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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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County May Donate $1.5 Million For Marinette Community Center

Marinette County Board appears poised to support the City of Marinette's construction of its proposed $12 million Community Sports and Event Center by providing the remaining $1.5 million needed to finance the project. If approval is given, construction will start this spring.

Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot is scheduled to present an update on the project at the monthly County Board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 28. He and Marinette School District Finance Director Brian Walters, a member of the Community Center's fund raising committee, brought their request to the county's Executive Committee at its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21.

Marinette City Council has approved bonding for $6 million toward the project cost, and fundraisers have collected nearly$4.5 million in money and pledges, leaving need for the final $1.5 million.

After considerable discussion, Executive Committee members voted 10 to 2 in favor of a motion authorizing Interim County Administrator John LeFebvre to work with Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison and negotiate an intergovernmental agreement with the city that could tie county financial support of the community center project to city use of the nearly vacant former county law enforcement center on Ella Court Street. The city is looking for a new location for its offices, and the county has been seeking a suitable use for its building adjacent to the courthouse.

Votes against the negotiations that could lead to approving the city's request for funding were cast by supervisors Don Pazynski, Town of Peshtigo, and Al Sauld, Town of Niagara. All committee members were present. Votes in favor were cast by Russ Bauer, Town of Peshtigo; Mike Behnke, City of Peshtigo; Joe Policello, Town of Middle Inlet, Cheryl Wruk, Towns of Stephenson and Athelstane; Shirley Kaufman, Ken Keller, Al Mans and Ted Sauve, all City of Marinette, County Board Vice Chair Vilas Schroeder, Town of Peshtigo, and Board Chair Mark Anderson, Town of Peshtigo.

Long discussion preceded that vote. Genisot explained the city needs to replace its failing recreation center domes, and the possibility of a replacement has been studied for eight to 10 years.

He said the school had donated property worth about $400,000 as the site. The city is widening and reconstructing Pierce Ave. to better serve the proposed new facility, and adding a bike path.

He and Walters both stressed the importance of things for families to do to the economic health of the entire county, and said there currently is no place in the city, or even in the entire county, with enough space to house a large meeting, trade show or convention.

Genisot noted Cabella's is holding its national Walleye Tournament in Marinette, and as part of the event the city is expected to host a breakfast for participants, news media, etc. "We really do not have any place with large enough capacity to hold the breakfast," he declared. "Right now we're looking at the high school gym."

He stressed that the proposed new facility is intended to serve all Marinette County residents not just those who live in the city, and explained some of the activities that can take place there, including ice skating, conventions with 100 or more booths, tennis, track events, and more. He noted the recent Hunting Expo at Shopko Hall in Green Bay had 100 vendors, and Marinette County would be the perfect venue for that sort of show. He said the county has a fund to promote tourism and this is a perfect way to do it.

Genisot agreed that people from the north ask how they would benefit, but pointed out that the sales tax benefits the entire county, and large events would generate large amounts of additional sales tax dollars.

"We do feel this is a good partnership, and we are looking at more ways to work with the county," Genisot declared.

LeFebvre said he is definitely in support of intergovernmental cooperation with the city, and this is one area in which they could work together. "Another is use of the Ella Court Building for city offices."

There were suggestions to take the $1.5 million from the special fund set up when the county sold Bay Area Medical Center for $13.5 million. Some supervisors noted that a brand new hospital is now being built in the city to replace the old one, but it is unlikely that any north county residents will ever use it.

LeFebvre declared he would not want to put any of the $1.5 million requested by the city on the tax roll, but would like the county to consider using some of the hospital sale proceeds to build another asset, and this would be an example.

He said before proceeding he would like to get a commitment from the city to at lease consider use of the vacant office space in the Ella Court building, and asked the committee to authorize him to sit down with Mattison and draft a simple 2-page intergovernmental agreement with the city, "with some dollar amounts in place."

Pazynski declared the county already contributes to quality of life by supporting the UW-Marinette, the River Cities Pool, and $600,000 now for the UW field house, and now they are faced with jail over crowding issues. "From a business standpoint we'd better think hard before handing over $1.5 million," he declared.

Keller said never in his 21 years on the board had the city ever come to the county with a request like this. He said the city and county economy has been stagnating and this could be the boost it needs. "Think of this as an investment in the future and what's best for everyone in the county," he urged.

