Your Polk County, Wisconsin hometown newspaper since 1883 .
For more information, please
"After all these years, still doing a great job!!" -Ron Hermanson
“You know it's bad when farmers dump milk”
By Lynda Berg Olds
These are trying times, especially for farmers. Imagine the time and care and cost of milking one's herd of dairy cows, only to have to dump it out by the tanker. It's not just heart-breaking, it's farm and farmer-breaking – after an already rough and tumble time of it over the past several years.
What follows is a conglomeration of a baker's dozen of press releases – ideas and resources, and tales of woe and why said resources are so desperately needed. COVID-19 has stretched it's ugly hand into everybody's pocket and the nation is reeling. Closer to home in the Land of Cheese, dairy farmers are particularly hard hit. Many big consumers are closed, like the schools and restaurant orders are down in a big way.
At the direction of Governor Tony Evers, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to step in and support the dairy industry amid concerns about milk disposal during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
“In a time when many people are already food-insecure, it’s more important than ever that we get Wisconsin’s nutritious commodities in the hands of consumers who need them the most,” said Governor Evers. “I’m hopeful that our federal partners understand the urgency of the need here, and will take action accordingly.”
The letter requests that USDA purchase surplus commodities for redistribution to food banks, nutrition assistance programs, and other sources in an effort to divert Wisconsin’s nutritious commodities to Americans who need them. Additionally, DATCP asks USDA to re-open the enrollment of the Dairy Margin Coverage program.
“With agriculture's massive $104.8 billion impact on Wisconsin’s economy, it is critical that all of us in this industry work together to navigate this new territory,” said DATCP Interim Secretary Randy Romanski. “DATCP has been in constant communication with people in all parts of the industry and hearing their concerns, including concerns about milk disposal. That’s why we’re urging USDA and Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation to take immediate action to keep the supply chain flowing and get product in the hands of people who need it most.”
The agency also continues to conduct weekly calls with industry stakeholders to provide updates, share information, and access resources. Agricultural stakeholders should continue to work through their agricultural associations to compile questions and concerns. These organizations will then share those items with DATCP on their designated weekly call.
DATCP’s Farm Center is available to provide resources to Wisconsin farmers and their families in need of assistance. The Farm Center hotline can be reached at 1-800-942-2474 or FarmCenter@wisconsin.gov.
On April 1, the following letter was sent to U.S. Secretary of the Department of Agriculture Sonny Perdue by major Wisconsin dairy stakeholders: “We write to you urging immediate action by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use the extensive purchasing power afforded it via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to bring much-needed relief to the stressed American dairy industry.
“With 80 percent of Americans under order to shelter in their homes, hundreds of thousands of restaurants, schools, and other food service outlets have closed or significantly reduced offerings, which means cheese and butter manufacturers have lost their largest market.
“While retail sales have increased in past weeks, they are now leveling, and orders are slowing. Dairy manufacturers and processors also have seen their export markets decimated. Dairy processors and farmers are working in cooperation and with open lines of communication, but these circumstances, far beyond their control, are beginning to result in fresh farm milk finding no available market for processing.
“Commodity dairy prices have plummeted and will result in milk prices lower than many farms can handle to sustain long-term viability. Direct relief to dairy farmers and a substantial purchase of dairy commodities by USDA can ensure our industry will remain fiscally able to function in its primary role of feeding the nation and the world.
“Specifically, we ask USDA to focus on purchases of nonfat dry milk, butter, cheddar styles, mozzarella, and other Italian-styles of cheese, both in bulk formats and in formats purposed for use by restaurants and food service vendors. We are also asking USDA to look at the different means available to the department to make farmers whole for the milk they have produced, but needed to dispose, or for which they received drastically reduced payments.
“The CARES Act directs $14 billion to the Commodity Credit Corporation, $9.5 billion to a dedicated disaster relief fund for agriculture, $25 billion for SNAP programs, and $450 million to support food banks serving the food insecure. This bill enables unprecedented support for farmers and unprecedented commodity purchases, and we need USDA to bring these forms of aid to bear immediately. We thank you for the important work you are doing for our country, and want to make clear that we stand ready to support and assist you in expediting aid programs.”
The letter was signed by Dave Buholzer, President of Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association Brody Stapel, President of Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative Tom Crave, President of Dairy Business Association Dan Smith, President and CEO of Cooperative Network Joe Bragger, President of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation Jay Heeg, President of Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin.
A news release issued Friday by Wisconsin Farmers Union noted milk futures predict a milk price of $13 or less in May, a figure less than the cost of production for nearly all farmers. The release states that WFU is calling on Congress to allow dairy farmers to remain in business while they quickly decrease production to prevent further flooding of the milk market.
[Editor's question: How does one decrease production when the cows still need to be milked?]
WFU also is urging the adoption of a mandatory, nationwide program to balance milk supply with demand.
“Congress just passed a $2 trillion economic stimulus package that will offer some much-needed relief, but it will not be sufficient to prevent a mass exodus of dairy farms throughout the country this summer if we can’t find a way to balance supply and stabilize prices,” WFU President Darin Von Ruden said in the statement.
In another statement [posted Thursday], Wisconsin Farm Bureau President Joe Bragger, a Buffalo County dairy farmer, said Wisconsin’s farmers are facing unprecedented challenges amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Those difficulties come on top of five years of low milk prices that have prompted a record number of dairy farmers in the state to declare bankruptcy.
“It is with a heavy heart I make this statement,” Bragger said. “The slight optimism that was floating around at the beginning of the year for our dairy farmers has been buried...Our farmers, especially our dairy farmers, are being served a big dose of the sad reality we are living in with the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
On Monday at 3 p.m., Ledger Newspapers received a “commentary' by Interim DATCP Secretary Randy Romanski, titled, “Be there for farmers; they are always there for you”
This letter is pretty comprehensive and outlines the dire dairy situation – and what the public can do to help. It is included here in its entirety:
“The COVID-19 public health emergency has forced all of us to think about what is essential in our lives. While some decisions are difficult, others are clear. Food and agriculture are essential. Food and those who produce it are fundamental to our personal well-being and our state’s strength.
