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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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County Board Seats Chaikowski; Debates Civic Center Financing

Issue Date: March 1, 2017

Marinette County Board had a busy meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 28, that began with swearing in of Penny Chaikowski to fill the vacancy left by the death of District 10 Supervisor Kathy Just, and included a lively discussion on a possible $1.5 million loan or contribution from the county to help finance construction of the City of Marinette's planned Community Sports and Event Center.

Near the start of the meeting Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot and city fund raising committee representatives Jeff Zeratsky and Tim Stauss presented information on Civic Center plans and fielded questions from the board.

Several supervisors argued against giving the city the $1.5 million it needs to complete financing for its planned $12 million Sports and Event Center, but expressed some support for a low or no interest loan from the $14.5 million proceeds from selling the Bay Area Medical Center property (formerly Marinette General Hospital) to its Board of Trustees several years ago. There was no action taken on the city's request and none was expected. The item will be on the agenda for possible action at the board's meeting in March.

Without discussion or dissent, the board unanimously approved an Executive Committee recommendation to stay with the existing county administrator form of government. After the December resignation of former Administrator Shawn Henessee there had been brief consideration of switching to the administrative coordinator governance used in Oconto County.

John LeFebvre, longtime county employee who heads the Land Information Department and administers operations for the MarOco Landfill, was appointed to serve as interim administrator after henessee left, and is handling that job in addition to carrying out his other duties.

In his annual report to the board on operations of his department, Sheriff Jerry Sauve stressed jail over crowding and the difficulty of recruiting and retaining good employees for non-union positions in his department, particularly civilian jailers. He strongly expressed hope that the Carlson-Dettman wage study will be finished soon, and will result in better compensation for the non-union workers in his department, who have not had a raise in three years. He said training employees and then having them move on to better paying jobs elsewhere is taking a heavy toll on his department.

LeFebvre, in his monthly report, gave a brief update on the wage study, and told the board that Carlson-Dettman representatives will be at the March meeting with some of the results of their study.

As its first business of the day the board unanimously approved Anderson's appointment of Chaikowski to fill the District 10 Supervisor Seat. After the board confirmed her appointment she was sworn in by Family Court Commissioner Francis M. Boyle. "You're joining one of the best county boards in the state of Wisconsin, and there are 72 of them," Boyle told Chaikowski as she took her seat as one of the 30 County Board supervisors.

Letters from Chaikowski and Pete Pfankuch, the only other applicant, were included in the informational packet for the meeting. Both are residents of the Town of Lake.

Chaikowski, a Marinette County native who has lived in the Town of Lake for over 40 years, has held the position of town clerk/treasurer for the last 10 years, but is not a candidate for reelection in April. She and her husband, Cal, owned the Crivitz Feed Mill from 1983 to 2005 and since then have owned and operated JC Power Sports in Crivitz. She grew up in the Crivitz area, graduated from Crivitz schools and the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point with a BS degree in history and social studies. In her letter of interest, Chaikowski said she believes she could be an asset to the County Board and would represent the people of District 10 with knowledge and respect.

Pfankuch and his wife Shari have lived on Lake Noquebay in the Town of Lake for 25 years. He works in television sports broadcasting and, with Shari, owns Dyna-Ski Boats and several rental properties. About 15 years ago he served on the citizens committee that helped write the original rules for Marinette County Shoreland Zoning.

Anderson assigned Chaikowski to the Ag and Extension and Land Information Committee.

Former Supervisor Mike Cassidy was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Marinette County Housing Authority Board of Directors, and a long list of DNR emergency fire wardens was approved as presented.

Anderson said there are still two vacancies to be filled on the Northwoods Rail Transit Commission as well as an open post on the Wellness Committee. He is still seeking applicants for an alternate two position on the Zoning Board of Adjustment, a citizen member for the Grievance Committee, a veteran for membership on the Civil Service Commission, and a City of Niagara citizen to serve on the County Library Board. He asked anyone interested to contact him or LeFebvre.

The city's Community Sports and Event Center proposal had been discussed extensively at the County Board's Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21. During time for public comment at the start of the Feb. 28 County Board meeting County Clerk Kathy Brandt presented an e-mail from Niagara resident Debra Phillips, who wanted to to voice an opinion about Supervisor Al Sauld's concerns over the proposed donation about it in the Feb. 22 issue of the Peshtigo Times. She said Sauld's understands his concerns about all the money ending up in the south end of the county, and sees little benefit to families that live in the northern half, or even anywhere outside the city.

