Silver Cliff Town Chair Invites Public To Board WorkshopIssue Date: April 25, 2019
The annual meeting for the Town of Silver Cliff, population 501, drew 91 people, 81 of them town electors, to witness changeover from the old board to the new, and to express concerns about their town ranging from road maintenance to the possibility of a new town hall, and replacing the pavilion at the Town Park, where the pavilion roof had collapsed from the weight of winter snows.
Hopes are to have the pavilion rebuilt prior to the big annual parade and picnic on Memorial Day weekend (Saturday, May 25) and a planned wedding on Saturday, May 18.
Near the close of an Annual Meeting filled with some criticisms and numerous suggestions, new Town Chair Bruce Weber urged the public to come to him or other board members with ideas and concerns, and invited: "Watch the paper. I will have a special working session with the new board, I will assign supervisor tasks, and there are probably 40 things we can work on. I encourage you to come to that meeting! It will be in the next three weeks or so, and it will be in the paper."
The Annual Meeting on Wednesday, April 17 was the last for the old board, consisting of Chair Henry Burkel, Supervisors Jeff Schaal and Bruce Weber, and Clerk Steffanie Bishop. Treasurer Carol Kitchmaster was re-elected in April. She and Constable Scott Baldwin were the only incumbents returned to office. Former Clerk Steffanie Bishop remains on the job ad Deputy Clerk, assisting in the change-over. The other town officers had filed notices of non-candidacy and did not seek re-election. New town officers elected on April 3 are Chair Bruce Weber, supervisors Riana Ventura-Bishop and Sue Victoreen, Clerk Dana Weber.
The town hall was packed, with standing room only. Items added to the agenda at the start of the meeting at the request of persons attending included snow plowing and the possibility of a new town hall. Everyone present agreed that except for routine items they should use paper ballots for voting rather than voice vote or show of hands. Burkel, chairing the meeting, reminded everyone that non-resident property owners can make comments but only town residents can vote.
Treasurer's report submitted by Dana Weber showed the town had a balance on hand of $727,130.70 at the start of 2018. Total receipts for the year were $1,630,076, and expenditures were $1,534,916, leaving a balance of $822,291 on Dec.31.
Once again the meeting approved "official zones for conducting business," which Weber explained means town officers can store records and conduct business from their homes. There was discussion later in the meeting on plans for making offices for the clerk and town chair at the town hall on County I (Parkway Road North). Weber said there are plans to schedule regular office hours there.
Fire Chief Al Walesh reported the town fire department had a quiet year. There were 20 calls and no structure or brush fires, which the chief termed, "amazing for up here." In addition to trainings and equipment maintenance, firefighters assisted at a structure fire in another town and responded to a traffic fatality in July.
By voice vote, residents agreed to again designate Laona State Bank as the depository for town funds.
Burkel reported paving was put down last year to complete the gravel pit project that had been "a long, hard haul that took almost five years." Scott Construction had won the bid for a half mile TRIP funded project on Eagle River Road this year.
There were numerous questions from the audience on why some roads were selected for improvements and others were not. Weber said the board has a whole list of roads they want to look at, and will probably schedule a special road tour meeting for the entire town board, which is done by most other towns.
One resident noted that last year a group was appointed to a special committee to recommend road improvement projects. "And guess what? The people on that committee picked their own roads!" Burkel declared.
At last year's Annual Meeting a motion to take $100,000 from the general fund carry-over for paving and road work was defeated, 14 to 19.
"We should use the tools that we have," Weber suggested. In addition to scheduling a road tour by the entire town board, he said they will use "Whistler" and "PACER" ratings which are designed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to track construction dates, materials, road conditions, special problems on specific roads, and more, making it easier to plan ahead for maintenance.
As always, when it comes to road work, costs are high and funding is short. Weber said they had wanted to do six miles of Eagle River Road, starting where the part done three years ago had ended, but had to stay under $60,000, so that meant only doing the half mile. He was asked why that half mile was selected instead of the worst section. Burkel said the project is being done with TRIP funds, and had been scheduled some years ago.
Weber said the town board had applied to Marinette County for $17,000 in bridge aid for the bridge on Old A, and will be getting that. The $17,000 needs to be matched by the town. Last year they had applied for and received $60,000 in bridge aids, which meant the town had to spend the matching $60,000.
Weber said they will have bridges evaluated by the Corps of Engineers, as county inspectors recently informed them two bridges on town roads have cracks in their abutments. "At some point we need to spend money on all three of these bridges...four if you county Old J," Weber said.
