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FOR THE CHIPPEWA HERALD 

Neenah/Menasha/Hortonville co-coach Mike Elkin and the team celebrate after winning a boys hockey sectional championship over Green Bay Notre Dame last Friday. Elkin, a Chi-Hi graduate, was a captain for Chi-Hi's first state qualifying boys hockey team in 1988 and returns to Madison this week as a co-coach for the Rockets.


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Chippewa Falls named one of best places in Wisconsin for retirees

Looking to retire?

One ranking system said one of the best spots in the state to retire is right here in the Chippewa Valley.

A recent study from SmartAsset, a financial technology company that provides personal finance advice, put Chippewa Falls as fourth of the top 10 places to retire in Wisconsin.

Their method looks at state and local taxes, both income and sales, and calculates it based on a average retiree having about $35,000 annually.

Chippewa Falls finished behind Pewaukee — a suburb of Milwaukee — Antigo and Rice Lake, which took first, second and third respectively.

Rounding out the top 10 were Marshfield, Wisconsin Rapids, Waterford, Rhinelander, Richland Center and Brookfield.

Then they look at the number of doctors’ offices, recreation centers and retirement centers per thousand residents in each area and the number of seniors in each area as a percentage of the total population.

All in all, Chippewa Falls rated highly for the number of doctors, recreation areas and number of seniors.

Jackie Boos, tourism director for the Chippewa Area Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged that health care in the area was a good selling point, but said when they talk to retirees looking at Chippewa Falls, they factor in many other aspects of their lives.

Boos said low cost of living and year-round activities are always attractive to people moving to the area, as well as the general quality of life that they emphasize in their relocation information.

“We’re really giving them a full packet,” Boos said.

She said often people will visit the area, whether for family reunions, motor coach tours or on trips in summer months, and then she’ll get inquiries about what the area has to offer if visitors moved here.

“When you experience it firsthand, then you can see yourself living here,” Boos said. “The quality of life is so much.”

Others list Wisconsin as scoring high in general for retirement, often citing the low costs and low taxes rather than focusing on the weather.

The website WalletHub recently compared the 50 states across 46 indicators of retirement-friendliness, and Wisconsin came in 12th place.

The analysis cited affordability, health-related factors and overall quality of life.

Florida was listed as the top state for retirement, with other Midwestern states such as South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota ranked ahead of Wisconsin.

The worst three states? West Virginia, Rhode Island and Kentucky.

The website WalletHub recently compared the 50 states across 46 indicators of retirement-friendliness, and Wisconsin came in 12th place, behind other Midwestern states such as South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota.

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Always on call: St. Joseph's 'snow-removal specialists' take pride in their craft

With a snow event at least once a week for the past four weeks, Plant Services colleagues at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital often are burning the midnight oil to make sure parking lots, sidewalks, exit doors and even roofs are clear of snow for safety.

Tim Bresina and John Oliver, who have been with the hospital for 31 and 14 years, respectively, are dubbed “snow-removal specialists.” Although that’s not their official title, colleagues at the hospital honor them as such.

As soon as the National Weather Service starts talking about a winter weather event, Bresina and Oliver are planning — plotting.

HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and every day of the year to take care of patients. For Bresina, Oliver and other Plant Services colleagues called to snow-removal duty, that means making sure patients are able to get to the hospital doors safely.

It also means being vigilant about medical staff being able to park and walk into the hospital in a hurry.

Pat DeLong, plant services facilitator at the hospital, said Bresina and Oliver take that task very seriously.

“Long before the snow season starts they’re checking equipment and prepping it for winter,” he said Monday while looking out over the snow-cleared colleague parking lot. “Tim (Bresina) will come in on his day off just to assess the grounds and any needs in the event something may have been missed or overlooked.

“They take a lot of pride in the parking lots and driveways looking good under these extreme weather conditions.”

Even more impressive is the coordination that goes into clearing the lots and walkways early in the morning before the hospital gets hopping.

“No one needs to call them in. We don’t have a winter weather schedule,” DeLong said.