“We are privileged to live in a state that produces an abundance of nutritious, high-quality foods. From fruits and vegetables to milk and meat, Wisconsin agriculture is diverse and plentiful. You do not have to drive far in Wisconsin to see the farms and fields that feed us. Unfortunately, this pandemic has impacted the entire world and has the potential to cause disruptions to the food supply chain here in the Midwest.
“In recent days, we have seen devastating photos and videos of milk being disposed of in manure lagoons and heard stories of processing plants in some parts of the country reducing their hours due to COVID-19. These situations are worst-case scenarios that no one can prepare for. No one works seven days a week, 365 days a year to see milk not leave the farm. No one wants to shut down processing lines and lay off employees at a time when families need their paycheck more than ever.
“Even during this public health emergency, farmers and processors are working tirelessly to produce food for all of us. While you may have walked into a store in the past month and saw an empty shelf, it is not because there is no food. It just may not have gotten on the shelves yet. Grocery stores are working tirelessly to be sure families have a variety of fresh, frozen, and packaged foods available.
“With schools closed and restaurant service limited, an entire component of food processing and distribution has been unexpectedly disrupted. These processors and distributors are now rapidly working to adapt to the current conditions, but there is only so much they can do so fast. They must work within the confines of the equipment, packaging, and transportation methods available to them. A carton of milk is much different than a gallon, and a can of green beans packaged for your family is much different than a bulk purchase for a school.
“Across the industry, agricultural advocates have encouraged consumers everywhere to support farmers. I want to add my voice to that message. From weeks of conversations with our dairy and livestock farmers, crop producers, agribusinesses, and food suppliers, here are four takeaways:
1. Shop responsibly. Food is and will be available. While your favorite brand or flavor may not be available at a certain time, remember how lucky we are to live in a state and country with access to a variety of foods.
2. Buy Wisconsin products. Choose dairy products including milk and cheese. Pour an extra glass of milk at dinner, or add extra cheese to your pizza delivery. Buy beef for your grill or bacon for breakfast. Keep the supply chain moving by creating demand.
3. Donate to those in need. This is a very difficult time for thousands of people who are underemployed or unemployed. Many, including our farmers and those in rural communities, are struggling to make ends meet. If you are able, grab an extra gallon of milk for a neighbor or drop off canned vegetables at your local food pantry.
4. Share your thanks. Now is the time to express your gratitude to our essential workforce, including those in food and agriculture. Show your appreciation in your local community or on social media for those who fill our plates and stock our shelves every day.
The COVID-19 public health emergency will have a lasting impact on each of us, including Wisconsin’s agricultural industry. I hope that by supporting the state’s farmers and processors through our purchases now will ensure the industry’s vitality in the future. Please be there for our essential workforce at this time, because they are always there for you.”
The dairy crisis related to COVID-19 prompted a rare bipartisan show of support from members of Congress.
On Friday a letter sent jointly by U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, and U.S. Reps. Mike Gallagher, Glenn Grothman, Ron Kind, Gwen Moore, Mark Pocan and Bryan Steil urged U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to take action to address the crisis.
Among the steps the lawmakers want are moving cheese and other dairy products from Wisconsin plants to consumers; providing funding to resolve supply chain disruptions; and reopening enrollment for the Dairy Margin Coverage program, and making payments retroactive to the start of the year.
“Wisconsin’s dairy and agriculture economy is in crisis, and we write to ask for your immediate attention and aid,” the letter states. “Supply chain disruptions are cascading through communities across the state, putting dairy farmers and dairy processors at immediate risk of layoffs and closure.”
Pocan, D-Madison, whose 2nd District contains just under 10,000 farms that generate $1.5 billion in product sales annually, said agricultural recovery must be included in coronavirus relief legislation.
“We just need to hear from people where there are some gaps in what’s out there and how we can best try to affect them in the next package that’s especially focused on recovery.” Pocan said. “So we are open to suggestions and we’re hoping people will forward ideas to us.”
Kind, D-La Crosse, said Wisconsin’s dairy farmers are in desperate need of federal assistance.
“Our dairy farmers were already struggling, and this pandemic puts them into even more of a crisis. They cannot afford to have the USDA stall on helping farmers in Wisconsin by reopening the Dairy Margin Coverage program,” Kind said.
Online resource brings up-to-the-minute dairy insights
Professional Dairy Producers® – (PDPW) has launched “The Dairy Signal™,” an all-new free online resource providing dairy farmers insights for informed decisions. Three times a week, over the next several weeks, leading-edge presenters will share resources and strategies for managing dairy’s rapidly shifting industry.
Developed by PDPW for dairy farmers, processors and other industry leaders, The Dairy Signal episodes will feature a variety of business and economic speakers and topics that will live-stream from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. CT each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the weeks ahead. A recording and podcast of the episodes will also be made available for on-demand access after each live episode. During each live session, during and following each episode, attendees will engage in open Q&A and interact with expert speakers.
No registration fee is necessary, and all episodes will be available at www.pdpw.org.
Here’s a look at the first week’s presenters and topics:
April 7: Presenters will address what’s happening in the marketplace, how long farmers can expect current situations to last, and what the dairy sector can do right now to mitigate the impacts. Episode presenters include:
Dr. Mark Stephenson of UW-Madison Director of Dairy Policy Analysis and Director of Wisconsin's Center for Dairy Profitability; and Chad Vincent, CEO of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin.
April 8: Addressing economic strategies head-on, dairy farmers can use the real-time insights to manage their businesses, maximize their viability and stay nimble during these times. Presenters will also address new tools as they become available. Episode presenters include: Dr. David Kohl, owner of Homestead Creamery and Stoney Brook Farm in Wirtz, VA, and Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Finance and Small Business Management and Entrepreneurship in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia; and Jason Karszes, Senior Extension Associate with Cornell University and the PRO-DAIRY program.
