Chippewa County could have up to 11 new county board supervisors after the Tuesday, April 3 election. Of the 15 open seats, just four are uncontested.
The Herald spoke with candidates and incumbents from Districts 1, 3 and 4 – Harold Steele and John Ewer of Holcombe, Matt Hartman and Paul Michels of Bloomer and Jared Zwiefelhofer and Gregory Patrow of Bloomer – about several issues: their experience as elected officials, the $10 per year “wheel tax” and economic development throughout the county.
The county board’s incumbent for District 1, Harold “Buck” Steele of Holcombe, is being challenged by John Ewer of Holcombe, a campground owner.
Steele ran unopposed in the 2016 election. He has represented District 1 on the board for two years and is retired, with two sons, ten grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Steele is running “to continue to try and get the best services for the tax dollars for the constituents of my district,” he told the Herald in a phone interview.
On the county’s wheel tax – the $10 per vehicle fee that began in 2015 to fund the county’s winter maintenance fund and is set to end on Jan. 1, 2020 – Steele said he will not vote to continue the tax after it expires.
“It’s only got one more year of life,” Steele said. “I will not vote to continue it after that.”
When asked about the possibility of a new business park in the vein of Lake Wissota Business Park in Chippewa County, Steele said he is willing to set aside a sum of money to explore that potential. He pointed to business districts in Stanley, Bloomer and Cadott as possibilities.
“Our county is very fortunate to have an expressway going north and south, and one going east and west,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned … We ought to be taking a look at filling those parks in the outlying areas in our county.”
Ewer has owned Little Teepee Campground in Holcombe for 24 years. His run for the board will be his first attempt at elected office.
Ewer is running for the board to challenge the way the board manages the county forest, he told the Herald in a phone interview. He was unsure of whether or not he would vote to repeal the wheel tax, if given the opportunity, and did not comment on a question regarding the future of the county’s business parks.
The county board match-up in District 3 sets incumbent Matt Hartman of Bloomer against Paul Michels of Bloomer, a former chairman of the board – a rematch from 2016.
Hartman worked for the county’s highway department for 35 years before retiring in 2015. He is married with two children and three grandchildren, and is a graduate of Chippewa Valley Technical College.
He is advocating financial transparency and “open, clean and inclusive county government,” Hartman said in a written statement. He will push to track spending on the county’s pay-for-performance policy, and is skeptical about the model, he told the Herald.
Morale is a problem among county employees, but he believes it will turn around with a new county administrator, Hartman said.
“We have successfully changed policy, have a new county administrator and are well on the way of getting the voice of the people back into our county government,” his written statement said.
Michels is a former County Board chairman and longtime board member. He lost to Hartman in 2016.
He is married with six daughters, and is a graduate of Chippewa Valley Technical College’s agricultural program. He has spent much of his life working in production agriculture, he told the Herald.
“I want to advocate for … implementing live streaming of county meetings for transparency,” Michels said. “I’d like to hold the administration and all the departments accountable to the policies and budgets approved by the board. I’d like to improve public access to our county forest lands.”
Michels said he is in favor of repealing the wheel tax “if we can get a sustainable funding source in line,” and instate a reserve fund in the $500,000 range.
He’s also in favor of exploring new venues for another business park, but said the proper steps should be taken first. Energy sources, transportation requirements, zoning and stormwater management should be considered, he said.
Directing funds to the county’s rising methamphetamine crisis, mental health initiatives and sustainable funding for the winter road maintenance program are also platforms Michels highlighted.
“As your elected representative, I will serve with the highest degree of honesty, integrity, compassion and accountability,” Michels said.
Bloomer’s District 4 race will see incumbent Jared Zwiefelhofer, Bloomer’s police chief, run against Gregory Patrow, a retired former employee of Indianhead Pipeline Services.
Zwiefelhofer has represented District 4 on the board for eight years, and is running to complete unfinished business at the county level, he told the Herald in a phone interview.
“After we hired the new administrator, I felt that I needed to run to finish out some of the processes that we’ve been going through on the board,” he said.
That unfinished business includes finding a sustainable way to keep the winter maintenance fund afloat, and considering the state of the county’s roads.
“They’re not going to last for another 50 years,” he said.
Zwiefelhofer agrees that the county needs to continue promoting business expansion, but said the board needs time to consider options before picking a location for a new business park: “It’s a huge project that I know is coming.”
“I’m going to continue to look out for the best interests of the county as a whole, and not necessarily going to be involved in special interest or minority groups,” he said.
Patrow has lived in the Bloomer area since 1988, and his run for the board in 2018 will be his first attempt at elected office, he told the Herald.
“I was in supervision for a long time, almost with every company I worked for. I thought it’s maybe about time to give a little back to the community,” he said.
His knowledge of the construction and highway industries would contribute to board decisions, Patrow said. He is not in favor of the current wheel tax.
Patrow also advocated for caution before making a decision on a new county business park: “I think we’re going to have to keep on looking. We want to keep bringing businesses in the area. That’s how we pay our bills.”
He also cited the methamphetamine problem in the county as a concern, saying the county needs to address it “before it gets out of hand”: “The problem isn’t just money to the taxpayers, but all the pressure it’s putting on the human resources and police departments. It’s going to cost us a lot of money.”
Watch the Herald’s coming print editions for a look at more contested Chippewa County Board races. The election is Tuesday, April 3.