“They’ve been doing it so long they just know what is needed and they do it,” he said of Bresina and Oliver’s coordination. “They know better than anyone what to do, and they have everything cleared by the time colleagues arrive in the morning.”

The men have skid steers with snow blowers and buckets, heavy duty pick-up trucks and a one-ton dump truck with a plow. But, like city and county snow removal, the hospital also invests in 75 tons of salt.

As snow begins to fall again this week, Plant Services colleagues will continue to be diligent.

“I’m really proud of them,” DeLong said of the colleagues. “The expectation is high here. Many patients who come here don’t have a choice — they need immediate care. We need to have the cleanest lots around. It’s about safety.”


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Evers' first budget sets up fight with Republicans

MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Tony Evers’ first budget, to be unveiled this week, will surely please his Democratic supporters by fulfilling campaign promises to legalize medical marijuana, expand Medicaid and spend more money on public education.

But there’s one big problem. Many of the ideas will be dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Legislature, or face little chance of passing without significant changes. Add to the mix huge issues upon which even Republicans can’t agree and it seems a stalemate is inevitable.

Republicans have made clear their opposition to Evers’ proposals to accept federal money to expand Medicaid , legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize small amounts of recreational pot and freeze enrollment in private voucher schools.

Even in areas where there appears to be common ground — such as cutting middle class taxes — Evers and Republicans have been unable to compromise to get it done.

Former Gov. Scott Walker didn’t sign the last budget until late September, after Republicans struggled with how to fund roads and ultimately decided to punt and borrow more money rather than raise taxes or fees.

Now, under a split government for the first budget since 2007, Evers faces the challenge of following through on the campaign promises that got him elected knowing that Republicans who must vote on them won’t comply.

Some of the bigger conflicts in the budget that Evers will release Thursday include:

ROADS: Perhaps the biggest unknown is Evers’ transportation plan. He has signaled he will increase the state’s 32.9-cent gas tax to pay for roads in a comprehensive plan to find a long-term funding solution. Assembly Republicans last session endorsed a gas tax increase, but were rebuffed by Senate Republicans and Walker. Republican lawmakers have shown openness to toll roads, but some conservative Republican senators stand ready to block any type of tax or fee increase.

MARIJUANA: Evers wants to legalize medical marijuana and de-criminalize up to 25 grams of recreational pot. The plan appears to be a non-starter among Republicans, with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos saying it has a 10 percent chance of success .

K-12 SCHOOLS: Evers campaigned on the promise to increase funding for K-12 schools by 10 percent, or $1.4 billion. Republicans say they support increasing school funding, but not as much as Evers wants.

VOUCHER SCHOOLS: Evers, the former state schools chief, wants to freeze enrollment in voucher schools starting in 2021, a move Republicans oppose. Evers says an enrollment freeze would save money on property taxes, but supporters of the program say it will deny people the chance to escape failing public schools.

HIGHER EDUCATION: Evers plans to continue a tuition freeze at the University of Wisconsin for at least two years, boost funding by $150 million and allow for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to pay in-state tuition. Republicans oppose the in-state tuition plan, a version of which they stripped from state law in 2011.

TAXES: Evers will propose a 10 percent income tax cut targeting middle income earners. He vetoed a similar Republican bill last week. Evers and Republicans disagree over how to pay for the tax cut.

HEALTH CARE: Evers has promised to propose accepting federal Medicaid expansion, a move that would add about 76,000 low-income people to Medicaid and save the state about $280 million over the next two years thanks to an infusion of federal dollars. But Republicans have been outspoken against it, saying putting more people on Medicaid will shift costs to the private sector and ultimately cost the state more in later years.

PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Evers will include nearly $28 million to support women’s health care issues, including restoring funding for Planned Parenthood that was blocked by Walker. Vos said Planned Parenthood wouldn’t be given “one more nickel.”

REDISTRICTING: As he promised in the campaign, Evers proposed a nonpartisan redistricting process that would take away the Legislature’s power to draw political boundary maps. Republicans support the current process. The most recent GOP-drawn maps are being fought in court. The next round of redistricting will occur after the 2020 Census.