April 9: Farmers will hear up-to-date market analysis, practical tips and strategies for making decisions in an uncertain, chaotic environment; plus, a look at what the new world may look like after this pandemic subsides. Episode presenters include: Dan Basse, Economist and President of AgResource Company, a domestic and international agricultural research firm; and Jay Joy, founder of Milk Money LLC.
For more information, contact PDPW at 800-947-7379 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Content on The Dairy Signal will be updated as new information becomes available.
“Our dairy industry and lives are changing daily and our need for accurate business information is vital. This new resource is designed to bring our dairy community together while providing resources to help navigate through these challenging times.”
Here are some highlights from the April 3 podcast featuring John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. Umhoefer ("Ummhayfer") talks with host Mike Austin about the unprecedented disruption to the dairy supply chain, including some instances of milk disposal; how processors are adjusting; and the need for a united approach to solutions.
Loss of demand: About 50 percent of the cheese produced in the United States moves either directly into food service — such as restaurants, pizza chains and schools — or to companies that prepare cheese products for food service. In a matter of days, half the restaurants closed and nearly 80 percent of Americans are now sheltering at home.
"In Wisconsin, where we're really the cheese kings, you've lost a massive market for product."
Dairy products are flying off the shelves at grocery stores, but only one-third of cheese goes into retail markets. So that demand is not enough to make up for the food service losses.
"Half our market share has been decimated in an unprecedented fashion and we are struggling as an industry to make up for that."
Processor adjustments: Farmers, processors and others in the industry are working closely together to find solutions.
"This has the entire industry buzzing and sharing ideas, and even sharing milk and moving milk in different directions. Everyone is trying at their highest potential to get every drop of milk processed in Wisconsin and around the country.
"It's just proven to be too great a challenge in where we saw some of the milk just couldn't find a home."
There are many aspects to the challenges. In addition to the lost food service market, dairy exports have dropped off and processing plant employees have had to use social distancing for their safety, which is the right thing to do but has slowed productivity.
"Packaging lines are moving slower so you're losing the ability to process some milk... You're going to basically take in less milk so you can move at a slower pace. And you've had some plants go to fewer days of production because they simply don't have a sale for the end product."
Processor and farmer communication: Processors and farmers have done a good job of communicating. That is critically important.
"We can't look at this issue as an us-versus-them. This is an industry that needs to be united against a common enemy of an illness that has put America on pause for a while. This is not a processor decision that they would have made in any scenario. To see this sort of cutback and to see milk begin to back up in the system is never the goal. The goal is always to get that milk processed."
Short- and long-term changes: "I think it's an opportunity...for all of us in the dairy chain to look at how we do business and whether we will be more diversified at the dairy plant level."
The food service and retail supply chains are so much different, from the types of products to the packaging to what is required on labels. For example, shredded cheese that goes to a restaurant in bulk might come in 10-pound bags, far larger than what a customer sees at the grocery store.
"So it makes sense that you've had dairy plants specialize because these are such different markets. It's difficult to say I am both a food service supplier and a retail supplier. It is done, and a lot of people have that mix that is allowing them to shift to retail right now, but some companies have devoted a lot more energy to the food service side."
Making this switch is a long-term fix.
"In the short term, it's really about what can they do to move milk to other companies that can use it, to reduce their make so that they stay in business and keep moving milk through their facility, (whether they) can find markets in food service as we see in the next few weeks, and hope, restaurants come back online around the country."
[Submitted to the Ledger by Jamie Mara | Director of strategic communications; Dairy Business Association and Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative.]
Government purchases encouraged to slow free-fall of prices, but it may not be enough
When one local dairy farmer first heard about Wisconsin farmers dumping tens of thousands of gallons of fresh milk on the ground, it was hard for him to believe. He said hesaid he hadn’t heard of milk dumping happening since the recession of 2008-09 after demand for dairy products dropped.
But the farmer said he knows all too well the struggles dairy farmers face these days. Tough times in recent years that have seen a record number of Wisconsin farmers declare bankruptcy got even harder in recent weeks as Coronavirus concerns have shuttered some of dairy’s biggest buyers: restaurants, schools and food service businesses.
“It’s a crazy situation,” he said in an opinion piece on Friday. “When you see farmers dumping their milk because they have nowhere to sell it, you know things are bad.”
With dairy supply chains suddenly dried up, some dairies in Wisconsin are at full storage capacity because they have fewer places to ship their milk, cheese and butter. In some cases farmers have little choice but to dump the milk they produce because they have no processors to buy it.
The list of dairies who are at full capacity and can’t purchase more milk from farmers continues to grow. The Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery in Pierce County sent a letter this week to its members urging them to cut milk production by seven percent and stating their customers may have to start dumping milk soon.
“We may need to dump milk if our milk supply is not reduced,” the letter states.
A few weeks ago, the author of this piece received about $17 per hundredweight for his milk. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and today he gets $14 for every 100 pounds, a figure that makes him ponder whether he’ll be able to remain in business if COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on the dairy industry.
“Dairy farmers in Wisconsin have been struggling for years,” he said. “This was supposed to be a good year, a year when we could get higher milk prices and recover a bit, write off some debt. That recovery lasted for two months. Then the virus hit.”
Given struggles of recent years, this farmer said he has come to grips with the sad reality that he is likely the last generation of his family to continue the farm. Now he wonders how long he will be able to hold on.
“I’m in the middle of this career and saying ‘is this worth it?’ I’m just keeping it going for as long as I can.”
Loans tough for farmers in face of pandemic
On Monday night another new press release came in, which indicated the fall in commodity prices has given lenders pause and they are evidently not so enthusiastic about granting loans to dairy farmers in this grim time – when they really need it. The release states:
“Wisconsin farmers might have trouble securing loans needed to plant this spring thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Coronavirus outbreak has already impacted commodity markets, with prices for corn, milk and other products falling in recent weeks.”
Mike Lochner, economic consultant at the Wisconsin Farm Center, said low prices have a direct impact on a farmer's earning potential. He said ag lenders look at a producer's income minus their operating expenses, existing debt payments and their family living expenses to evaluate their ability to pay off a loan, called debt service coverage.
