition to the substantial amount that they already have. Instead, the committee would focus on the improvement and upkeep on the parks they already have.
“I would like to see people from the Woolly Bike Club, the trails run group, and the state park (Interstate) represented,” observed Alderman Warren White. “The Lions Club may also be a good idea,” noted Virchow.
“And the Rotary Club and disc park, and dog park,” White added.
“I believe that there will be some overlap with some other committees,” observed Virchow, adding that he think it would be a good thing if committees communicated with each other more regularly.
“Perhaps we ought to reconsider the name of the committee into something broader then like public welfare/quality of life,” suggested Zasadny.
“As far as a name I am not married to anything,” said Virchow. “As long as we agree to seat a committee of this nature.”
Kazmierski noted that by selecting people from the aforementioned organizations that they have an opportunity to select champions who will bring energy and passion to their service by working towards something that they really care about.
It was decided that the council members were going to approach groups/individuals personally about their interest on serving on the committee in the future. Virchow in the meantime was asked to firm up and better define the duties that the committee would be responsible for as well as review possible candidates for the positions and update the council at their next meeting.
June 13, 2019
Request to serve outdoors meets with resistance
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
At the St. Croix Falls Plan Commission meeting on Monday night, Brian Helm, one of the owners of Trap Rock Brewing was present to discuss his business's request to serve beverages on-site, outdoors to their guests, when weather permitted.
“There is a 20' x 20' concrete area that is already there that we would use,” noted Helm.
The property is located at 520 Blanding Woods Road in the industrial park, and while by all accounts the brewery has proven to be a good neighbor thus far, there is a lot of resistance to the idea of providing for an outdoor patio on which they would serve their brew.
The brewery was seeking a conditional use permit under their M1 – Industrial zoning. The conditional uses allowed under M1 currently are: storage and warehousing of fuel and materials, but not the storage of wrecked or dismantled vehicles and junk or the storage of explosives. Other uses similar in character to the permitted uses, giving consideration to such items as noise, odor, parking and traffic, safety and type.
According to the city ordinances, the M1 District is intended to provide for manufacturing or industrial operation, which on the basis of actual physical and operational characteristics would not be detrimental to the surrounding area or the city as a whole by reason of noise, dirt, dust, smoke, odor, traffic, physical appearance or other similar factors, and subject to such regulatory controls as will reasonably insure comparability in this respect. Outdoor storage of raw materials or finished products is not allowed.
Permitted uses include: commercial bakeries, commercial greenhouses, feed mills and dairy plants, machine shops, painting and printing, lumber yards, freight yards and terminals, bottling, and the manufacture, fabrication packing and packaging and assemble of products, from furs, glass, leather (but not the tanning of hides or manufacture of leather), metals, paper (but not the manufacture of paper or pulp), plaster, plastic (but not the manufacture of plastic), textiles and wood.
There was a fair amount of people in attendance regarding the brewery's request. However, there was no public comments portion of the meeting and the item on the agenda was listed as “amending zoning code 17.15 to add outdoor seating as a conditional use in M1 industrial zone” it was not whether or not to grant a conditional use permit, since that is not allowable at the current time.
“This would open the box on conditional uses,” observed plan commissioner Brian Blesi. “There are enough conditional uses. M1 and Industrial should stay that way. It creates conflicts later on.
“It opens up a can of worms,” agreed commissioner Doug Brant. “Also it is with 100 yards from a public school.”
“This is kind of what bothers me,” said commissioner Chris Chelberg. “We have a lot of retail space available downtown. I think this is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.”
According to plan commissioner Ken Coutier he has spoken with St. Croix Falls School District Superintendent Mark Burandt. He stated that he did not have an issue with the outdoor seating.
After the decision was made to hold a public hearing regarding amendments to the M1 Industrial zoning code during their next meeting on July 15.
In other business, the board granted right of way access to a property owner along north Hamilton Street after the Wisconsin Department of Transportation released their interest in the parcels. In return the owner will deed 25 feet of his property to the Rock Pile Association.
This move may eventually give the city the opportunity to vacate Wisconsin Street, which was referred to as little more than a mud pit.
June 20, 2019