However, she did feel that a recreation center will benefit many families in the city, "and that is a good thing," and also agreed that if building the facility will result in more money from sales tax revenues, that also would be good. "I think it is important to remember that everyone living in Marinette, including the farthest from the county seat, have every benefit that their county board representatives can provide," she commented.

She cautioned against "a grand facility that will be over built with cost overruns," but added, "I would agree that here is a need for a family recreation center, but nothing that is going to be too big for the City and County to pay for. And then we should see some revenues returned to the County for the benefit of the rest of us living here""

In his presentation to the board, Genisot talked about efforts to find a suitable location for the project, and the marinette School district's donation of a 14-acre site, worth about $400,000, adjacent to its High School campus. He said the soils there are good for building, and the site has room for future expansions.

He talked about need to replace the aging "domes" in the city and space the new center will provide for an indoor ice rink, tennis courts, running track, gym area for other indoor sports, and ample space for conventions and trade shows. He said about four months ago the city did some major revisions to preliminary plans in order to bring the costs down.

City Council some time ago unanimously agreed to borrow $6 million to pay for half of the project and asked Stauss and his fund raising committee to raise the rest of the money they will need.

He said the project could be built in phases if absolutely necessary, but they want to do it all at once this time. he said when the Higley building was constructed it was supposed to be the start of a four phase project, "and now, 40 years later, we still have just the first phase."

Stauss said the domes were supposed to be temporary, "a quick fix," but now they are nearing the end of their useful life span.

He said having the Community Sports and Event Center will improve the image of the entire county, and benefit everyone who lives in it.

All three speakers on behalf of the project stressed that it will be a true community center, open for use by every Marinette County resident with no difference in price, whether they live in the city or not.

"Response to our fund raising has been phenomenal, now we're asking you to take us home on this," Stauss declared. The committee has raised $4.5 million in nine months, and they are asking Marinette County to supply the remaining $1.5 million.

Stauss commented that the Community Center may not be large enough for some of the huge trade shows held in Green Bay facilities, but an All Marinette County show featuring resorts, guide service and other tourism opportunities "is very viable."

Zeratsky said the entire county will benefit from increased sales tax proceeds, and as head of the Waupaca Foundry he learned that providing a place for kids and adults to work out, play and stay healthy is very important in attracting and retaining good employees for the businesses located here.

"What's good for any municipality in Marinette County is good for the entire county as well," LeFebvre declared. He explained he had received authorization from the Executive Committee to work with the city on an intergovernmental agreement that might lead to support of the Community Center project, and might also result in the city and county sharing a municipal complex that would include moving city operations into the former law enforcement center adjacent to the courthouse that is currently mostly vacant.

"There are so many benefits that we could achieve if we could create that complex here on the grounds of the Marinette County Courthouse"There are huge benefits that we can achieve by working together," Lefebvre urged. He said he will explain more about those benefits at subsequent meeting.

He said the county and city both are trying to attract good quality employees to live in Marinette County, and this project might help do that. He suggested the city and county should also work together to promote economic development and tourism in general throughout the county.

He asked the board to consider using "a small part" of the $14.5 million hospital sale proceeds to make the Community and Event Center a reality.

Supervisor Dennis Marcely, who represents Dunbar and Athelstane areas on County Board, said he is in the tourism business and not long ago asked about improving signs directing travelers to the county's waterfalls. "I was told there was no money in the budget to do this,' he declared, "and that was before they even knew the cost!"

He said with the overload of prisoners the county may need to add a new pod to the jail, and that will cost $8 to $10 million. "We have a hospital that will need to be torn down, and if the city doesn't use it the old jail on the courthouse grounds also will need to be torn down at huge cost."

It was pointed out that the county no longer owns the hospital buildings. Genisot a bit later noted that in approving plans for construction of the new hospital the city worked out an agreement with the hospital that the existing facility will be occupied, sold within a specified time frame after the new building is complete. The city is holding $ $1.5 million in escrow for demolition of the hospital in case no other use is found, and the hospital is obligated to pay any added cost if that happens.

Marcely suggested they should talk about a loan to the city at low or no interest, which the city could pay back with proceeds from renting the Community Center.

"This has to be researched and discussed much, much more to be sure the shoe isn't on the wrong foot!" he urged.

Anderson assured him there would be no immediate decision.

Supervisor Gilbert Engel, who represents the City of Niagara on County Board, mentioned references to studies in regard to the Community Center project, and asked to see them. "A lot of studies are very biased!"

He said there are revolving loan funds available for tourism and economic development, and suggested loaning the city the $1.5 million it needs. He said roads are what the county needs to encourage tourism. There is also the jail over crowding issue to consider, as well as the employee wage study that will likely add to county expenses when it is implemented. "We have a lot of issues coming up," he cautioned.

