2015: The Year in Review, Part 2
Compiled by City Times Staff
City Mulling Business License Ordinance
A business licensing ordinance that would require local businesses to register with the city is under consideration by common council members after
it was proposed at a meeting of the Wisconsin Rapids Finance Committee on Tuesday evening.
Adam Tegen, director of planning and economic development, said the ordinance started as a way to better compile a list of all the businesses in the city which he said totals about 1300. He said the process to discover a new or existing business in the city is time consuming and redundant among different departments.
Ward 2 Alderperson Todd Ferkey who also owns a business in the city said he was against the ordinance as it increased the scope of the city’s government.
“I think it’s government getting bigger, government looking for control, more compliance,” said Ferkey. “If the government wants teeth to have ordinances enforced, I think there’s other ways to do that other than calling it a licensing fee or registration.”
Law Enforcement Reacts to Police Shootings
In the wake of increased anti-police sentiment and law enforcement directed violence, Wisconsin Rapids Police Chief Kurt Heuer and Wood County Sheriff Thomas Reichert said their officers and deputies are refocusing their safety efforts.
“Wood County has always been extraordinarily supportive of their law enforcement,” said Reichert. “We live in an area where people respect and actually care about their law enforcement officials.”
Eight law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty over the past month. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, shooting deaths of officers are up 40 percent compared with the same January-to-September period in 2014.
“It’s something we reinforce all the time. Whether it’s in self-defense classes, whether it’s in the officer awareness type situations…the idea of officer safety is always paramount and always at the front of the training that we do,” said Reichert.
City Mulls Applying for Railroad Quiet Zones
A possible remedy for a common complaint by Wisconsin Rapids residents, loud train horns, is taking its first steps.
Consideration of applying for railroad crossing quiet zones, an issue that’s been brought before city leaders multiple times since 2009, was approved by the Wisconsin Rapids Common Council on September 15 following approval by the city’s Public Works Committee two weeks prior.
Ward 2 Alderperson Todd Ferkey said he hears the train horns five to seven times a day from his house which is near the rail crossings and sometimes up to five times in 15 minutes when they switch tracks by General Chemical.
“My main concern…is the nighttime,” said Ferkey. “A train comes through there at two in the morning, it’s quite alarming.”
Lincoln HS Announces Hall of Fame Inductees
Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln High School has announced its selections for induction into the Athletic Hall of Fame for the year of 2015.
Inductees will be honored prior to the varsity football game between the Red Raiders and the Stevens Point Area Senior High School Panthers on September 25 at the South Wood County Recreation Center. The inductees include James Newman, Charles Martin and Wayne “Skoog” Oestreich.
“It’s an honor,” said Newman. “Just walking down the halls by the field house as many times as I have, seeing some of the people that have been honored with that in the past, Lincoln’s had a great history of athletes…it’s definitely an honor to be considered with all those people.”
Wisconsin Rapids Family Video to Add Pizza Service
Family Video, the popular movie and video game rental store chain, is expanding their reach by adding Marco’s Pizza restaurants in many of its locations. Three new additions will soon hit the Central Wisconsin area including Wisconsin Rapids, Marshfield and Plover.
Wisconsin Rapids Family Video Manager Jake Jeffers said no exact date has been set for the pizza shop’s opening but he expects it within six months.
“I think the company was very intelligent to go out and branch into pizza,” said Jeffers. “That’s something that’s always gone together is pizza and movies.”
Ohio-based Marco’s Pizza opened in 1978 and now has over 500 stores located in 35 states. Over 100 Marco’s locations are already in place in Family Videos with 200 total planned.
City Clerk Resigns
Wisconsin Rapids City Clerk Shane Blaser on Tuesday announced he would resign from his office on Dec. 18.
Blaser has been the clerk for eight years. He made the announcement via email.
“This may also be seen by some as an opportunity to change the position to an appointed one. I do not support this decision,” Blaser wrote in his email statement. “The citizens expressed their opinion in four referendum questions at the April 4, 2006 election…[t]he results showed that the citizens wanted to keep the positions elected as opposed to appointed and were not in favor of combining them by a three to one margin.”
Blaser called his decision a “difficult” one.
“I’ve decided to pursue business opportunities that will not be available if I wait until my term has ended,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed helping and assisting the citizens of Wisconsin Rapids navigate the governmental process and with the many areas in elections.”
