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Taxes slightly up in Chippewa County and Chippewa Falls

People around Chippewa County won’t see any big changes to their property taxes for 2019.

In 2019, Chippewa County’s tax levy will be 2.18 percent larger than before, up to $19.1 million.

The overall budget increased 13.4 percent from $68.1 million to $77.3 million.

The property tax rate, however, will actually decrease from $3.69 per $1,000 of property value to $3.64 per $1,000.

Randy Scholz, Chippewa County administrator, said the decrease in the property tax rate was not unusual, noting that the levy amount is capped by the state.

“It’s not going to change very much due to levy limits,” Scholz said.

The property tax rate has not gone up or down very much, and was $3.78 in 2014.

In Chippewa Falls, a 6.43 percent increase in the tax levy was approved, bringing the total up to $7.1 million.

The overall budget increased by 3.45 percent over 2018, up to $12.9 million.

Mayor Greg Hoffman said the increase in the levy was needed for a number of reasons, but the city had been able to make it many years without increasing the taxes, which he attributed to cuts, good budgeting and raising money through other means for projects such as park improvements.

“There’s very few communities who can say that,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said part of that increase is going to cover a new police officer and a 2 percent raise for city workers.

Hoffman said that throughout 2019 there are a number of park improvements that will continue, though the majority of that money is not from the city.

At the county level, Scholz said that in 2019 officials want to update the county board’s 2011 strategic plan, explore the feasibility of a new business park and launch a campaign against meth addiction.

In addition to the health and human costs, the drug problem also drains county resources.

“We’re trying to get the full community to work together,” Hoffman said.

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That feeder in your backyard may be feeding the birds -- to urban hawks

Once found predominantly in rural woodlands, hawks have come to find a convenient home in cities, according to a study led by UW-Madison researchers.

Woodland hawk populations were once declining in the face of habitat loss, pollution and persecution but are now rebounding. But the predators are now adapting to urban landscapes, which happen to provide ample and predictable food sources.

Predatory birds such as Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks find an overabundance of prey to feast upon when they move to cities, postdoctoral fellow Jennifer McCabe said. Smaller birds are drawn to backyard bird feeders, creating a reliable hunting ground for the hawks.

The study looked at data collected over 20 years across Chicago and some of its surrounding suburbs through Project FeederWatch. Project FeederWatch is an annual data collection program that runs from November through April in which participants intermittently count the species and numbers of birds that visit the bird feeders at their homes.

The study determined the likelihood that a Cooper’s or sharp-shinned hawk would occupy any site within a city during each year. In Chicago, the likelihood jumped from about a 35 percent chance in 1996 to a 60 percent chance in 2016. Other cities, including Atlanta, Boston and Denver, also saw increases.

Studying the trends of predators in urban areas allows scientists to see the effects that urbanization has on animals and how those animals adapt — or don’t adapt — to the man-made environment.

These Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks are known to eat medium- to large-sized birds, such as mourning doves or European starlings, so McCabe said her team expected the size of the prey in any given area would affect the hawk population. Instead, the researchers found that hawks aren’t very picky eaters — they’re more than willing to eat smaller birds if there are enough of them.

“It doesn’t matter if (the birds are) the species desired, but it does matter that there’s a lot of them,” McCabe said.

Researchers have seen anecdotal evidence of predators in most urban areas, said Benjamin Zuckerberg, a professor and researcher at UW-Madison who worked on the study. McCabe said everything from bears to mountain lions even to leopards in India have found ways to survive in urban areas.

“It’s a global phenomenon at this point,” Zuckerberg said.

Red foxes in Europe have started relying on food waste from humans, and about 87 percent of an urban leopard’s diet is domesticated animals, according to the study.

Although Madison itself wasn’t a point of study, both Zuckerberg and McCabe said its likely the same hunting trends are happening here.

“Every city has seen an increased chance it would be occupied by hawks,” McCabe said.

Hawks typically perch and wait to ambush their prey, so the birds in Chicago — and likely other cities — can post themselves near a feeder where they can reasonably expect numerous birds to be flying to and fro.

McCabe and her team also expected the amount of green space in a city and the tree canopy to be important factors in a hawk’s decision to stay in urban areas, but the amount of tree coverage was not a deal breaker for hawks.

“They were able to persist in what would have been an inhospitable environment,” Zuckerberg said.

Even though urban areas that are feeding grounds for smaller birds have become hunting grounds for predators, many of those small birds have retained their natural instincts that protect them from predators. McCabe said that when FeederWatch participants played predatory bird calls near feeders, the small birds knew to flee.

US employers went on a surprising hiring spree in December

WASHINGTON — U.S. employers went on a hiring spree in December, adding a surprising 312,000 jobs and providing a dose of reassurance about the economy after a turbulent few months on Wall Street.

The job gains reported Friday by the Labor Department came despite a trade war with China, a global slowdown and a partial government shutdown now entering its third week.

The nation’s unemployment rate rose slightly to 3.9 percent last month, but that, too, was considered a positive sign, reflecting an increase in Americans beginning to look for work. And average hourly pay improved 3.2 percent from a year ago.

Stocks surged on the news, along with word that the U.S. and China will hold trade talks next week and comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell that the Fed will be flexible in judging whether to raise interest rates further. The Dow Jones industrial average shot up 747 points, or 3.3 percent.

President Donald Trump called the job growth “GREAT” on Twitter.

The torrid hiring in December far outstripped the 180,000 jobs investors had been anticipating and could help ease fears that the economy’s expansion — now in the middle of its 10th year — may be coming to an end.

