Your Polk County, Wisconsin hometown newspaper since 1883 .
For more information, please
"After all these years, still doing a great job!!" -Ron Hermanson
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
Council to remove Civic from sales listing
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
At the St. Croix Falls City Council meeting on Monday night, the first item under new business was “consider removal of the Civic Auditorium from current for sale status” put forth by Aldermen Warren White and Jeff Virchow.
Long and disheartening has been the saga of the Civic Auditorium. For over a decade volunteers and donors worked under the presumption that eventually TIF monies would be released to be used for improvements and repairs to the building that was originally constructed in 1916.
The project had received the support of previous councils and fundraising efforts were in full swing. However, the Centennial Committee was unable to reach their goals by the deadline at the end of 2018.
After former Alderman Brent Waak vacated his seat, the council held a vote to list the Civic Auditorium for sale with Edina Realty. The vote was held prior to the newly elected members of the council were sworn in and seated. The Centennial Committee was ordered to disband since there would no longer be fundraising.
This decision, and the Civic Auditorium as a whole, has shown a deep division in the community. Between those that are asking what they did and if they were wasting their time volunteering and donating over the last decade, and those that never thought the project was a good idea in the first place.
Doug Brant, who was a candidate for the council in this spring's election, but was not elected and was instead appointed to the Plan Commission by Mayor Arnie Carlson, was the only one to speak during the public comments portion of the meeting.
“To bring this up is poor ethics and a waste of city time. I think there is a conflict of interest. Three (council members) are not unbiased...The city council is supposed to represent the entire city, not just a handful. I look around and I see people that are not even from the city that are vying for our tax dollars. Nobody wants to talk about my rights.”
The Auditorium project met its match with the previous council, of which at least two members and the mayor proved to be hostile towards the project. It was by their hand that the plan met with what most thought to be its final ruin.
That is until last night and the consideration put forward by White and Virchow.
“I would like to caution everyone to be careful before you do this,” stated Mayor Carlson. “For one thing we entered a legal contract with Edina Realty. The other is the message we are sending to other vendors in the area by canceling this contract. It may cause them to think maybe they should not enter into agreements with the city of St. Croix Falls. Is that a reputation we want to foster and promote.”
Carlson went on to strongly discourage such an action at this time.
“If we have this, what is the reasoning behind the closed session at the end?” inquired Alderwoman Joy Zasadny.
“Mr. Mayor,” began Virchow. “I spoke with Edina Realty at length and they have little to no concern regarding the removal of a building or parcel from listing.”
Virchow went on to note that the decision to list was made when the council was short a member and the two newly elected members (he and White) had not been seated.
“We had no voice in the matter and it was pretty obvious that it was being done with some urgency prior to meeting and the seating of two new council members. It was an inappropriate move and unwarranted.”
Virchow went on to note that he felt that such a move was premature and questioned why the city would sell it at the front end with no renovations and had little value or sell a building that could be worth $4 million-$5 million.
“This has caused a division in our community,” observed Virchow. “This has become an either/or issue and it shouldn't be. Either we renovate or we work on infrastructure, and that void is getting deeper. It is in my mind to do both. We can if we work together and not be at each other's throats.”
Alderman Kirk Anderson agreed that he did not feel that his district was fully represented after Brent Waak vacated his seat. He stated that he felt the move to list the Auditorium for sale was “premature and inappropriate.” Noting that it would behoove them to listen to the people who voted them into office. Anderson also questioned the feasibility of Carlson's argument about contracts with vendors, “What kind of reputation do we have now?” Anderson asked. “For more than 10 years there was an agreement between the community and the council.”
Anderson noted that people gave their time and money to a project only to see the project unceremoniously scrapped. “I think the momentum from fund raising stalled when members let their personal opinions be known and that caused a stalemate for the project,” Anderson observed.
Carlson took issue with the fact the decision was made with the council being short a member.
“That was the decision of the council, to proceed with three members,” stated Carlson. Two replacements were offered.
Carlson noted that Warren White and Ken Coutier, both of which were candidates for the council in the spring election were offered.
Anderson stated that the council chose to refrain from naming either to the position as to not show favor to either.
Alderwoman Joy Zasadny stated that she wanted each member of the council to disclose their relationship to the Festival Theatre (a separate entity/theatre group) which inhabited the Civic Auditorium a number of years.
