Wrapping it up: A weekly update with Mayor Shane Blaser
The mayor touches on the UniverCity Year program, August election polling, and discussions on aquatic facility restrictions:
City begins implementation of UniverCity Year projects
“The UniverCity Year (UCY) program is a 3-year engagement, during which we identify community and/or government projects, UCY matches the projects with university courses/classes, university students work on the projects, then we receive research, reports, designs and implementation support,” the mayor explained.
“Our engagement began in September of 2019, with a significant amount of work done on issue, idea and project development with several community partners through spring of 2020. Nine projects have been identified and UCY is beginning to match those projects with solution-based courses.
“Two of our projects were matched with summer classes; so, we will begin project implementation soon on our PR and Marketing Plans for downtown parks and the Wisconsin Rapids Recreation Complex (including the Aquatics Center).
“The nine projects are meant to provide opportunities in arts, culture, economic development, community engagement and flood mitigation, with an emphasis on collaboration and marketing key community assets.”
Those interested in learning more or participating on a project team should contact the mayor’s office at [email protected].
Change in polling location
The mayor said that there has been a change in a city polling location, from Crossview Commons to East Junior High School Field House, to begin with the Aug. 11 Partisan Primary Election.
The discussions on aquatic facility restrictions
“There are very good reasons for the discussion City Council had on July 21st about further restricting the Aquatics Center,” the mayor said. “Alderpersons cited the taxpayer debt that the City assumed to fund the construction of the facility, and complaints they have received from residents – those who are responsible for repaying the $9 million debt – who have had to wait outside the facility for upwards of 20 minutes when the Aquatics Center has reached capacity (which was limited to less than 50 percent in response to the COVID-19 pandemic). As elected officials, we are responsible for stewarding City tax dollars objectively and keeping the needs of our taxpayers top of mind.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t have all of the data necessary to make an informed decision last Tuesday and after realizing that, we reconvened to reconsider. The Aquatics Center was envisioned and built as a regional attraction; we must ensure that our City residents have the opportunity to enjoy this stunning, new facility, while also taking necessary steps to cover operating costs of the facility, and consider precautions necessary in limiting exposure to COVID-19. That’s a lot to consider and after further discussion, we agreed that restricting the facility to residents only could impact our ability to cover operating costs.
“The City Council voted to rescind the action that passed on July 21st, allowing the Aquatic Center to continue to follow the geo-restrictions set at the beginning of the season. The council also voted to increase the patron load by 50, pending the Health Department’s approval. The vote tied at 3-3, which was then passed by my tie-breaking vote.
“The Health Department has approved our request to increase the patron limit by 50 people. We will hold the 50 additional spots for City of Wisconsin Rapids residents, to limit the amount of time they might need to spend waiting in line. We are still developing a plan for how we’ll administer that decision, so please be sure to read all available signage at the Aquatics Center. Balancing caution and consideration of the COVID-19 pandemic, while honoring the financial burden to the City of Wisconsin Rapids taxpayers who funded the Aquatics Center, I feel this approach is reasonable for the last few weeks of the swim season.”