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Challenges, opportunities await in new year

Leadership can be defined as the ability of an individual or a group to influence and guide others. Good leaders move organizations, businesses and communities forward to new heights. They plant the seeds of growth so that others who follow them, may reap the harvest.

Poor leaders are more concerned with using leadership as a means to an end, benefiting themselves to stroke their egos and personal ambitions.

For many people, the idea of leadership involves finding a mob and jumping in front of it and calling it a parade. This ill-considered form of leadership has led to riots and fractured communities, leaving a blasted and wasted legacy.

Other would-be leaders are quick to identify that which they oppose rather than that which they support, defining themselves by what they are not, rather than what they are.

Leadership will be the key word in the coming year on a personal, community, business and governmental level. Leadership ranges from becoming informed about the issues and participating in local elections to working in public office to reach solutions that benefit everyone.

Civic and educational leadership

Voters in the Medford School District are being asked to support a scaled back version of a renovation plan for Medford Area Senior High School. The project focuses on much-needed updates to educational spaces, particularly in the science and technology areas, while addressing other long-term security and infrastructure needs within the building and improving traffic flow through the creation of a new driveway off CTH Q.

School board members and district staff have shown leadership in examining the needs of the district and the feedback of voters who rejected previous requests as having too many “wants” versus “needs.” Overall, these cuts eliminated about 25% of the project costs.

With the school district paying off a large portion of its debt service last year, school tax rates plummeted in the Medford area. Even with the very conservative interest rates projected for the proposed scaled-back referendum, the projected tax impact will still have Medford well below state averages.

Gilman School District voters are also being called on to approve a referendum to continue to allow the district to exceed the revenue limits and keep the school functioning. Gilman board members and district leaders have taken steps to reduce expenses and keep the focus on classroom education, where it belongs. Measures such as switching to shared dean of students positions and supplementing the duties of veteran teachers, versus hiring a dedicated building principal showed leadership in a willingness to look at different ways to serve students and the community. The referendum is essential for keeping the school district moving forward in the face of declining enrollments and the challenges of being in a rural location.

Voters must exercise their personal leadership in becoming informed and voting on these referendum questions.

County leadership

Taylor County will face significant leadership challenges in coming months.

The first of those challenges, and one with potentially long-reaching impacts, is what county board supervisors will do with the information generated from the recently completed wage study. The study puts in quantifiable terms what county officials have known for some time, the county’s pay scale is no longer competitive with what people in the private sector and other public entities are paying.

With stiff competition among qualifi ed applicants, county jobs are going unfilled as workers choose to go elsewhere. At the same time, the overall pool of available workers is contracting due to demographic pressures hitting the region.

The leadership challenge facing county supervisors will be to determine what to do with the results of the study and how they will find the money to pay for these increasing operational costs.

Beyond this, county board members will face a significant leadership challenge in the coming months with the loss of longtime department heads including human resources director Marie Koerner. The decentralized nature of county government depends on the personal leadership and experience of these department heads to prevent departments flying in a dozen different directions.

It will take leadership at the county board level to ensure county government continues to operate smoothly and efficiently going forward.

Business and civic leadership

Taylor County has been blessed with strong business leaders. These are individuals who recognize that success cannot only be measured in the profit and loss column, but in the important role business and industry have in the overall community.

Examples of business leadership can be seen in every community project and in looking at the boards and volunteers who run civic organizations and events.

A recent example of this leadership was with the push to bring additional apartments to the city. That project received a major boost with the support of business leaders working with the Medford Area Development Foundation and the city to set the stage for residential growth. If things proceed according to plan, that additional housing will be contracted and open to renters by this time next year.

Working to secure housing opportunities for future residents is exactly the type of long-term thinking and investment that will benefit the community for generations to come. Looking ahead to the coming year, businesses will continue to face the challenges felt with high demand for workers. Wisconsin is rightfully famous for its strong work ethic and the county’s low unemployment rate shows that people here are willing to work.

Captains of business must continue to show leadership in being willing to invest in the community and keep job and growth opportunities in the local area. Local businesses are the economic backbone that keeps communities strong.

Personal leadership

Taylor County faces challenges and opportunities in the coming year. The area continues to be buffeted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and healthcare workers and resources continue to be spread thin. While everyone hopes that 2022 will see COVID-19 fade in the rearview mirror of history, that goal is still ahead.

Individual leadership rests on a foundation of personal responsibility. In the coming year, as in the past, it will take individual leadership of people making choices for their own health and wellbeing and that of their neighbors, family and friends to bring the pandemic to an end.

Every new year brings with it the opportunity for growth and success. The months and days of the coming year stretch out like unformed clay ready for the potter’s wheel. It will take leadership to seize on that potential and make the most of the opportunities that are presented.