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County budget calls increase in tax levy

It’s more of the same as far as the Chippewa County budget is involved.

On Tuesday the board spent hours talking about the 2018 county budget before passing it on a 9-4 vote with a tax rate of $3.69 per $1,000 of equalized value. It’s a one cent increase from the county tax rate from the previous year.

The revised tax levy is $18,728,228, an increase from the originally proposed $18,641,228.

Property taxes go to four places: the county; the local school district (usually the largest portion of the tax bill); vocational school district, and town, village or city tax.

Call for change

Four people spoke during the public comment section of the meeting, and all wanted changes in the budget.

“We have an ongoing problem with not enough legal secretaries,” county District Attorney Wade Newell said. The problem was highlighted this summer when two of three secretaries went on maternity leave.

Newell said normally by Nov. 1 there are 462 cases filed in Chippewa County Court. But the number of cases filed this Nov. 1 was 646 cases. Newell attributed much of the increase to what he called a methamphetamine epidemic. 

County Administrator Frank Pascarella opposed adding the secretary’s position. He said the county has a process that department leaders follow to request personnel. “There’s a process. Everybody should follow that process,” he said. It would be a dangerous precedent to have the county add a position after an elected official requests it at a meeting without going through the process, Pascarella said.

The position was approved on an 8-5 vote.

Carolyn Kaiser, a county resident, said there was fat in the county’s Human Resources department. She said she was going to file a Wisconsin Open Records request to find the reason for overtime in the county administrators office, along with an inventory of county vehicles and the miles those vehicles are used every year. She also wanted an accounting of the county’s contracting of services.

Steve Hilger of Bloomer said he was concerned about the condition of county roads. “It’s evident that maintenance is not being performed correctly or competently on the roads I’ve discussed,” Hilger said, and asked why the budget funnels money away from road maintenance and into the winter maintenance fund, which currently has a surplus.

The budget also reduces the number of county Highway Department personnel to allow for money for the county to boost the winter road maintenance fund.

Former county supervisor and town of Howard resident Ken Schmitt asked the board to keep close track of the county’s groundwater. He pointed to an increase of nitrates found in well samples taken in the county. “Not only are more wells over the standard, the rate at which wells are becoming contaminated over the safe level drinking water standard is rapidly increasing,” Schmitt said.

County value

The budget said the county’s equalized value, the value of all taxable real and personal property, is going up by 3.37 percent, to $165,340,000.

The recommended total budget is $68,076,928.

Keep in mind that counties are required by state law to give out tax rate estimates based on equalized values. Property owners pay their tax bills based on what their property is assessed, which is a determination of the property’s market value.

So if the assessed value of the property goes up while the tax rate stays the same, taxes will rise.

Of the money in the 2018 county budget, 31 percent goes to health and social services, 29 percent for general government, 20 percent for transportation, 13 percent for public safety, and 7 percent for conservation and development.

Of the budgeted expenses, other operational costs make up 51 percent while wages are 31 percent at $21,152,591. Benefit and health insurance each make up 9 percent.

The budget creates three jailer positions, and adds a full-time job of drug court case manager.

The board on a 8-5 vote shifted $15,000 out of a fund for contract help to patrol the Chippewa County Forest. Sheriff James Kowalczyk opposed the transfer.

This is the last budget crafted by Pascarella, who is leaving at the end of the year.

Supervisors Chuck Hull and Dean Gullickson were absent from Thursday’s meeting.

The County Board next meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday in room 302 of the courthouse, 711 N. Bridge St., Chippewa Falls. The board is being asked to join other counties in suing large pharmaceutical companies about the opioid epidemic. It will also be asked to approve the 2018 tax levy.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article listed the wrong tax rate passed by the county board. The new tax rate is $3.69, a cent higher than the previous year.


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Chippewa Falls drivers injured in Thorp truck crash

Two drivers from Chippewa Falls and one from Stanley were injured after a three-vehicle crash on Wednesday afternoon in the city of Thorp.

A semi tractor-trailer driven by an Iowa man rear-ended a flatbed truck, which was driven by a Chippewa Falls man.

The driver and a passenger in the flatbed truck, along with a man driving underneath the overpass whose vehicle was struck by a bale of hay, were injured; eastbound lanes of State Highway 29 were blocked for several hours.

According to a press release from chief deputy James Hirsch of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office:

Three people are injured after a three-vehicle accident on Highway 29 by the Highway M overpass at the south edge of the city of Thorp.

