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Lawrence “Larry” Willkom, age 77, of Chippewa Falls, town of Lafayette, passed away about a month ago. I did not know Mr. Willkom very well. I would see him at McDonalds having coffee with his friends and I knew him from his years on the Chippewa County Board. I had several brief but intense moments with him after an accident he had at his house in Lafayette. To make one small correction in the article from the Herald he was from Lafayette, not Howard.

John Andersen

JOHN R. ANDERSEN

People who knew him far better than I praised his outgoing nature and his kindness. I liked the quote from Town of Hallie Chair Larry Marquardt probably the best: “He was an outstanding leader, he was very conservative — he didn’t want to spend any money. He voted ‘no’ a lot. He had a great mind of knowledge. I have a lot of respect for him.” I think most people did respect him I certainly did and my condolences to his family.

There is an entire generation that was born at the beginning of World War II (Mr. Willkom was born in 1941) and grew up during the war years. Too young for the Korean war and too old for the Vietnam War; by definition they are/were part of the silent generation born between 1925-1942. They were too old to remember the Great Depression but certainly grew up with its effects.

I know quite a few people of Mr. Willkom’s generation who are/were fiscal conservatives. As kids, they experienced their parents reaction to the Great Depression and the economic boom of the post war years. When I was born, my father was 36. He shared some of Larry’s fiscal leanings. Yet with respect to my Dad and Mr. Willkom at times I could not agree with some of their decisions.

Because I live in Chippewa County, I am subject to the county’s $10 “wheel tax.” The tax was created in 2015 to fund the county’s winter maintenance fund and is set to end on Jan. 1, 2020. In looking back on campaign “promises” made by those running for Chippewa County Board in 2018, most were in favor of repealing the tax. Yet in speaking with Chippewa County folks in the know, this winter has put a huge hole in the road budget.

Paul Michels said in March of 2018 that he was 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.” To be frank, I do not know if that was ever accomplished; if so great, if not where will the County Board get the money to replace the “wheel tax” for road maintenance? Time will tell.

I know leaders at both the state and local level who engage in what I call “philosophical budgeting.” In other words, approving or denying a budget request if it meets their philosophy. That type of budget does not reflect an economic reality.

An example for you.

In 1990 the Chippewa Fire District purposed an EMS (ambulance budget) based on the philosophy of keeping taxes low. That philosophy worked for many years until insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid changed their payment rates and did not pay ambulance bills in a timely manner. Fast forward to 2018 and the EMS service breaks about even.

In early October of 2018 the Town of Wheaton presented a proposal to the Chippewa Fire District’s Emergency Medical Service budget. That proposal would have cut the budget by $200,000. If that proposed cut had passed it would have resulted in laying off all part-time employees of the Emergency Medical Services Division and cutting back to one on duty crew.

The Towns of Lafayette, Hallie, Howard and the Village of Lake Hallie rejected that proposal. One on-duty ambulance for 16,000 people is just not enough as we have recently seen. So Wheaton has threatened to leave the Fire District and has gone shopping for ambulance service from the City of Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls. The Town of Wheaton’s proposal was one of philosophical budgeting. Many elected leaders vote “no” on things to please their constituents. By voting no they do not do them a service they push the problem down the road.

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John R. Andersen of Lake Hallie is a former state employee who remains active in the fields of fire prevention, government and education.

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