“A lot of farmers have had struggles trying to meet that 1.0 minimum standard (for debt service coverage) that lenders and regulators want to see," Lochner said.
He said the recent price decline is even more difficult because it comes after years of low commodity prices. And that has an impact on a farmer's collateral, or the assets they're borrowing against.
“In the last two, three years, the valuations of cattle and equipment have dropped dramatically because of the depressed milk prices and the depressed grain markets," Lochner said. "Essentially, the lender has less dollars he can loan to that farm. And a lot of it depends on the collateral position going into the request (for financing)."
Matt Ginder, chief core markets officer for Compeer Financial, a farm credit cooperative, said the pandemic has been on the minds of their loan officers this year.
"In the short run, it's definitely something that is taken into consideration as we look at projections and look at projected cash flows in particular," Ginder said.
Ginder said COVID-19 has had a major impact on the United States food system, changing how and where consumers buy most of their food.
"The entire economy has been scrambling," Ginder said. "Because of the impact of coronavirus and all of the 'shelter in place' or 'stay-at-home' orders in the different states, it just was a radical and significant and swift change and disruption to the normal consumer patterns."
But Lochner said it's unclear how these disruptions will impact the number of farmers unable to get a loan in 2020 compared to previous years.
The Wisconsin Farm Center, a program through the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, offers financial planning help to producers.
Lochner said most farmers are referred by their lender to the Farm Center after they're denied a loan or new credit. But he said the program hasn’t received many inquiries yet this year.
Ginder said Compeer has actually seen a recent increase in its loan volume and has even added new customers as other lenders turn away from farm loans.
"There are some lenders that have pulled back from the ag space," Ginder said. "We are a single industry lender essentially, committed to agriculture and rural America. And so we're in it through the inevitable production and commodity cycles."
Ginder said farmers could benefit from the low interest rates caused by the pandemic, lowering their overall operating expenses. The new Coronavirus has also affected the lending process. To avoid the spread of COVID-19, some banks and lending agencies have closed their offices to the public. Ginder said Compeer closed their offices to the public in March and now have most employees working remotely.
"A lot of the transactional aspects of extending credit or making a new loan have now definitely moved to digital and moved online. So that does have an impact on how the producer, how the farmer or the client goes through the process, in terms of maybe submitting information or asking their questions, or even closing the loan," Ginder said.
This final press release deals with farmers who still have to fight other livestock viruses like West Nile and Zika, as Coronavirus spreads. It is included as a reminder to everyone to eliminate or at least radically reduce the amount of stagnant, mosquito-breeding water, that hides in plain sight, seemingly everywhere.
Farmers still have to fight other livestock viruses
The Coronavirus has impacted enormous numbers of people, but the disease is suspected to have started in animals.
While the specific animal source hasn't been identified, the virus originated at a wet market – where both dead and live animals are sold – in Wuhan, China. Such outdoor markets with insufficient hygiene practices increase the risk of viruses being transmitted from animals to humans.
Unsanitary settings also have been the origin of other viruses, such as Zika and West Nile, that have long been infecting livestock across America – and, like the coronavirus, can be transmitted to humans. David Anderson, President and CEO of Bar-Bar-A, a company that produces automatic livestock drinkers, says stagnant water – which collects bacteria and where mosquitoes gather and become virus carriers – is a big source of the problem.
“When you have standing water out in the fields from rain or irrigation, stagnant drinking troughs in the heat, or any places livestock such as horses or cattle drink, it attracts mosquitoes," Anderson says. "Algae-infested ponds are another. The more mosquitoes, the more risk of contracting a virus.
"What we don't ever want to see in regard to these livestock viruses is the hysteria we're seeing about the coronavirus because of a general lack of knowledge about it. With Zika and West Nile, we need to educate the public on how horses and other livestock attract the viruses, which people can get, too, and what the preventive measures are that we can take.”
Anderson suggests the following ways to reduce the risks of people, pets and livestock getting viruses such as the West Nile and Zika:
Reduce the amount of standing water. This is where mosquitoes breed, but there are many places they gather besides ponds, puddles, and drinking troughs. "Many homes and yards are sitting ducks for mosquitoes and the disease they carry," Anderson says. "Dispose of cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots, or similar water-holding containers. Empty standing water from discarded tires. Clean clogged roof gutters, particularly if the leaves tend to pile up and plug up the drains. Turn over plastic wading pools when not in use. Don't allow water to stagnate in birdbaths or wading pools. Clean and chlorinate swimming pools that are not being used. Be aware that mosquitoes may even breed in the water that collects on swimming pool covers."
Avoid sharing equipment. "Animals often gather in packs to drink and eat, but to decrease exposure or chances of a virus spreading, avoid letting them share feed tubs and water troughs or buckets in herds," Anderson says. "This also includes being careful not to share things like pitchforks, halters, and brushes."
Practice good landscaping. "Very weedy and shallow waterways that receive a good amount of excess runoff from fertilizers or manure can be havens for mosquitoes," Anderson says. "Prevent such runoff through proper drainage, minimal fertilizer use, and buffer zones between open fields and wetlands. Control the weeds and keep old leaves from piling up."
“It's impossible for agriculture to occur without water, and the same is true of mosquitoes," Anderson says. "Any standing body of water represents the perfect spawning ground for mosquitoes, so you have to know how to reduce them to reduce your animals' risk – and your risk – of a serious virus.”
And with that, stay well everyone.
April 9, 2020
Music, museum and medical reimbursement
By Lynda Berg Olds
The first item of business during the Village of Luck’s board meeting via teleconference, was debated at length. The issue was whether or not to continue Music in the Park this summer in the face of the pandemic. The agenda item said the Music in the Park Committee would like the board to discuss and take action on what procedures are necessary for how – or if – these events can take place.
Trustee Mike Miller had spoken with Chris Peterson, who evidently does the heavy lifting in terms of booking the bands and he stated, “Normally, by this time, she has most of the summer booked. Maybe we should start half-way through as we don’t really know what is going on with the virus.”
Miller added no bands were booked as of yet, but some were tentative.
