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County keeps purse strings tight on power line funds

Committee recommends giving groups portion of requested amounts

Members of the Taylor County finance and personnel committee were in a less than generous mood during the review of power line impact fund requests held September 15.

The first grant request was from Medford Area Youth Hockey for upgrades and repairs to the Simek Center’s refrigeration equipment. The group requested $40,000 of the $135,000 total project cost. Galen Searles said they have been doing many other fundraising efforts to raise the money needed to pay off the project.

He said this is replacing some of the original equipment dating from when the building was opened more than 30 years ago. He noted that even then, the equipment was considered undersized for the facility and has caused issues for them as they try to make and maintain ice if the temperature gets above 60 degrees.

“Last year we hobbled through the entire season,” Searles said, noting that they had to pay about $25,000 in additional costs just to keep the ice going. He said he is hoping they don’t have a catastrophic failure.

Committee member Ray Soper made a motion to recommend the county provide the Simek Center with $5,000 in power line funds. However there was no second. Committee chairman Chuck Zenner noted that while he would not support giving $40,000 he would like to see it at $10,000.

“This is a good cause, but I don’t think you can expect the entire amount to come from us,” said committee member Lester Lewis. In the end, the committee voted to recommend giving the hockey association $15,000.

The Rib Lake Ski and Snowshoe Club asked for $25,500 to help with the purchase of a 2011 Jeep Wrangler to pull the groomer after the existing underpowered vehicle is no longer in use. The group also asked for money to pay for signs for the 20 miles of trails the group maintains.

Committee members were unhappy that no club representatives were at the meeting to answer questions about the request. “If you are going to ask for the money you should be here,” Zenner said.

Committee members approved, with Cathy Lemke and Zenner opposed, to send the requests to the full county board with $5,000 total between the Jeep purchase and the signs.

Committee members approved giving $5,000 to the boat landing replacement at South Harper Lake. The total cost of the project was just under $20,000. Committee member Rollie Thums who has been leading the project said the initial quotes were for $14,500 and he had gone out and secured that much in funds from various organizations and the town board in order to do the project. He said when he had gotten everything lined up, the price had jumped leaving him short. Thums abstained from discussing or voting on the request.

Committee members recommended awarding $5,000 of a $40,000 request for a new roof at the Northwoods Archers clubhouse on Pirus Lane. The facility sits on county property. Zenner noted that as with the Rib Lake group, no representatives from Northwoods Archers attended the meeting.

Veterans Service office

With the resignation of Shelly Shaw, benefit specialist Nikki Sherman has been running the veterans service office by herself. At last week’s committee meeting she requested a nearly $9 per hour temporary pay increase while the veterans service officer position remains vacant. Her current pay rate is $20.67 per hour and she requested an increase to $29.48 per hour.

Committee member Lester Lewis noted there is precedent to providing a temporary increase when there is a vacancy in the veterans service position. In 2014, the county approved a $3 per hour temporary increase.

However he said the county did not raise the pay to be equal to the veterans service officer nor did they have any mechanism for a temporary pay grade increase. “It would be the right thing to do to raise the wages,” Lewis said.

Zenner suggested they increase the wage by $3 per hour.

Veterans committee member Steve Voss noted that the previous person in Sherman’s position was not accredited while Sherman has all the accreditations needed to fulfill all the duties of the veterans service officer and is only unable to hold the title because she is not a veteran.

Committee member Cathy Lemke made a motion, seconded by Rollie Thums to temporarily increase Sherman’s wage by $5 per hour. Committee members also approved increasing the hours for the position from 35 to 40 hours per week until a new veterans service officer is hired.

Later in the meeting, after Voss pointed out the oversight, committee members approved making the temporary pay increase retroactive until the first pay period after Shaw’s resignation. This has been standard practice in the county in these situations and Mildbrand noted he just missed including it in his original motion.

Committee members also extended the temporary pay until the new veterans service officer was accredited and able to contribute in the office. This determination would be made by the county’s human resources director to ensure that whomever was hired would get their accreditations as soon as possible.

“We should show our faith in Nikki. It has been tough road,” Voss said.

In other business, committee members:

  Approved the contract with Schmiege, Graff and Koch Law firm to provide corporation counsel services to the county for the coming year.

  Approved the preliminary bridge aid requests to be included in the county budget. The county pays half the cost of replacement in qualified bridge and culverts and levies its portion of the costs onto the participating municipalities.