He said use of the old jail is a separate issue that the Building and Grounds Committee needs to look at further, and it should not be tied to the Community Center financing.

Genisot said the city already does work with the county on tourism. "We have the Tourist Center here and we heavily promote the whole county," he declared. As to the city's possible use of the county's old jail/law enforcement center, Genisot said the city needs more room for its police department.

"We're part of the county, we're not separate from the county!" he declared.

He feels the city has tapped out grant opportunities, and said most state financing for these types of projects goes to large municipalities with far larger projects.

There is urgency in getting financing in place because spring is coming, and some components for the building will take 12 weeks from ordering to delivery.

Supervisor Chris Schmidt, who represents parts of the towns of Grover and Peshtigo asked if the city is on line for maintenance, and was told they are. He asked about naming rights, and Genisot said they have looked into that, ""and certainly for $1.5 million, you would have some naming rights." There may be donor names attached to some components of the facility.

Schmidt asked if they had economic impact studies, estimates of the number of county residents expected to use the facility, and how cost of operations would paid.

Genisot said said the city already supplements operations of the existing rec center to the tune of $500,000 to $600,000s year, "and we don't expect that to go away." The city owned pool will stay where it is and keep operating, he said

"We don't want anybody to think we're donating money to the city,' LeFebvre declared. "This is a joint economic development project".We're trying to form this into an intergovernmental agreement." he said one plan would be for the county to provide money for the city to complete the Community Center project, and the city to help by using the old Law Enforcement Center, which will help the county avoid costs associated with it.

"I see the opportunity here for the city and county to work together for the benefit of all the citizens of the county," declared Supervisor Rick Polzin, whose district is in the city.

Supervisor Ken Keller, who also represents the city, said he has been on County Board for two decades, and saw what was accomplished when a county/city civic center was done years ago in a community on the other side of the state. He reminded the board that the half a percent county sales tax brought in $39.5 million in 2015, and it is hard to determine just how much of that came from businesses within the city. Even if it was only one third, "That's $13 million," he pointed out. He said the city pays 16 percent of all the property taxes in Marinette County.

He mentioned Economic Development meetings that discussed skilled worker shortages and importance of recreational facilities for attracting and retaining workers, and declared a convention and recreation center certainly would be a huge benefit for the entire county.

As to working together, "I've seen more cooperation between the city and the county in the last few years than in the entire last 20 years," Keller declared.

"One move leads to another," commented Supervisor Cheryl Wruk, who represents parts of Athelstane and the Town of Stephenson. She asked what the city has planned for its current City Hall if they move into the county complex across the street.

Also, she noted parking for the courthouse complex is already very tight, and wondered where the city employee cars and squad cars would be parked.

LeFebvre said they have some ideas for resolving the courthouse area parking issues, and the county currently leases parts of its parking lot to Stephenson National Bank for its employees.

Genisot said the city plans to sell its current building for commercial use, which was its purpose before it was converted to a city hall years ago. There is ample parking there, he said.

Supervisor Ted Sauve, City of Marinette, was concerned about congestion on Pearce Avenue, where traffic is already heavy, and wondered if the city had ever considered a road to the west to access the new Community Event Center. Sauve noted there will be more discussion on the whole issue at the Executive Committee meeting scheduled for Thursday, March 23.

Supervisor Don Phillips suggested holding off on the rest of the discussion until the next County Board meeting on Tuesday, March 28.

However, the discussion continued.

Supervisor Don Pazynski, Town of Peshtigo, commended the city for its efforts to get the facility built, but cautioned that the county has other major responsibilities. As to contributing to quality of life in the city and the county, he noted that among other things, the county built and maintains the 2-year University of Wisconsin campus facilities, and maintains 14 county parks and numerous recreational trails throughout the county. "This is our opportunity to do something?" he asked. "We are doing a lot!"

He said when the hospital was sold supervisors and the public were told that the money would be invested and kept for tax reduction for the future. He suggested a loan from that fund might be the answer, "to keep our consciences clean and not set a precedent." He maintained use o the old jail/law enforcement building is an entirely separate issue and the two should not be tied together.

He urged supervisors to think of these efforts to work with the city as an opportunity, not as a problem or a challenge, and challenged department heads and committee chairs to think of other ways the city and county could work together for the benefit of both.

As to tourism and economic development, Engel argued there are many areas in the county that need to be developed - for example the proposed ATV campground in Dunbar, a much needed industrial park in Niagara, and perhaps bike and hiking trails throughout the county.

"If this is precedent setting, I'd be happy!" declared LeFebvre. He said if Crivitz or Niagara came to the county with this type of project he would be happy to have the county share in helping to make it happen. "We're not giving this away, we're joining forces!"