“The labor market is very strong even though the economy appears to be slowing,” said Eric Winograd, senior U.S. economist at the investment management firm AllianceBernstein. “Those two things cannot coexist for very long. Either weakening demand will lead firms to dial back the pace of hiring or the robust pace of hiring will lead firms to ramp back up production.”

In recent weeks, financial markets have plunged amid concerns that the U.S. could be in a recession by 2020. The Dow suffered its worst December since the middle of the Depression in 1931.

Major companies such as Apple say their sales are being jeopardized by the tariff war between Washington and Beijing, and an important gauge of U.S. manufacturing posted its steepest decline in a decade Thursday.

China, the world’s second-largest economy, is also mired in a slowdown, its consumers losing much of their appetite for real estate, iPhones, Ford vehicles and jewelry from Tiffany & Co.

The U.S. government shutdown and Trump’s attacks on the Fed and its chairman over the central bank’s rate increases have also worried investors, though Powell may have eased some of those concerns Friday when he stressed that he would not resign if the president told him to do so.

The strong job growth suggests employers believe U.S. consumer spending will stay robust.

Health care and education added 82,000 jobs last month, the largest jump in nearly nine years. Restaurants and drinking places posted a net gain of 40,700 jobs. Builders added 38,000 construction jobs, while manufacturers increased their payrolls by 32,000 workers.

Businesses are still searching for more workers.

Fresh Coat Painters, based in Cincinnati, plans to nearly double the 300 employees who paint homes and businesses as it expands this year across this country. The franchiser is also launching an apprenticeship program to attract workers, in addition to providing higher pay and benefits.

Tara Riley, president of Fresh Coat, said that franchise owners are having to actively search for workers instead of simply posting ads.

“We realized it was a mindset change: You have to be recruiting, rather than hiring,” Riley said.

Still, Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, cautioned on Thursday that the jobs report for January could be weak if the shutdown continues. Job totals could be lowered by hundreds of thousands of government employees being temporarily put out of work.

“So when we see the January jobs number, it could be a big negative,” Hassett said.

In 2018, employers added 2.6 million jobs, or an average of nearly 220,000 a month, according to the Labor Department.

At some point, even if the economy remains healthy, monthly job gains will likely downshift to a more gradual pace. This is because there is a dwindling pool of unemployed people. There were 6.3 million people looking for a job in December, down from 6.5 million a year ago.

“People should not get used to numbers like the one we saw this month,” said Martha Gimbel, director of economic research at the jobs site Indeed. “Eventually, job growth is going to start slowing down. When that happens, we shouldn’t panic.”


Jason Momoa delivers a standout performance as Arthur Curry in the new blockbuster, "Aquaman."


Wisconsin's ousted Gov. Scott Walker says he may run again

MADISON — Ousted Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Friday that he would be interested in running for public office again, maybe even for governor in four years.

Walker spoke to The Associated Press from the vacated governor’s mansion as he prepares to be replaced Monday by Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers. Walker, a presidential candidate in the 2016 race, served two terms as governor before Evers narrowly defeated him in November.

Walker’s immediate plans are to hit the speaking circuit, advocating for conservative proposals and talking up the conservative agenda he enacted in Wisconsin. Walker said he also sees himself as President Donald Trump’s chief advocate in Wisconsin — comments that came just days after fellow Republican Mitt Romney, also a former governor, penned a scathing op-ed questioning Trump’s character.

Walker, who said he hadn’t read Romney’s column, defended Trump’s record and said no other Republican could defeat him in the presidential primary in 2020.

“Donald Trump, I believe, will be the nominee,” Walker said.

When Walker dropped out of the presidential race in 2015, he urged others to join him and unite to defeat Trump. He later endorsed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz before finally backing Trump after his nomination was all but certain.

Walker acknowledged there are a “few things” he wishes Trump had done differently, pointing to “tweets and words” the president has used. But he praised Trump’s judicial appointments, his signing of the new tax law and his trade agreements that Walker said have helped Wisconsin’s dairy and manufacturing industries.

“I’m old school,” Walker said. “I believe that actions speak louder than words. Are there tweets or words occasionally that I wish he would do differently? Absolutely. I think even some of his most ardent supporters would say that.”

Walker said his wife, Tonette, has encouraged him not to rule out another run for office — but he did foreclose any longshot challenge to Trump in 2020.

“No, no, no,” he said. “As much as my wife encouraged me to say, ‘someday run,’ that would not be a position she would encourage me to run for right now.”

Walker, who has been in elected office for 25 years, is planning to hit the national speaking circuit to advocate for taking power out of the federal government and giving it to the states. But the 51-year-old said he has to decide whether elected office, including in the U.S. Senate, might be the best place for him to make the argument.

“It may be, in the end, I’m better equipped to make those changes become a reality not in elected office,” he said. “But I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.”

As for a future run at the governor’s office, Walker said: “If Republicans are going to make the case, it’s probably worth, at least for governor, having a new face, a new name on the ballot for that. But you never rule anything out.”

Evers’ spokeswoman Carrie Lynch declined to comment. But Wisconsin Democratic Party spokeswoman Courtney Beyer said Walker “clearly doesn’t know what to do with himself now that he’s out of a job.” She said voters who elected Evers were “eager to turn the page on the politics of the past and ... Scott Walker would be wise to listen.”

Walker is considering running to replace Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson in 2022. Johnson, who is in his second term, has said he won’t run for a third time. Walker said he was looking at the experience of other former governors who have gone on to serve in the Senate.

“They’ll tell you often they’re frustrated,” Walker said. “To me, I wouldn’t want to go somewhere and be frustrated just for the sake of a title. I want to be able to get something done.”