City Mulling Clerk Options after Resignation
After the mid-term resignation of Wisconsin Rapids City Clerk Shane Blaser, city leaders are trying to determine how to fill the vacant position.
Blaser formally resigned on October 5 to pursue other professional goals. His final day in office is December 18 though his full term would end in 2018. His absence requires a new clerk be instituted and the city’s Common Council has to decide how they will go about that position. Options were discussed at a joint meeting of the city’s Human Resources and Finance and Property Committees.
The position of the clerk requires the keeping of municipal records, organizing elections and organizing and distributing meeting agendas and minutes.
The council could appoint a replacement clerk for the remainder of the term or an election could be organized. Should the council choose to appoint, the electorate could force a referendum and vote if they are unhappy with the council’s choice according to City Attorney Susan Schill.
City Approves Slew of Wage Increases
At a meeting of the City of Wisconsin Rapids Human Resources Committee on October 13, wage increases were unanimously approved by committee members for the positions of mayor, chief election inspectors and non-union employees.
The mayoral salary was increased for the two-year term beginning in May 2016. Currently, the Mayor Zachary Vruwink earns $64,706 per year before taxes and benefits are taken out. This is below the comparable state average of $66,178 according to HR Director Beth Bakunowicz. For comparison, she said Stevens Point Mayor Mike Wiza currently earns $71,050 per year.
Vruwink was not available for comment.
The committee unanimously voted to increase the mayor’s salary to the comparable state average of $66,178. The increase will not take effect until May 2016 following the next mayoral election.
Grand Rapids FD Goes Pink
The Grand Rapids Fire Department and firefighters have gone pink to bring awareness not only to breast cancer but all cancers.
The Grand Rapids Fire Department recently finished some exterior upgrades to their station and when they had to decide what color to paint some concrete safety posts, pink came to mind as a joke but after some thought was deemed appropriate. The firefighters are also sporting and selling pink t-shirts to help raise funds for the Riverview Hospital Patient
“This touches everybody’s family. You’re going to know somebody who’s had breast cancer or some kind of cancer,” said Captain Mike Szwajkowski. “It’s an important thing.”
He said many of the firefighters’ families and friends have been diagnosed and died of cancer. Cancer also appears frequently in the firefighters themselves, a common hazard of the job because of the various carcinogenic smoke and fumes they breathe while on calls.
Future of Mead Pool in Question
The Mead Pool may not have much of a future.
The future of the Mead Pool and Wisconsin Rapids aquatics programs was discussed at length at a committee meeting of the city’s whole Common Council. The consensus was that council members were not in favor of investing much in the aging pool. They instead look toward new facilities and partnerships with other aquatic options.
“How do you figure out what’s going to be best to serve our residents but also what is it the city can afford and sustain long term because the days of building outdoor pools on its own have kind of come and gone,” said Mayor Zachary Vruwink.
A recent inspection of the pool, which opened in the early 1970s, has revealed problems that would require it to be closed including health issues due to lack of water circulation which could breed bacteria and damages to tiles, gutters, deck and walls. The pool also leaks over 1,000 gallons per day adding to water and chlorine costs. The damage was caused not only by age but also rising ground water levels and freezing temperatures.
Clock Tower to See Repairs, Refurbishment
The iconic clock tower in the Mead Rapids View Park is in need of some work.
Repairs needed for the Clock and Bell Tower at Mead Rapids View Park were approved by the city’s Finance and Property Committee at its meeting on November 3. Repairs and costs were researched by the city’s Clock and Bell Tower Committee.
Fixes needed include repairs, cleaning and restoration of the clock and its inner workings by the Minneapolis-based Mechanical Watch Supply, LLC. at a cost of $31,500. Recaulking of the clock tower by the Advance Cast Stone Company of Random Lake, Wis., is also needed at a cost of $6,500.
Clock and Bell Tower Committee member Jerry Feith said the mechanical winders in the clock need replacing and problems with the clock stopping in cold weather need to be addressed as well.
“We would like it to last for a while now,” said Feith.
“No More” Campaign Spreads Awareness of Domestic Violence
A local social media video campaign is aiming to spread awareness of domestic violence throughout Wood County.
