By Joe Bachman
Voting day is Tuesday, Apr. 5 in the state of Wisconsin, and running for his third term is incumbent mayor, Zach Vruwink. The mayor discussed prominent local issues facing Wisconsin Rapids.
On the future of heroin and opiate prevention in Wisconsin Rapids:
“We felt that it was important to make the investment into the law enforcement aspect of the heroin situation in our community, not only to participate in our local efforts here, but also with the additional narcotics detective,” said Vruwink. “Even resources, externally in our community and more of a regional basis through the Central Wisconsin Drug Task Force who will provide relief to the community as a whole in the greater Wisconsin Rapids area and beyond.”
Vruwink emphasized the importance of a pillared approach to the heroin problem in central Wisconsin, stating a workforce pillar, a law enforcement pillar, and an education pillar.
“We’re now to a step where it’s broken into subcommittees, for example, the workforce pillar will be working with employers, who say have an employee who shows up that may be in an overdose state, or is a user — how they support that person in a workplace setting, said Vruwink. “In the education and awareness area, my role is connecting with a broad group of stakeholders for that purpose — we firmly believe based on research and on other communities that have been working through this issue, that the pillared approach is a comprehensive solution. It’s a community problem, and it’s going to take the community to solve it.”
On his vision of Wisconsin Rapids in the future and making it a better place to live:
“First, is ensuring public facilities, streets, aquatics centers — any of those aspects truly represent a vibrant community,” said Vruwink. “I think it’s critical that Wisconsin Rapids continues to keep the foot on the gas to make sure that our community is just as competitive and desirable as other communities for people to live here, or seek employment here.”
Vruwink stated the importance of making sure that community plans regarding waterfront and public spacing stays on course, as well as making sure business parks are used to the best of their abilities, as well as community resources.
“It’s important to continue to implement and execute the plan. We can’t just plan; that’s only the first step,” said Vruwink. “Overall, in five to 10 years, people will look back on this time and say that we finally put things in motion to really secure a strong future, and diversity the economy to make this a place where young adults, adults, seniors, retirees all want to live.”
On where the money will come from to fund the riverfront project:
“The reality is, the municipality is handcuffed for paying for any of these things on its own. To think that city taxpayers are going to foot the bill for any of these investments is just not possible. — “In my view, city finances are always leveraged. If the city is in, we’re then going to go to others and ask to match, or triple match city finances,” said Vruwink. “In my time in office, we’ve made a very intentional effort to securing state and federal support for our initiatives.”– “A lot of times, people criticize grant solicitation, but those dollars come right back into this community and are spread three to five times, if not more.”
Gameplan for bringing jobs into the community:
“We need to build on our assets — we have a great broadband infrastructure with our fiber in the ground — why aren’t we capitalizing on that?” said Vruwink, “We have a significant asset in our wastewater treatment facility, and our cranberry producers make good use of that.”
Vruwink touched up on the creation of jobs through the redevelopment downtown, and that any development will include commercial office or retail space.
“A lot of people don’t realize the major opportunity in healthcare delivery — a lot of people don’t realize the asset that is our community hospital, said Vruwink. “There is major opportunity to bring services to this hospital to serve a much larger region — that’s what the hospital has made clear from their plans when Aspirus first came to the community.”
On the stability of Verso Paper Mill:
“We can’t ignore the sheer fact that demand is declining for paper that is produced in this community; however, there are others that produce that same type of paper — so from a competitive standpoint, I’m very in-tuned to keeping in contact with mill leadership and mill management and asking them what the mill is doing to stay competitive and viable, said Vruwink. “They had a plan heading into bankruptcy in order to continue to operate, and we haven’t seen any surprises for that process so far.”