Burkel explained the county inspects bridges each year. In all his years as chair the town had not been notified of any problems, and now there are problems with four bridges. "We pay the county to do that (the inspections)," Burkel said, and added"..it isn't that we just let them go, we were not notified." He said the town is only notified if there is problem.
Weber explained it is actually the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT), and not the county, that does the bridge inspections, but the DOT inspectors work under the authority of the County Highway Commissioner, which has been Eric Burmeister since August of last year.
Burkel called for a round of applause for the town road workers for all the hard work they had put in under difficult weather conditions this year,and the audience responded.
Christopher Norton, who plans to be married at the town park in May, expressed concerns about insurance covering only $49,000 for damage to the pavilion and its contents. He was told the town will get the maximum insurance payment of $40,000 for the pavilion and $9,000 for the contents, so the bar and picnic tables are covered, and will be reimbursed for demolition and disposal of the damaged area. Weber said they have state approved plans to get the repairs done, but completion would be nearly three months out. For an extra $400 they can get the plans approved and work done in time for the wedding on Saturday, May 18 and the picnic on Saturday, May 25. In case that cannot happen, they have provided for use of tents, so the events will go on.
Weber said four contractors had bid, but only one had access to the state approved drawings, so they will give those plans to the other bidders and give them an opportunity to update their prices. The insurance check has been cut and sent to Bishop, Weber said.
There were questions from the audience on the possibility of getting some of the work done by volunteers, for example the American Legion, which has many builders as members. Weber said since it is a municipal building they need state approved plans and work must be done by state approved contractors. Weber added the insurance check includes $4,000 for demolition and removal of debris, but townspeople had done that as volunteers, so they saved $4,000 right there. He hoped the bids would come in low enough to pay for the rest of the work.
To save time, there were suggestions to have the Annual Meeting approve use of town funds to pay any amount exceeding the insurance check, and eventually motion was approved, by ballot vote, 71 to 10, to allocate up to $20,000 for the town board to spend on the pavilion if necessary.
"Next winter, will we have somebody go in there and check, so this doesn't happen again?" a woman asked, and Weber assured her it will be checked regularly. He said the road in had not been plowed in winter, but our plow guys already know they will keep it plowed open this coming winter and it will be checked regularly.
Asked what road maintenance work has been approved or this year, Burkel said he had given Weber the list of things that may be done, perhaps some chip sealing and patching, and added,"We've ben doing them, but we can't keep up. I've often said if Silver Cliff got $1 million a year for our roads we couldn't keep up."
Weber said it costs $140,000 a mile today for blacktop, while just a couple of years ago it as $70,000 to $80,000 per mile.
That led to discussion on possibly grinding the remaining asphalt on previously paved roads and letting them return to gravel. That is being considered.
Another speaker noted the town has over $800,000 in carryover funds, and suggested using $200,000 of that on roads.
Weber explained the town has 82 miles of road and gets state road aid payments of $2,839 per mile, a total of $232,798, which is used for all maintenance, including plowing, salting and sanding in winter and improvement projects in summer. The town has to spend at least 85 percent of that each year to get the full 100 percent in road aids the following year and maximize its aid payments. This year the town is to get $118,034 and the town has $225,000 in its road budget for this year, plus $75,000 in contingency. Weber said last year the state did allocate some additional money for town road aids but he was not sure how much.
The three main town roads in Silver Cliff were identified as Old J, Tower Road, and Eagle River Road.
Since it appeared that by spending $13,000 more on roads the town would get $78,000 more in state aids, motion was made to allocate that from the budget carry-over.
After more discussion the motion was rescinded, "until you (the town board) can figure out what we need."
"Yes, we need to do a little more math," Weber agreed. He said they could call a special town meeting once thy have the numbers.
That led to a discussion of problems with snow plowing during the past winter. One Old J resident said they had gone 73 hours without having their road plowed after a storm that dropped 18 inches of snow. She was told they didn't want to plow gravel roads because it had thawed and the surface was too soft.
There were complaints that if roads are not plowed and someone needs a rescue squad or fire truck, "there will be a problem!"
Another person, who said she came from the big snow country of the Upper Peninsula, suggested the road crews should be trained in how to plow. She said on her road during that last big snow they had just plowed a strip down the middle and two cars couldn't pass. She too stressed the need to get rescue vehicles in and get people out who need to go to work. She said in her UP community they would get over 200 inches of snow, and plow operators knew how to deal with it. She said Silver Cliff this year had 135 inches.