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office received an emergency call of the crash at about 12:31 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 1. A flatbed truck hauling large bales of hay, being driven by Albert Brick, 57, of Chippewa Falls, was driving east on Highway 29.

As Albert was on the overpass of Highway M, a semi tractor-trailer heading eastbound, driven by Kyle R. McNeil, 28, of Lawler, Iowa, rear-ended Brick’s flatbed truck.

When the truck was hit, it started to spin clockwise and struck the north guardrail. The truck then flipped onto its driver’s side and continued east, sliding on the guardrail, eventually coming to rest on the highway, blocking both eastbound lanes. When the truck flipped, several bales of hay fell off the truck onto the highway below.

At that moment, a truck driven by Orville Manier, 83, of rural Stanley was driving north on Highway M under the overpass. Manier’s vehicle was struck by large bales of hay.

Manier was taken to the Ministry Our Lady of Victory Hospital in Stanley for suspected serious injuries. John Brick, 55, of Chippewa Falls, who was riding with Albert Brick, was airlifted to a Mayo Clinic Health System hospital. Albert Brick suffered minor injuries and McNeil was not injured in the accident.

Highway M was blocked for several hours due to bales of hay balancing on the guardrail. The east bound lanes of Highway 29 were also blocked for several hours.

The Thorp Area Fire and Ambulance Service responded to the scene, along with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, Thorp Police Department, Wisconsin State Patrol, Spirit Ambulance and the Mayo Hospital Air Ambulance Service.

The investigation is continuing by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the Wisconsin State Patrol.


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Hewlett Packard Enterprise moving manufacturing jobs to Chippewa Falls

The Chippewa Valley may soon see an increase in manufacturing jobs.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) is moving some of its manufacturing operations to Chippewa Falls after its Houston, Texas manufacturing site was “irreparably damaged” in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the Houston Chronicle reported Thursday.

HPE, which bought Silicon Graphics International (SGI) and SGI’s Chippewa Falls plant in 2016, announced Wednesday that it will “attempt to relocate some of the impacted manufacturing employees to Chippewa Falls or Austin.”

The release called the move “permanent.”

A spokesperson for HPE did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. No other information about future Chippewa Falls manufacturing sites was immediately available from HPE.

Some of HPE’s manufacturing operations will also be relocated to Flex, an HPE partner based in Austin, Texas.


HERALD FILE PHOTO  

The Country Fest main stage is pictured in June 2017.


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Pine Point fishing pier project may be destined for the weeds

A fishing pier project at Pine Point County Park in Holcombe that began in 2005 may never be finished, the county’s Facilities and Parks Committee decided at a Nov. 1 meeting.

Chippewa County received a $13,000 grant from Xcel Energy in 2005 to build a handicap-accessible fishing pier in the park, near several of its campgrounds. After discussing the project and receiving too-expensive bids for the pier throughout the course of 2017, the Facilities and Parks Committee did not take official action, but came to a consensus at their Wednesday meeting: Return the grant money and focus on other county projects.

“The consensus was that there were other priorities, versus putting the balance of the funds toward the Pine Point project,” county administrator Frank Pascarella said Thursday.

In a January 2017 meeting, Facilities and Parks director Larry Ritzinger told the committee the pier had never been completed, and the county still had $13,000 from the 2005 grant. The committee decided to move forward with the project. At a March Facilities and Parks meeting, Ritzinger said the pier’s completion at the end of 2017 was his goal.

At a May meeting, Ritzinger reported engineering consultant CBS Squared had begun working on the pier’s design. At a July meeting, the committee reviewed the bids it had received for the project. The bids had landed outside the project budget, according to meeting minutes. The committee decided to reach out to the Lake Holcombe Improvement Association to discuss funding.

At a Sept. 28 meeting, Ritzinger reported the project was “being reworked by CBS Squared and will be reviewed with the Lake Holcombe Improvement Association on Oct. 5…if approved, this project will be a spring 2018 project,” according to meeting minutes.

At the committee’s most recent meeting on Nov. 1, Ritzinger reviewed the project costs with the committee: It would cost over $85,000 to install a floating pier and almost $146,000 for a permanent pier, including a parking lot, railing and fencing. The committee did not take official action, but verbally agreed to return the grant money.

“I’m extremely disappointed that we’ve gotten here after all this work, because I love to fish…but this is what we’ve got,” Ritzinger said at the Wednesday meeting.

The Facilities and Parks Committee is exploring the possibility of creating a children-only fishing area at Pine Point County Park.