The “No More” campaign is presented by the Wood County Coordinated Community Response Team, a group comprised of local professionals dedicated to the issue of domestic violence. The video campaign features celebrities from around Wood County saying “No more” to common excuses and denials for domestic violence.
“No more ‘he said he was sorry,'” said Wisconsin Rapids Police Chief Kurt Heuer in the video.
“No more ‘this is just a big city issue,'” said Marshfield Mayor Chris Meyer.
“No more ‘that doesn’t happen to guys,'” said a male domestic violence victim.
Wisconsin Rapids Family Center Executive Director Sue Sippel said domestic violence revolves around a system of behaviors that one person uses exert and maintain power over another. These can be emotional, physical or financial.
Two Downtown Area Buildings to be Demolished
Two buildings, both over 100 years old, will soon be demolished to make way for future development near the downtown area.
The salvage and demolition of the two buildings was approved by the city’s Finance and Property Committee at its meeting on November 10. The two aging buildings are the Spath building, built around 1880, located at 195 2nd St. and the USDA building, built around 1898, at 360 1st St. Both building sit near the Wood County Courthouse.
A salvager has not yet been chosen and the city is seeking qualified applicants.
The buildings were purchased early in the year as part of the city’s redevelopment plan. The city purchased the Spath building for $175,000 and the USDA for $150,000.
Planning and Economic Development Director Adam Tegen said it was not expected the buildings could be utilized in their current state as they’d been underused in the past.
Tegen said a new development is not yet planned for the vacant lots but a multi-story, mixed use building with commercial and residential space would be desirable.
Council Approves 2016 Budget with Slight Levy Increase
The Wisconsin Rapids Common Council passed a balanced budget for 2016 at its meeting on November 17.
The budget was passed unanimously by the council with no members of the public coming forward prior to the vote. The total projected expenditures and revenues for the city come in at $37,292,569 which is a $2,349,440 increase over last year. The increases come mainly from areas of public safety, public works and construction projects, most of which are one-time expenditures and will not extend to future years.
“The 2016 budget has been prepared with the objective of no layoffs and no reduction in City services while addressing our needs in infrastructure, community development, public safety and overall well-being,” said Mayor Zachary Vruwink in his budget memo.
The 2016 tax levy is set at 1.1 percent, up from 0.8 percent from 2015. The levy increase is less than 2015’s and the maximum allowed by law based on new construction in the city.
Wirl Steps Down as District 1 Alderman
District 1 Alderman Chad Wirl has resigned from his office effective November 30.
Wirl has served as an alderman since 2009 and recently announced he’d be stepping down from his position for reasons of family, business opportunities and health.
“I am very proud of what the city has accomplished during my time as an alderperson and prouder still to have been involved in several projects that have made our city a better place both today and for tomorrow,” said Wirl.
In his term as alderman, Wirl was instrumental in his district’s neighborhood clean-up initiative as well as the neighborhood watch program, both of which he credits to the residents of his district. He said he hopes those initiatives will be carried out city-wide.
“He’s really elevated the challenges in his district,” said Mayor Zachary Vruwink. “He’s been a great partner in terms of getting things going in the last number of years that I’ve been able to work with him.”
WRPD Chaplains Recognized for Service
A small force with a big job for the Wisconsin Rapids Police Department was recently honored for their service.
The WRPD Chaplains received recognition at a meeting of the city’s Common Council on November 17 for their service to the city and its residents. Police Chief Kurt Heuer presented the three chaplains, Pastor Dan Deroche of Woodlands Church, Pastor Trey Turner and Pastor Tim Ritter of Immanuel Lutheran Church. The chaplains were given framed copies of WRPD’s Oath of Honor.
“They have become an incredibly vital part of our agency and our daily operation,” said Heuer.
A standing ovation was given to the chaplains by city leaders, staff and the public audience alike.
The WRPD has always had a chaplaincy program but Deroche said where the chaplains were once reactive, they are now being more proactive in their efforts to provide support towards the well-being of the officers. The chaplains are often present at the police station during shift changeovers and go on ride-alongs with the officers in order to help develop relationships.
City Seeking Residents’ Feedback for Housing Study
In an attempt to plan for future housing needs, the City of Wisconsin Rapids is seeking residents to participate in a survey to determine the current state of housing in the area.
The study, approved by the Common Council in October, is being performed by Reedsburg-based community development firm Vierbicher Associates.