“There’s a lot to do in advance and Chris wasn’t sure she could get it done.”
Trustee Sonya Jensen responded, “I don’t know why we can’t proceed...”
Trustee Mike Broten echoed that statement with:
“We can’t get gun-shy. We have to go forward with life...you think the bands would be available.”
Village President Dave Rasmussen commented, “I can understand the feeling of ‘when will this end?’ but let’s at least talk to these people.
As for the folks dealing with the meals served each Tuesday at Triangle Park during the concerts, Jensen noted they are still planning for all of the dates right now.
Rasmussen called for volunteers to get in touch with the Music in the Park Committee and Jensen stepped up. She said, “If they need help I can do that too.”
Rasmussen said he thought that was great if the village helps out and at is at least able to gauge what some of the bands are thinking.
Since there was a call for action, Trustee Kyle Johansen stated, “If they just want to know what we think, tell them to continue planning Music in the Park and the board approved starting in June – to go ahead as normal.”
That became a motion, which was seconded by Rasmussen, who remarked, “If any of us can help, that would be great.”
The next item of business was approving a resolution: “Declaring a Public Health Emergency to the COVID-19 Coronavirus.”
Rasmussen explained this was basically to make the Village eligible for reimbursement of some COVID-19 expenses through FEMA, as well as local, county, state and other federal programs.
There was no argument there and the resolution was quickly and unanimously passed.
The board then approved an invoice from Clarke Construction for the Village Hall remodel in the amount of $31,472, which included $10,000 to Jensen Furniture. The Village is happy to keep it local!
Another agenda item, which again involved considerable discussion, was the Library/Museum contract with the Village. This item was tabled from last month – and ultimately tabled again until next month.
Rasmussen expressed concern for big costs down the road, like needing a new roof. It was noted that the roof is 10 years-old now with a 50-year guarantee, but Rasmussen wondered who would pay for a new roof in 40 years. Present for the teleconference were Nick Piszczek, who heads up the Museum Board of Directors, and Library Director Jill Glover. The agreement in question is basically about cost-sharing. The Village owns the building and “rents” it to the Library and Museum via this cost-sharing.
While the Library is able to put away monies via ACT 150 funds, the Museum relies on donations and fundraising efforts. Since long term capital improvements were the subject, it was discussed the Museum may have to tuck-a-buck-a-day-away. Piszczek reminded the board that the Museum pays for insurance – in the event say, window repair was needed due to vandalism, as an example. He said, “We are taking it upon ourselves for everything,” but agreed to re-draft the Use Agreement once again and bring it back to the board next month for approval.
In another matter that has come before the board numerous times was the agenda item: “Stipend for Golf Pro-Shop Manager.” This has been bandied about since the Spring of 2018, if not before, and Rasmussen was quick to make the motion for up to $400 per month for medical reimbursement for Gwen Anderson, based on invoices and bills she provides.
It was noted the “up to $400” is taxable – and also that it has to go through payroll and be coded as health care reimbursement, similar to how work boots get paid for, for public works employees, Rasmussen said.
“We’ve had this discussion, this is ridiculous, stated Trustee Mike Miller, who was a tad agitated by the subject. He could not believe how long the matter has dragged on. “This is like a deja vu. I do not understand why this is not settled. I want it ended.”
On the line, the press could hear that sentiment echoed by other trustees, but they were all talking at once (which easily happens in an open teleconference).
“Last fall I indicated we would handle it this way, based on receipts submitted to the village treasurer,” Rasmussen said. “But at the request of Gwen, she wanted something in the minutes.”
Miller asked if the health care reimbursement included eyes and teeth and the answer was in the affirmative.
“That’s fine. I don’t have any problem with that.” He also wondered who decides what gets approved.
Rasmussen, who serves on the Golf Commission (and of course is village president) said he could approve what invoices should get reimbursement, but then Broten, who chairs the Golf Commission, said, “She can bring it to the commission and if it’s a good one I can bring it in to (treasurer) Lori Cook and have her pay it. I don’t think it is going to be that often. She wants it in the minutes because it isn’t in writing – and you know how some people get?”
Another question was if the $400 accumulates – and Broten said no.
“I would assume that if she has $400 in expenses in the month of May, then she would get $400, minus taxes to cover the expenses that she has. It will not get carried over. “And it goes back, if she has receipts from 2018, I’d like to cover them. If she does have them. I don’t know if she does or not, because it was first talked about back then.”
Miller said, “It seems like we talk about it every meeting.”
“Yeah,” concurred Broten.
Rasmussen stated, “I would say whenever we approved it” and he thought that was fall of 2019.”
“Well she is a little bit to blame to you know,” stated Broten. “She hasn’t been too cooperative. But maybe this will set the tone if she knows it is in the minutes.”
Village Clerk Lori Pardun stated, “Okay, then I need to know the exact date when it will be retroactive to.”
Broten said it was 2018 when Anderson started.
Others chimed in and said the first approval was last fall.
“How about Jan. 1 of 2019?” suggested Rasmussen and Trustee Ron Steen.
Miller said, “How about May of 2018, who cares? Let’s get it over with!”
Broten said, “The money is in the budget, we never used it.”
So May of 2018 was finally decided.
Broten said he didn’t want to hear about it again.
“No way,” agreed Miller. “This is done!”
April 16, 2020
Nothing is normal about golf course opening
By Lynda Berg Olds
Late Monday afternoon members of the Luck Golf Commission met in what was surely the most unusual meeting to date. Normally at this time of year there is a flurry of activity with the season getting underway, projects galore, equipment upgrades, staffing decisions, etc. But there is no 'normal' anymore – and the 'new normal' remains a bit hard to swallow.
Course Superintendent Kevin Clunis led off with the financial report, noting $41,507 has been paid out year-to-date in salaries, wages, payroll taxes, printing supplies and some minor repairs. In the same sentence he stressed that not one dollar has come in as revenue to date. There are only a dozen 'full' memberships, which average about $1,000 each, but none of them have been paid for this season as yet.