He said the sales tax proceeds alone raised about $3.1 million in 2016, and about half of that was collected in the City of Marinette.

Anderson declared he has been focused on economic development since being elected County Board chair in April and feels this facility would attract the Millennial generation, which looks for work in places they want to live, rather than for a place to live in a community where they have to work.

"I'm not a north/south guy, I'm a county guy!" Anderson declared.

"Whatever is good for the City of Marinette is good for the entire county, " Schroeder agreed. "This is good for economic development."

Sauld disagreed with the idea that the entire county will benefit. "You're looking at a guy who fought for years to get a $60,000 roof put on the Senior Center in Niagara," he declared. "Come up to Niagara if you want to see stagnant growth!" He mentioned that the paper mill was shut down some years ago and there is no new industry to replace it. As to housing, he suggested they should look at all the vacant homes the county sold there last year for delinquent taxes. "We wanted the county to build a small industrial park in the Niagara area but nothing came of it," he said. Now the future of the Goodman mill doesn't look good, he said, and added, "I think there are a lot of places where that $1.5 million could be better used."

Walters countered that over time the long term benefits of the Community Center would offset the cost.

He mentioned things they once were done to promote tourism, but are no longer done, for example grooming cross country ski trails and publishing the bike map, and things that could be done for far less cost, like creating more hiking and biking trails.

"There are no jobs from Wausaukee north, and nothing on the horizon," Sauld concluded.

Anderson admitted the county has failed to promote growth in that area.

LeFebvre again asked the committee to authorize him to draft an agreement for cooperation with the city, and expressed hope Sauld will do an about face when he sees it. Mattison assured everyone that authorizing the negotiations would not bind the county to accept it, and Anderson assured everyone they would not be giving LeFebvre a blank check. Once the agreement is negotiated with the city it would have to come back to the Executive committee and then go to the County Board. Sauld asked how the Ella Court building would be tied to it, and LeFebvre said he just wants to be sure the county is being considered by the city as much as the city is being considered by the county. Sauld felt if the Ella Court building would be beneficial to the city they should move in, but if not, they should not, "They shouldn't be tied together."

Sauld mentioned the highway weight limits ordinance change County Board would be considering at its Feb. 28 meeting as another action that will further harm the economy in the north.

Motion authorizing the negotiations with the city that Lefebvre requested then was made by Sauve, seconded by Kaufman and approved by the 10 to 2 vote, after Kaufman was assured the entire matter will go again to County Board.

Anderson assured her that Genisot would be making a presentation at the Feb. 28 County Board meeting, and supervisors would be given opportunities for discussion, but no action will be taken on the city's request at that meeting.

Action items that are on the full County Board agenda for Feb. 28 include appointment of a supervisor to fill the District 10 vacancy created by the death of Supervisor Kathy Just, and oath of office for whoever is appointed.

The full County Board also is being asked to vote in favor of continuing with the County Administrator form of government. After the resignation of Administrator Shawn Henessee in December Anderson had proposed that the board consider options, including the possibility of changing to the Administrative Coordinator form of government used by Oconto County. There was a WCA presentation on the various forms of county government at the board's January meeting.

At the Feb. 21 Executive Committee meeting Anderson noted supervisors had shown very little interest in switching forms of government, and asked for approval of a motion to continue with the County Administrator model so the quest for a permanent administrator can get underway. All 12 committee members supported a motion to that effect, and the full board is expected to approve at its Feb. 28 meeting.

The Executive Committee meeting had begun with a discussion on continued participation in the Northwoods Rail Commission, but decision on that will be made after more informaiton is on hand. Dues are $500 per year, and cost of sending representatives to meetings in Rhinelander would be in the neighborhood of $640 per year, but main concerns were about possible other costs and liability the county might incur. There were also unanswered questions about just how many counties are dues paying members of the Commission. Decision on the membership will be settled at a later date, when more information is provided.

Anderson said Ann Hartnell, Executive Director of Marinette County Association for Business and Industry (MCABI) had told him the Northwoods Commission is mainly concerned with the east/west rail lines, while the rail lines most vital to Marinette County industries run north and south.

He had called former supervisor Mike Cassidy, of Goodman, who had been the Marinette County representative on the Rail Commission until he was defeated in April of 2016 in his bid for reelection to County Board.