UNFILLED PROMISES: Evers campaigned on defunding the state’s job-creation agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. But since winning election, Evers backed off on eliminating WEDC and instead will propose tightening restrictions on tax breaks it gives companies. Evers also campaigned in support of raising the minimum wage to $15-an-hour. He said his first budget will provide a pathway to getting that done, but won’t go all the way in two years.


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Former Chippewa County employee won't receive grievance hearing

Former Chippewa County employee Nate Liedl will not receive a grievance hearing after being fired by his boss, Clerk of Court Karen Hepfler.

Liedl

Liedl ran against Hepfler for the clerk of court position in the November election but lost. Hepfler fired Liedl Jan. 10 — about two months later. He contends he was dismissed because he ran for her job.

Attorney Steven Zach, who was hired to represent the county, sent Liedl a letter saying that he is not entitled to a grievance hearing.

“As deputy clerk, you were appointed under (state statute) which states that the clerk of circuit court shall appoint one or more deputies and the appointments shall be approved by the majority of circuit judges for the county, but shall be revocable by the clerk at pleasure,” Zach wrote. “Based upon this, the county has concluded that you were not an ‘employee’ within the meaning of the grievance policy and thus, are not entitled to file a grievance hearing with respect to your termination.”

In a separate, shorter letter, Zach wrote that Liedl “alleged certain issues regarding (his) ability to find another job” given his termination, had alleged certain facts for the reasons behind his dismissal, and that he was willing to speak to Liedl about “a potential resolution to some of the issues you addressed in your grievance.”

Liedl has been following the employee handbook policy for what to do if fired. He already filed a grievance claim directly to Hepfler, which she denied without stating a reason for his dismissal. He is still considering a lawsuit for wrongful termination.

Liedl, 37, worked in the clerk of courts office for nearly six years. Liedl said he sent the grievance letter to the County Board chairman and vice-chair, and neither has responded to him.

The county’s attorney, Jim Sherman, said recently that the county cannot comment on any ongoing grievance issues.

Hepfler, 55, has served as clerk of court since 2001. Along with dismissing Liedl, Hepfler also recently fired two other workers in her office, including a woman who actively campaigned for Liedl on social media and at parades throughout last summer.

Liedl said he decided last spring to run for the elected position to lead the office, and he began collecting signatures. Shortly after filing, he was giving a warning about his job performance; he had never had any form of discipline in his first five years there.

Hepfler, a Democrat, received 14,450 votes (53 percent) to win re-election on Nov. 6. Liedl, who ran as a Republican, received 12,622 votes (47 percent).

Prior to being fired Jan. 10, Liedl was told that “transaction report” for 2018 that monitored his computer activity showed he had accessed juvenile department cases 18 separate times. Liedl readily admits he had read the cases, but didn’t know it was something he couldn’t do, or would be considered a fireable offense.

“We knew things were confidential, but we didn’t know we couldn’t access them,” Liedl said previously. “We knew we couldn’t talk about it.”

Liedl said this rule should have been explained better during his training. The fact that he did it 18 times over the course of the year shows he didn’t know what he was doing was wrong, he contends.

The woman who assisted Liedl during the campaign was terminated Dec. 6. She declined to comment, and asked that she not be identified because she didn’t want to lose her severance package. She worked in the office for about seven years.

“I believe the discharge of two employees who worked on a campaign against Ms. Hepfler within two months of her being re-elected shows these were instances of vindictive targeting,” Liedl wrote in his grievance letter.

Liedl’s six-month son, Jaxon Hunter, died Nov. 1, after he was reportedly stomped on by a 10-year-old Chippewa Falls girl. Liedl maintains that he did not look at the girl’s file or anything related to that case.

Liedl contends that other workers in the office — both former employees and current staff — have confided to him they have looked at similar confidential records. He didn’t want to divulge any names to not get anyone else in the office in trouble.

“I believe the discharge of two employees who worked on a campaign against Ms. Hepfler within two months of her being re-elected shows these were instances of vindictive targeting.” Nate Liedl, former deputy clerk