Golfing is set to begin this Friday, April 24 – and the phone has been ringing for tee-times, but most of the callers are already three-year members. One of the rules of that special $59 per year membership is if they play on weekends they must rent a cart – but of course they can't. There will be no cart rentals – as per the Governor's order. (However, it should be noted that private handicap golf carts are allowed.)
Here are more of the restrictions, which will evidently be in place until the Safer at Home order, which has been extended to May 26, is lifted (or a superseding order is put in place):
Social distancing is required.
Only online or phone tee time reservations and payments.
Clubhouses and Pro Shops closed.
Tee times scheduled to ensure social distancing throughout the course (Luck is going from eight minutes to 10 and will see how that goes and adjust accordingly if necessary).
Requirements for staff and maintenance (unspecified).
Driving ranges and miniature golf are closed.
One item that generated a lot of discussion was in relation to food and beverages with regards to 'bars:'
“Food and drink may not be consumed on premises, either indoors or outdoors.”
This begged the question, Is the entire 1,400-acre golf course considered “premises?”
Well, yet another caveat specified, “Customers are prohibited from self-dispensing any unpackaged food or beverage.”
Potential enforcement of these rules was talked about and it sounds like there won't really be any. It is not like the Sheriff's Department has the staff to wander around the golf course and make sure people are social distancing. (See Message from the Sheriff on the front page of the Ledger Press.)
Clunis and Clubhouse Manager Gwen Anderson pretty much threw up their hands and relied on the direction of the Golf Commissioners. Clunis cautioned, “We have a lot of exposure as a municipality. You tell us what to do!”
Commissioner Chris Petersen stated, “I would think you would at least have to have pop and water available...”
“Per the governor, food and drink may not be consumed on the premises,” reminded Clunis.
“What do you want us to do about bathrooms?” he also inquired. With the clubhouse closed that is problematic. He said he would go ahead and get a porta potty.
“These are questions Gwen and I have been wrestling with for two weeks,” Clunis said.
“What about walk-up golfers?” queried Anderson. Commission Chair Mike Broten said as long as they have a credit card he thought it would be fine.
Hours were also discussed. The way the Commission was talking it sounded like they expected only Anderson and Clunis to run the (minimized) show so to speak. Clunis commented they will likely only bring in about $100 this weekend from those who don't have memberships, but then also said, “We are open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. We can't have Gwen here 14 hours per day. Anderson said she has long time employee Greg Bowman coming back to open starting Mondays. The Commission said they don't nbeed anybody there at 6 a.m. or even 7 a.m. and told Anderson to tell Bowman to begin at 8 a.m. and work until 2 p.m..
Petersen again commented there will undoubtedly be adjustments made as they play things by ear and see how it goes.
Clunis spoke to maintaining the golf course himself for now. He said the greens will be slower as the grass will be allowed to grow a bit higher. For right now they will just be mowed two or three times per week; the fairways once per week; the tee boxes once or twice and the rough as required.
“There won't be a lot of wiggle room,” he said. “It is going to get a little shaggy...one person can only do so much.”
He also observed that by the second week of May, mowing needs to commence seven days per week.
The next meeting was set for May 18 (always the third Monday of the month – at 5:30 p.m. at the Clubhouse).
Finally, Anderson had an issue with the content in last week's paper with respect to coverage of the village board meeting, specifically the agenda item regarding her reimbursement for medical expenses. The discussion at the Luck Village Board was a lengthy one, reiterating the progress (or lack thereof) in securing Anderson some health benefits – after eight years as the Clubhouse Manager. The matter was approved last fall, but evidently she still was denied reimbursement. To that end, she wanted the minutes to show the board approval, which is why it was on the agenda again.
Broten made the comment that Anderson “hadn't been too cooperative” to which she took great offense.
“If there's one thing I've been, it's cooperative!” she stated. “I was told numerous times I was going to get full benefits...it's not even about the money, it's being told I'm not cooperative! This paints a bad picture of me. I have been lied to and walked over and I have stood by this place for years...”
Broten apparently didn't know the whole story and Anderson stated, “You owe me an apology Mike Broten.”
And she got it.
April 23, 2020
“Pass/fail” is out; “pass/incomplete” is in
By Lynda Berg Olds
It was a wing-dingy of a meeting of the Luck School Board on Monday night, one of the very few area meetings where members – and the press – actually gathered in person. At this meeting in the small gym, the tables, with one person per table, were spaced even farther apart than before (see photo). Fortunately, sound carries fairly well in that space, so nobody really had to shout.
The single item that took up the most time at the lengthy meeting was the issue of grading during this virtual learning environment. While high praise was lavished on the teachers, who have evidently pulled out all the stops with all their “zooming,” along with a dozen other kinds of virtual communication, there is still concern that some students may not benefit as well as others with the new learning environment.
To that end, High School Principal Brad Werner recommended enacting a “pass/incomplete” grading system for now (and possibly going forward to fall semester). This is obviously different from the traditional A – F grades, but also different from “pass/fail.”
Werner maintained that the playing field is not level. He said he and Superintendent Cory Hinkel, as well as Elementary Principal Jason Harelson, have “stared at charts and graphs and spread sheets from all over the State – and they “zoomed” last week with the teachers.
“None of us is excited to fail a kid,” Werner stated. “With a pass/incomplete system it does not affect the student's GPA (if they get an incomplete – and then take the steps to correct it in a timely fashion).”
Werner was adamant about giving the student every opportunity to pass. “I just don't like the idea of having a black mark on their record. I'd rather see an incomplete...Cumberland is doing it,” he said, noting most schools are going to a pass/fail system during this COVID-19 school closure.
“How do you have a kid virtually weld?” Werner asked rhetorically. “Somehow the standards have got to shift. The bar is a moving target. It's not clean cut, but I am committed to giving kids a chance to fix this...maybe we will never be back to normal...”
Werner also stressed that it is not fair to penalize a child who doesn't have the same opportunities other children may have at home. They may have babysitting responsibilities, they might not have the resources, encouragement or workspace, things that can be controlled in the school environment.
