Chippewa County is moving ahead with plans to explore a new business park.
The county board voted 13-1 Tuesday to use money set aside in the 2018 budget to develop a strategic plan looking at a potential new park.
The county has one existing park, the 200-plus acre Lake Wissota Business Park. It has 116 acres available for development, according to the resolution passed Tuesday.
Neither the board nor county administrator Randy Scholz discussed the location of a possible new park at a Tuesday county board meeting.
“(The funding would) be to find a consultant to look at if it makes sense to even move forward with it,” Scholz said Tuesday. “If it does, what partners can we partner with, what location? None of that is predetermined.”
Funding for a strategic plan — $90,000 from the county’s Economic Development fund — was set aside in 2017 for that purpose.
Through a grant, the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission could contribute 50 percent of the cost of the strategic plan, Scholz said.
The WCWRPC is a multi-county planning agency based in Eau Claire.
If Chippewa County gets the WCWRPC grant, it could potentially qualify for other grants, which could cover up to 50 percent of construction costs for a new park, according to the resolution.
“I think it’s a great opportunity if the county board moves forward,” Scholz said. “At least we can tap into some other dollars and not cost the county as much.”
The Lake Wissota Business Park opened in 2002, marking a years-long collaboration between the county and city of Chippewa Falls.
The park’s most recent large development was a 1 million square-foot, $69 million Mills Fleet Farm distribution center, which began receiving goods in January.
In other county news, the board unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday urging the state to increase funding for the state Public Defender’s Office.
Other counties have passed the same resolution, Scholz said.
According to the resolution, due to a rise in Chippewa County criminal cases since 2014 and an uptick in methamphetamine use, the need for public defenders has spiked.
Almost 40 percent of state public defender cases are appointed to private attorneys, who are compensated at $40 per hour for court time and $25 per hour for travel. That rate is “the lowest in the nation,” according to the resolution, and “judges are increasingly being forced to appoint private bar counsel at county expense” for people the public defender cannot find attorneys for.
“It’s very difficult with the increase, and with all the issues with meth and drug use, they’re having a really hard time getting people to be able to provide the service,” Scholz said.
The county pays $70 per hour for those judge-appointed private attorneys, and the rate is set to increase to $100 per hour in 2020, according to the resolution.
The Wisconsin Legislature sets funding for the Public Defender’s Office.