“I held a season pass,” noted Zasadny. “My house is on the same street, and I advertised in their brochure.”
White stated that he served on the first board about 30 years ago as president and in 1962 his wife was the costumer.
Anderson noted that eight or nine years ago he had done some work on their website and that he did have children that participated in acting with the theatre on occasion.
“I have no affiliation with the theatre,” observed Virchow. “I may have some family members that donated funds.”
When the matter finally came to a vote White, Virchow and Anderson voted to remove the Civic Auditorium from the for sale listing. Zasadny voted against it.
Later in the meeting, the council entered into a closed session that lasted about an hour and 15 minutes. When they came back into open session, the motion was made for the city administrator and mayor to develop a Memorandum of Understand with the Friends of the Civic Auditorium. It was passed by a voice vote.
June 27, 2019
Dresser to increase sewer rates
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
The Village of Dresser is facing the same situation as other cities and municipalities around the nation, aging infrastructure.
Infrastructure does not only include streets, it is what is underneath the streets, namely water and sewer, and any project that includes water and sewer comes with a hefty price tag.
At the Dresser Village Board meeting on Monday night, there was some discussion regarding the state of their infrastructure and the current status of their water and sewer funds.
Grace Bjorklund who sits on the finance committee addressed the board and noted that with the Peterson/Horsman project help deplete those funds quite significantly.
However, depleted the water and sewer funds may be does not deter the need to plan into the future.
“It is somewhat urgent that we take a vote and make steps to get revenue,” observed Bjorklund.
The board made the decision to send a simple application to the Public Service Commission (PSC) to ask for a three percent water rate increase and it will take from 90-120 days to process.
From there the PSC will determine a simple rate increase of between three and 10 percent.
However, the village's sewer rate is not determined by the PSC and they can raise that rate on their own, without approval from the state.
“It's one of those things where you have to pay to play,” noted Village Board President Bryan “Fatboy” Raddatz. “The sooner a decision is made, the sooner we can communicate it.
Since the PSC doesn't regulate sewer the board is free to set those rates and can do so by passing a resolution. Previously in 2015, the board voted for a 3 percent increase to occur over three years every 18 months, the run of that resolution just ended. In addition there will be an increase of $1 per thousand gallon increase, raising that rate from $12.50 to $13.50
The board agreed that they would again add another percent increase to occur three times over the next three years (for a total of a nine percent increase). Village Attorney Tim Laux was instructed to draw up a resolution to be voted on at the village board meeting in August.
There was some concern expressed by Trustee Richard Durand regarding the impact on families struggling to pay their bills.
Raddatz pointed out that the village was trying to make it as painless as possible for residents and by doing smaller increases to the rates over time.
“We don't want to get stuck in the same situation as some of the other municipalities around here where we all the sudden have to go with a large increase, because that hurts even worse,” said Raddatz.
July 3, 2019
More drama with Civic Auditorium
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
The drama continues with the Civic Auditorium and there are still ongoing developments in this never-ending saga.
At the last city council meeting in June, the council voted to remove the Civic Auditorium from the for sale status in a 3 to 1 vote.
Then on June 25, Mayor Arnie Carlson vetoed it for the following reasons:
“This action is an existing contract with Edina Realty to list for sale selected properties designated by the city, and, therefore, exposes the city to potential legal action.
“This action also creates a public perception that the City of St. Croix Falls is willing to cancel at anytime, unilaterally and without cause, any agreement or contract it may have with any other party.
“In addition, the agreement with Edina Realty requires bilateral agreement between the Mayor and Edina Realty in order to de-list a property. In this case, the mayor does not agree...”
“For the reasons I believe the above mentioned motion was improper and ill-advised. Therefore, I have vetoed the motion to 'Remove the Civic Auditorium from its for sale status.'”
There were three things on Monday night's agenda regarding the Civic Auditorium: Presentation of contract details between the city and Edina Realty, regarding listing of the Civic Auditorium, consideration of overriding the mayoral veto regarding the council action, and consideration of a Memorandum of Understanding between the City of St. Croix Falls and the Friends of the Civic Auditorium.
After playing with the order, it was decided that Shari Steele from Edina Realty would first speak about the contract details that the city has with Edina Realty.