“To me that is grading on privilege. Some schools have even shut down since it is not equitable.”
School Board member Todd Roehm prefaced his comments with, “Personally, I'm all in with what everyone wants to do, but I do want to share the opinion that I do think at some point we all fall down and learn to get back up and we learn to work hard. And that's my question, is this an opportunity for them to learn, 'I should have answered that call when Mr. Harelson called. I should have listened.' Are we doing a disservice to that kid to just let him not answer the phone and give him a 'D' because he did just enough? We don't know the answer to that and maybe we never will – or not for a long time.
“It's not about my kid. I'm not worried about my kids. But there are a lot of kids and families out there giving it everything they've got and they are using this as a teaching moment...they need to take this seriously...
“So the kid who busted his butt all spring is going to just sit there in the fall and wait for whoever to catch back up,” lamented Roehm.
School Board member Rick Palmer stated, “None of us were prepared for this. Maybe in the fall students can make a choice and take a grade or go pass/fail, but right now...”
Werner observed that it is not always the students one thinks would do well in this new learning environment that are doing so. He indicated some hard working kids are sluffing off, whereas others are excelling.
“We have kids that never do anything and are doing a whole bunch – and kids that are way on top that we can't even figure out where they are at – if they still have a pulse. It would blow your mind. And surely there are some that are staying the course, hard workers now and they'll be hard workers in September. It is wild. It is eye-opening. And to be honest I think we are going to see a lot of educational procedures and practices that change going forward.
“I think this system makes sense and gives kids the opportunity to fix the problem if they do screw up. And it also holds them accountable earning the credit to move forward. I don' think it is great, but it is serviceable.”
School Board President Jake Jensen put math teacher Mr. Dean Roush on the spot and asked where he stood from an educator's standpoint?
“My honest opinion – I stand more with Todd. I understand that there are situations where students don't have all the same opportunities. I have special ed students that are struggling, but are still working, and I have others that could be working that are not.
“I tell my kids a letter grade means nothing to me, it is just a measurement, an idea of where you are at, I'd much prefer to see how much they've grown. I don't like 'pass' myself. I like incomplete as it gives them an opportunity. My physics students are diligent day after day – being there every day. They are for the most part right on task...but to put everybody on the same playing field, I have a problem with that myself.
“I don't mind the idea of incomplete at all because you can put anything in the grade book – and fix it. A student could have a 'C' in algebra and retake the class and get an 'A' if they choose, like in college.
“I side more with Todd. I know the learning environment is not a level playing field, but there are some that are just taking advantage of that field – to get that 'P' (for pass). I have some that I would say, 'No, I cannot give you a 'P,' and I have to justify why not. That is more difficult for me to justify why you did not get a 'P' and you got and 'I,' than it would be to say, you got a 90 percent, you got 80 percent, you got 60 percent.”
Werner stated,, “Not to be argumentative, but we did have a staff meeting by zoom and the consensus of the staff at that meeting was pass/incomplete. It is not just me coming to you with this information.”
It should be noted that Mr. Roush has gone way above and beyond the call of duty, holding live (virtual) classes daily, which are recorded so a student can access the information if for some reason they cannot attend the live class, which is encouraged.
Jensen made the point, “In real life, hard workers are hard workers.”
The school board consensus was to go with Werner's “pass/incomplete” recommendation, although no action was taken. This will be for grades six through 12 only, as elementary teachers will be discussing options in the future as well.
April 30, 2020
Submission of CDBG grant application authorized
By Lynda Berg Olds
Cedar Corporation Senior Planner Patrick Beilfuss “hosted” a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Public Hearing Monday evening via teleconference prior to the “regular” meeting of the Milltown Village Board. He provided an overview of the CDBG program, as is protocol during a hearing of this nature, which was all about the village's authorizing submission of a Community Development Block Grant application to the Public Facilities Program division.
“We can apply every other year and this will be the fourth one we have applied for in a row in the past seven years. We have done a number of projects including the library, slip lining for the sanitary sewer in the mobile home court, water and hydrant improvements on Second Avenue, and prior to that the greenhouses in the Industrial Park. We have had good success and we hope that will continue.
Beilfuss did his due diligence in explaining the CDBG is a federally-funded program under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, administered by the Wisconsin Department of Administration.
“The purpose of the grant is to develop viable communities, promoting decent housing, suitable living environments and expansion of the economy – principally for the benefit of low to moderate income residents.”
This year, there is $27 million available for CDBG programs in the State of Wisconsin, with a pot of $10 million earmarked for the Public Facilities portion, according to Beilfuss.
“This is the second year the State is doing a 2 to 1 match. In the past, the community could receive a grant up to $500,000 – and then they had to put in $500,000. So it was a 50/50 program. Now, for every dollar the village puts in the state will put in $2, up to a maximum of $1 million.”
He gave the example if the village were to do a $1.5 million project, the program would pay $1 million, with the village pitching in $500,000.
“This is a great opportunity and we don't know how long it will last so we want to take advantage of it. Also, like all CDBG programs, property owners cannot be assessed for the project.”
The CDBG has a number of different divisions: housing, planning, public facilities, economic develop and public facilities for economic development.
Typical activities in the housing portion are housing rehabilitation, homeowner assistance and special housing projects, etc. Cedar Corporation administers this program for the Village of Milltown. If someone qualifies, the loan is at zero percent interest and does not need to be paid back until a person dies or sells, at which point the money is returned to the “pot” to be used again.
“The Planning grant can be used for comprehensive plans, development plans within the community. It can be used for housing studies and small area plans such as a downtown or a neighborhood.
“The Economic Development program provides loans to expand facilities, purchase equipment and training employees, especially when they benefit low-to-moderate income residents.
“The Public Facilities for Economic Development program is similar to the Economic Development program except it is for the infrastructure that would assist the business, such as roads, streets, water, sewer, storm sewer, etc.”
Beilfuss said he needed to touch on housing issues, commenting that the village had already participated in the county-wide housing study, but noting that another project they could apply for is senior housing and also for community development needs.