Cassidy had told Anderson there is validity in continuing membership, and had told him if no one from County Board wants to serve he would return as a citizen member. Anderson said he has been unsuccessful in getting any current supervisor to serve, so the county has no representation at this time. Membership involves possibly monthly trips to Rhinelander for meetings.

Anderson had also talked with Mattison on some legal concerns that could be involved.

Schroeder commented this east/west line from Goodman to Niagara is the only rail services for industries in Goodman, and is vital to their operations. The Goodman Mill is having problems now, and loss of rail service might finish it. He said those communities in the northmost section of the county are already in difficult economic straits, "and I don't want to be the person that pulls the plug on them." He felt for $500 a year the county should continue to participate.

Sauld agreed. "Niagara has no manufacturing business at all right now, but rail is a big plus in attracting it," he declared. He agreed about the importance of rail service to Goodman as well, and said he also had called Cassidy for input before making up his mind. "I also don't want to be one of those who pulls the plug," he said, echoing sentiments expressed by Schroeder.

Anderson said the Goodman to Rhinelander section of that rail line is currently shut down but they are trying to get it open again.

Pazynski was concerned about liability, and costs the county could incur beyond the $500 annual dues.

Mattison said she had done some research. There are supposed to be 26 member counties in northeast Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula, but she so far did not know just how many of them currently pay dues and actively participate. She had a list of counties that Marinette County has been involved with, but did not know how many of them are actual dues paying members. She said in February the commission talked about hiring a professional rail freight consultant, and it was unclear to her who would be expected to pay for it. By-laws say the cost will be divided between member counties, Mattison added.

Kaufman said she had served on the Commission when it was formed five years ago and did find the trips to Rhinelander a problem. "Right now we should stay with that group," she said, and she personally would vote for it, but she felt wait to the next Executive Committee meeting to make a decision because right now not everyone has all the information. She also felt, and others agreed, they should find out if any supervisors are interested in serving, and if none are, see if they can legally appoint Cassidy or any other citizen member.

Wruk had done some calculating, and said cost of sending a supervisor to meetings would be about $640 a year for per diems and mileage. That would bring the cost of membership to $1,140 a year if there are no other assessments.

Mattison was not sure about citizen representatives. She agreed they are named by the county to other boards and commissions, but said there is generally at least one County Board member appointed as well, so the board gets regular reports.

Anderson agreed with Kaufman that it would be okay to hold off on a decision, and meanwhile, give notice at the board meeting that the two possible positions are open if anyone is interested. If not, they can look farther at appointing Cassidy. The committee agreed, and no action was taken.

Next item on the agenda was Anderson's proposal for a blanket policy authorizing mileage and per diems for supervisors to attend WCA District meetings, and any WCA district committee meetings to which they may belong. Everyone agreed that participation is good for the county, and approval was unanimous. Sauve noted his next WCA Committee District meeting is at Keshena on March 16.

The Committee also agreed unanimously that an ordinance should be drafted giving the County Board Chair or County Administrator authority to remove a citizen appointee from committees or commissions on a case by case basis if they fail to attend meetings. Once Mattison drafts the ordinance it will come back to the Executive Committee before going on to the full board for approval.

Sheriff Jerry Sauve is slated to give his department's annual report; LeFebvre is to report on the Carlson-Dettman Wage Study that is in progress, and UWES Community Development Agent Ellen Geisler is to lead a strategy planning session discussion.

On recommendation of the Highway Committee the full County Board on Feb. 28 is expected to approve amendments to the ordinance governing overweight restrictions on county highways by removing several roads that are currently exempted, and to approve a $50 fee for Seasonal Overweight Transportation permits in accord with the ordinance revisions.

They also are to act on several changes to the County's Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual as recommended by the Personnel Committee. The changes involve excused absences, holidays and vacations; employee classifications for Limited Term workers, and cell phone use, which includes a provision that prohibits CDL drivers from texting while driving.

Approval is also expected for transfer of $10,000 from the non-lapsing Environmental Site Assessment Fund to cover costs associated with bringing the environmental investigation of the former Wausaukee Laundromat site to closure.

Contracts with new providers Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin, $58,811, and $20,800 with Wisconsin Family ties, Inc. have been recommended by the Health and Human Services Committee and approval is expected.


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