“We had no conversation regarding the termination of the contract,” stated Steele. “One of the things I'll ask you is what is the issue with the listing?”
Steele noted that it was just listed a few months back, and that it was not a unilateral decision to be made as there was an agreement between “you as a city and my corporation. You have to have a reason behind it, and have to have a discussion with the agent and the corporation.”
Alderman Kirk Anderson spoke to the issue, noting the challenge since these discussions have to take place within the confines of the council chambers during meetings.
“The reason it was removed from listing is that it passed by a 2 to 1 vote, with one member's seat empty,” noted Anderson. “It was also the last meeting prior to the two new members being sworn in. Then there was a 3 to 1 vote because this (new) council decided to steer the ship in a different direction from where it was originally going.”
“You just didn't like what the other council did,” stated Mayor Carlson.
“It was a drastic action for that council's last meeting,” observed Anderson.
“Any outside conversations have to include me,” stated Steele. “I want to help you and not discourage you. Your representation needs to be present.”
Steele went on to say that anyone who has looked at or expressed interest in the building could be considered a “protected buyer.” And those three interested parties could include the Friends of the Civic Auditorium.
Alderman Jeff Virchow noted that there was no ill-will towards Steele herself or Edina Realty, and that the council did not want to waste a bunch of her time.
Steele noted the amount of animosity that the issue has brought to the community and stated that she did not want to be perceived as a bad person just because she had the listing. Noting that the sudden change was “disturbing.”
“Any listing is not a unilateral decision,” observed Steele, adding that the brokerage would be the ones to decide whether or not to accept it.
Virchow directly asked Steele if the city were in violation of the agreement and she would not say whether it is or not, noting that the city had a right to do it, and that there has to be a conversation about it.
Steele noted that while the city may be required to discuss their matters in open session there are some details that as their agent should be discussed behind closed doors and not for the public record.
Steele noted that the city could place the building under the TNFS (temporarily not available for showing) which would last for a period off 30 days. Then the city could put it back on the market and pull it back of with another TNFS of 30 days, that that was a loophole the city could use.
Anderson noted that it would make fundraising difficult for the Friends of the Civic Auditorium if they were trying to raise funds for a building that was listed as for sale.
The council voted unanimously, (Warren White, Virchow and Anderson) to override the veto. Alderwoman Joy Zasadny was absent.
July 11, 2019
Osceola to be featured on Discover Wisconsin
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
Discover Wisconsin is a well known show among the residents of Polk County and fans of Polk County and most all of Wisconsin for that matter.
The program can be viewed on FSN north and is also available for streaming on Chromecast, Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Roku TV, Smart TV and at DiscoverWisconsin.com.
There were four communities highlighted as the 2019 Choice Destinations, Whitewater, Omro, Florence County, and Osceola. These communities are highlighted in their Just Off Main Street segment.
Co-host Mariah Haberman kicks off the show in the Village of Osceola. Haberman takes in the natural beauty of the area and explores the waterways by kayak. She then goes to Trollhaugen to try out their outdoor recreation area that includes a zip line and a 120 element aerial challenge course.
Her tour of the area includes a visit to Cascade Falls and a scenic ride on the St. Croix Valley Railway.
Next co-host Marie Justice explores the Northwoods of Florence County with 72 miles of state-designated Wild Rivers and nearly 200 miles of motorized trails that connect Wisconsin and Michigan. Justice also visits Keyes Peak Winter Recreation Area and two of the seven waterfalls in Florence County (LaSalle Falls and Breakwater Falls).
Justice then heads south to Whitewater, where fun meets urban living. She will tour the Whitewater City Market, which offers locally made products and produce, hike the Ice Age Trail and spend an afternoon road biking.
Haberman rounds out the episode with a visit to Omro on the Fox River. She gets to know the town by taking the Omro Historic Walking Tour with a local historian. She then takes advantage of the city's free kayak and canoe rental program.
“A community's Main Street is the beating heart of its town. In Wisconsin, Main Street communities are known for being friendly, charming and authentic, with unique personalities that set them apart from one another,” noted Haberman. “From a National Scenic Riverway to remote waterfalls of the Northwoods, there are so many things that surprised me about Osceola, Florence, Whitewater and Omro.”
July 18, 2019