“Money could be used for expansion of the Industrial Park, again senior housing, to update the comp plan – or other things that would benefit the community and low to moderate income residents.”
Finally, he turned to the actual project the Village is looking at, which is basically the reconstruction of Milltown Avenue. Beilfuss observed that this was part of a grant the village did not receive this past year. The proposed project runs from Second Avenue to Main Street and may possibly go all the way to Highway 35.
“Because these grants are competitive, we have to make them score as high as possible. With the MLS grant we were just looking at street reconstruction. So during our walk, we talked about adding some curb and sidewalk, adding a safety element, along with some other improvements that would help the grant score better. Along the route we have the Community Center, we have Angel's Island playground area, we also have the ballfields and this is kind of a busy way of going around the village. There is traffic and it is a narrow street. You have places people could walk to with the parks and the Community Center so we are going to add the safety component to this – to fit a sidewalk in, which will be a bit challenging because it is quite narrow as we get towards Bank Street.
“And really as a main artery in the community it would make sense to extend it to Highway 35...and you do have Bering Park there, which is heavily used. We think it makes a logical connection, but we will have some further discussion on that.”
Beilfuss said the estimated cost of the first phase of the project on Milltown Avenue from Second Avenue to Main Street would be somewhere between $700,000 and $750,000 and the cost to continue to Main about another $450,000, bringing the total of the combined project to about $1.2 million, making the village's portion $400,000.
Beilfuss said he would talk to Ehlers, the public financing institution that works with Milltown and run the numbers past them to get a feel for feasibility.
Village President LuAnn White strongly encouraged that and indicated whether or not the board will decide to go for the full project application will largely depend on village financial advice from Ehlers.
So although the village is in a holding pattern for a week or so until they find out some particulars, they were still able to authorize a bit of a general resolution to get the ball rolling in the meantime, once the public hearing was adjourned with the regular meeting underway.
Milltown Trustees voted unanimously to authorize the submission of a CDBG application to the Public Facilities Program division.
May 14, 2020
“We've done the best we can”
By Lynda Berg Olds
Members of the Luck School Board, administration and the press gathered once again in the small gym Monday night, everyone with their own table and plenty of room between them. After the formalities, the meeting got underway with the business at hand, beginning with Superintendent Cory Hinkel's report.
He gave an update on the Cares Act, or rather tried, noting, “They still haven't given us really great guidance yet.”
Some of that pertains to (not) paying Kobussen bus company, which they have not used, not at all, not once since the schools closed in March. Hinkel noted that the contract with Kobussen does not call for a minimum number of days. While that may be an oversight that will surely be corrected, which came up a couple winters ago when there were so many snow days, for now it does not look as if the schools will be on the hook for a service that has not been utilized.
“We are in a wait and hold situation and should have some guidance soon,” Hinkel commented.
This helps with the budget, which has undergone some revisions with the new virtual environment. The school purchased 330 new Chromebooks, which covers third grade and up. It was time – and Hinkel commented there is no telling in what condition some of the computers will be returned.
“The last ones were bought for K-3 so we should be good now until 2026,” he said. Although the Chromebooks may last longer, after five or six years they will no longer be supported with updates, rendered them obsolete to a certain extent.
Summer School is in the works beginning June 13 and lasting for three weeks. The plan is for virtual summer school to involve creative activities that are independent – without parents having to look over student's shoulders. Hinkel said, “We want to give parents a break.”
The curriculum will be divided into appropriate age groups, with deliveries of crafts and fun activities for the little ones likely delivered along with meals. There will still be cooking class with Renee Gavinski, but it will be virtually. There will also be Outdoor Adventures with Jeremy Jensen, and Crafting classes. For the older kids virtual sports and fitness activities will also be available.
The free breakfast and lunch delivery service will continue for sure until June 30, but according to Hinkel could perhaps be extended until Aug. 31, as long as the school is being utilized.
Referendum Planning Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and before all is said and done, Hinkel hopes to have seven or eight bids returned. He has already toured a few firms through the school as the board struggles to come up with an improved plan with more community involvement to solve at a minimum the deferred maintenance at the school, as well as hopefully make some much-needed improvements/upgrades.
Hinkel also talked about cleaning and maintenance and observed that some long put-off projects are finally getting done. One observation he made was that they will be turning off the water fountains, “which will probably never be used again.”
Hinkel then revealed that schools have been asked to reach out to their legislators and tell their story.
“They want people to realize that school is going on, it may not be perfect, but it is still going on. So I tried to tell about how we have been doing and how our teachers have stepped-up and school is continuing. It may not be meeting the needs of all our students, but we are doing the best that we can within our means.”
He concluded the staff is, and has been, doing a great job.
Elementary Principal Jason Harelson was up to bat and he modestly commented, “We've done the best we can...as an administrative team, we have been talking about every possible different scenario we might see going forward – but we've proven through hard work and dedication we can do it. I am so proud of our families and everybody. This has gone as well as it could have, utilizing Zoom. We could have a one stop shop with Google Meet. It has taken a lot of work, but this will end one day. As Cory mentioned we will have Summer School for the Elementary. If parents want their kids to continue with math and reading, I will have some independent online work for the students, paired with activities.”
Again, Harelson wanted to express his pride in how well everyone has come together in this uncharted territory.
High School Principal Brad Werner had huge kudos to give everyone as well – and he surely was amazed at the talents of IT man extraordinaire, Aaron Arjes He said with regards to the virtual Senior Awards especially, as well and the outstanding Senior Parade on Sunday, “I can't believe we didn't have to buy anything or pay anybody. Aaron is a genius and a lot more goes into live streaming a virtual awards program than I ever imagined. He had about nine computers going at once. It was amazing. Werner indicated maybe anybody could do a hack job, but to do the seamless presentation Arjes did was nothing short of masterful.
He said there will also be an Eighth Grade Promotion event coming soon.
While several pictures of the Senior Parade and one or two of the awards can be found in this issue of the Enterprise Press, next week we will list the scholarships, etc., in their entirety, as well as some personal information about the 27 graduate's futures – in a special salute to the seniors.