"I think everybody knows this was a difficult year," Weber said. He added that the crew had taken wings off the plows too early, so plowing shoulders was a problem, and the plow itself got stuck nine times in the same day.
There were more complaints about lack of plowing on Old J, which had been identified as one of the three main roads. One man said when he complained he was told the plow driver "forgets sometimes." One resident said it snowed on Thursday, and plows did run, but Old J wasn't done until Sunday morning. Some town officials said Old J was always plowed, and one resident said, to murmurs of agreement, "You can't ignore the fact of what people who live there are telling you!"
Burkel said he had calls complimenting the snow plow crews, and another man said the guys did the best they could under the circumstances.
Asked who they should call with future complaints, Weber said to call him or any other town board member.
There were comments that the town crew has too much to do, and a motion was made to eliminate town plowing of driveways. The people were advised that this was not on the meeting agenda, and that the Annual Meeting can vote on anything, "but the town board makes the final decision." At the 2018 annual meeting there had been an 18 to 15 vote in favor of the town going back to plowing driveways, and the public was advised the board would take the vote as an advisory decision. Burkel said they had stop plowing private driveways on the advice of Wisconsin Towns Association.
Not on the agenda, but a person from the audience mentioned setting up a long term plan for replacing some of the town's aging buildings, including the town hall.
Weber said the new town board will need to look at that, and the Plan Commission will be commissioned to do some research. He said there has not been much maintenance done on town buildings in recent years. He mentioned the town garage and town shed also need work.
A lady in the audience said the roof of the town garage leaks so badly that the workers have to put out buckets, and the building has not had running water or flush toilets or at least two months. Weber said the water line freezes each year from the well to the building.
As to the town hall, Weber said the plan right now is to turn the back closet area into an office for the town Clerk and Town Chair. Having an office would allow them to establish some regular office hours, possibly 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, he said.
He said town documents should be kept at the Town Hall in a fire proof file cabinet, not scattered everywhere at the homes of clerk, treasurer, chair, etc.
He plans to get rid of some excess things currently at the town hall, for example the two copiers that do not work.
Bruce Weber said the town will have a web site - silvercliff.wi - up and running in a few weeks.
Dana Weber said the town chair sets the agenda, but her goal as clerk is to get it posted on the web site, and more specific, so people know what will be discussed and decided. "We're not trying to hide anything," she said, adding, "If there are questions call me or call Bruce. If I don't have an answer, I'll get it for you." She said she and Stephanie Bishop are working as a team to improve town communications.
To another question, Weber said terms of three Plan Commission members expire this year and are up for re-appointment. By statute, they should have seven members, but they do not. He invited anyone interested in being appointed to send him a letter. He added that people on the Plan Commission should be chosen for a particular skill, "and hopefully I'll make some good decisions in May."
Norton suggest expanding the town board from three to five members. He said a drawback of a 3-member town board is that two members can never talk to each other about town business without violating the Open Meetings Law, which makes it very hard to gather information or share ideas. "Would people be in favor of having a five-person board instead of three, so we always have some experienced board members?" he asked. With three members both supervisors and the town chair are up for election in the same year, while with five member boards they alternate. Someone thought small towns can only have three member boards but Weber explained if the Annual Meting grants the board village powers they can expand to five, and the voters had voted village powers several years ago
Bruce Weber and Burkel both agreed there are advantages to a five-member board, but Burkel advised thinking about it before taking action.
Dana Weber also mentioned that towns put much money into training an elected clerk who can be voted out in the next year. She said there are pros and cons of elected clerk versus appointed, "I'm putting it out there because there are so many people here and it's something to think about." She said Bishop is assisting her, and many of her clerk duties are things she already does in her full time job, but she needs to learn about elections, bartender licenses, etc. She added that towns all over the state are having problems getting qualified clerks to run for the elected clerk position. She promised to assemble a list of pros and cons for consideration at a future meeting.
"I want you to feel good about Silver Cliff," declared a resident as the meeting drew to a close. He said while he was at the VA hospital in Iron Mountain recently he had met a person who had the job of visiting various communities and evaluating their fire and rescue services. "When he found out I was from Silver Cliff, he congratulated me, and said, "You have the best (darn) fire and rescue people in the whole area!"
That remark drew some very hearty applause.
Just before adjournment, the board and the public were reminded that the town and the American Legion had put a time capsule in the back of the monument at the cemetery that is to be opened in 2050. So it doesn't get forgotten when the time comes, issuing that reminder at the Annual Meeting each year is one of the official duties assigned to the town chair.
After the meeting, most people stayed for a bit to share conversation, coffee and sweet rolls.
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