"Since last Thursday when the Peshtigo Times came out, my phone hasn't stopped ringing," declared Supervisor George Kloppenburg, whose district includes parts of Amberg and Wausaukee. He said none of the callers were in favor of the county helping finance the city's project.

Sauld said he had a similar experience, and again cautioned, "Our fund balance is dwindling".I'm a simple man, but I really don't like hearing $1.5 million being referred to as a small amount!" He said as to north and south parts of the county, "I'd like to think we're all worth the same" No matter how you cut it, this is a donation."

He suggested this is important enough to put on a referendum, and if it is too late for that, "Write a $36 check to every man, woman and child in Marinette County and send it to them with a note that if they want to donate to the Marinette Rec Center they should sign it and send it back. "To give away a million and a half dollars is fundamentally wrong!" he concluded.

Supervisor Janis Porfilio said her district, the Village of Crivitz, has no industry and lives entirely on tourism, "and all we ask is good roads for our tourists." She was happy that the county is planning to work on County W through the village, but said other roads also need work.

"We have a revolving loan fund for economic development and tourism. Apply for it," Schmidt advised.

Marcely said he did not want to make this into a north/south issue, but the county just put $630,000 into the field house for the university and the River Cities pool, and taxpayers in his district were upset about that. "If I went back to the citizens of Dunbar and Athelstane and told them we gave the city one and a half million for this, "they would go crazy! Truthfully, they do not want this project."

Anderson suggested everyone watch a Wisconsin Counties Association video on economic development in Fond du Lac, where the county invested millions to keep industries there and business is booming.

"If we continue being afraid to invest in our county we are going to dwindle," he declared.

Sauld suggested they should then invest $350,000 for an RV park in Dunbar, and $1.5 million in the City of Niagara for an industrial park.

Genisot reminded everyone that the City of Marinette is also part of Marinette County.

Moving on to other business, the board heard the sheriff's department annual report and spent 10 quiet minutes answering questions in writing that will be used in the strategic planning process being led by UWEX Economic Development Educator Ellen Geisler. The questions were, "What are we, as a board, doing that we could do better?', "What are we doing that we could stop doing?", and "What should we do that we're not doing?" She will compile the answers and come back for a discussion again next month. Supervisors were also invited to relay comments to her or Anderson if they came up with other thoughts before the March meeting.

LeFebvre reported the Carlson-Dettman wage study is proceeding but is about three weeks behind schedule. The delay was mostly due to problems with gathering information from the departments. A decision still to be made is whether the county will adopt a pay structured pay plan with steps, or stay with the current merit raise program that has never really been implemented.

Department heads will be asked to look at the "hierarchy" of their staff, and he and Human Resources Director Jennifer Holtger will look at that for the whole county. He has a plan to address the salaried employees who were hired on a 35-hour per week basis. He said people hired in the past four years have worked at the low paid new hire rate and have not had a raise since then

"Implementing the new wage plan will not be cheap, but it is necessary," he declared. He said the county's growth allows them to raise taxes by only $125,000 a year, ""and we have to find a better way!"

Supervisor Robert Holley, towns of Beaver and Pound, asked for a report on the numbers of employees who leave positions with Marinette County because of low pay. LeFebvre will do a report on why people leave. Bauer suggested there should always be exit interviews to talk about that, and the board should get a report.

LeFebvre said Marinette County took full advantage of Act 10, when it did away with employee unions except those for firefighters and sworn law enforcement and emergency medical workers. One effect is that now non-union Marinette County employees now must put six percent of their pay into their state retirement funds, when this benefit was formerly paid by the county, so right off the top they had a 6 percent take home pay cut since WIPFLI was adopted, LeFebvre said.

In other action the board approved changes to the ordinance that governs operation of overweight vehicles on county highways during spring breakup time, Previously there were no seasonal restrictions on several of the roads, and former Highway Commissioner Ray Palonen had said those roads were being over used during the worst times of the year and suffering expensive damage because of it.

Before moving to adopt the ordinance their committee had approved, Highway Committee Chair Bauer and committee member Shirley Kaufman moved to add a provision that permitted vehicles must follow "the most advantageous route." Approval was unanimous. also approved without dissent was addition of a $50 fee for an annual permit connected with the overweight hauling ordinance.


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03-29-2018Obituaries
Edwin Hilbert

03-29-2018Obituaries
Doug Johnson, Sr.

03-29-2018Obituaries
Henry R. King

03-29-2018Obituaries
Kenneth A. Konz, Jr.

03-29-2018Obituaries
Margaret F. Kubitz


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