Questions on the survey aim to determine current housing stock, homeowner demographics and housing preferences. The survey also asks about current renters, their reason for renting and any reasons or barriers for not buying a home.
This is the first formal housing study done of the city and Director of Planning and Economic Development Adam Tegen said any supposed issues with the city’s housing are conjecture at this point. From what Tegen has heard, citizens are concerned that the city is becoming too much of a retirement community, there’s a lack of housing in the downtown area and the current housing stock is aging.
“From the information we’ve heard from various apartment developers when they’re looking at the area, one of the biggest issues in Rapids is the age of our housing stock,” said Tegen at a meeting of city’s Common Council in June. “The vast majority were built prior to 1980, so they’re aging. Some are getting run down, but newer housing stock is a need.”
Tech Upgrades to Hit City Hall
Technology upgrades at the cost of nearly $110,000 will soon be installed at City Hall.
A new computer server structure and phone system was approved to be purchased and installed by the City of Wisconsin Rapids Finance and Property Committee at its meeting on December 8.
The two new digital storage servers come in at a cost of $42,977 and will be purchased from Wausau-based RMM Solutions. The city currently has six physical servers between about seven and 11 years old which city network technician Jason DeMarco said is at or beyond the normal lifespan of a server.
“This option will give us nearly twice the current storage,” said DeMarco. “It will give us enough slots in the storage unit to expand storage at a later date, if the need arises.”
Many of the servers also run Windows Server 2003, an operating system which is no longer being serviced by Windows as of July 2015. All the servers except one will be replaced by the two new purchases.
The phone upgrades come at a cost of 66,564.89 and includes all new phone equipment and installation. The city’s current phone system, installed about 20 years ago, is a dated Centrex system which consists of two copper wires coming into the building for each phone. They then run through the walls to their proper location.
Thao Sworn into Common Council as District 1 Alderman
A new alderman was officially sworn into the Wisconsin Rapids Common Council Tuesday night.
District 1 Alderman Lee Thao was officially sworn into the Common Council at its meeting on December 15. Thao takes the position of former Alderman Chad Wirl who resigned from his post effective November 30 citing family, business opportunities and health as reasons for his resignation.
“I’m getting the hang of it, being here and trying to make a difference in the community,” said Thao. “I think that going forward with more information being available to me, my decisions will make the community a better place for everybody.”
Thao is a 26-year Wisconsin Rapids resident. He sits on the board of the Hmong Association of Wood County and is a leader of the Hmong 18 Council of Wisconsin representing the Thao clan in Wisconsin Rapids. He works as a bookkeeper at Paper City Savings bank.
Fire Safety Trailer Receives $1,000 Donation
Another sizeable donation has been made toward the purchase of a new fire safety trailer for use in Wood County.
The Wisconsin Rapids Fire Fighters Local 425 and Marshfield Fire Firefighters Local 1021 with the assistance of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin Charities have donated $1000 to the Wood County Fire Chiefs Association.
The donation goes toward funding the purchase of a new fire safety trailer for use among the various fire departments in Wood County.
The proposed trailer is projected to cost $122,000 and the WCFCA has currently raised $85,000 of the purchase price. A fundraising goal of $142,000 has been set to account for future operating expenses.
The fire safety trailer, a staple of school field trips to the firehouse and safety awareness days that teach fire prevention and emergency preparedness, is in need of replacement in Wood County as their current model has been used for nearly 20 years.
City Soon to Begin Aquatics Preference Study
With the future of aquatics offerings in Wisconsin Rapids still uncertain, city leaders are commissioning a study of the public’s wants and preferences regarding new aquatics facilities.
Mayor Zachary Vruwink proposed commissioning the study by Florida-based PB&A Marketplace Intelligence at a meeting of the city’s Finance and Property Committee on December 15. The aim of the study is to the residents’ desires for a new aquatics center within the boundaries of the city. It will also examine what elements and features are most desired and likely to be supported and used should a swimming complex be built.
“In order for us to cross the bridge about understanding resident preference and desires at it relates to aquatics, we should probably directly ask them their feedback,” said Vruwink. “This is one such way to do so.”
A starting date for the study has not been announced though once it begins it is estimated it will take about four weeks to complete. Vruwink said he hopes to have the study completed by March.