Common council hears budget requests, receives updates on Stevens Street project, pays legal bills
By Lori Adler, reporter
Rhinelander common council held a two-part meeting Monday. First they convened as Committee-of-the-Whole, which allows them to receive and discuss information but not take action other than to request items be added to future council agendas for consideration. They have been using this process to receive budget requests as they work through the 2020 budget. Following the budget presentations, they then reconvened as the common council for their normal legislative session.
Kemp Street project/Shared expense
Recently, Oneida County approached the city for a promised payment for a shared expense of culverts for the Kemp Street project in the amount of approximately $37,000. The city, however, was not aware of the promise to bear some of the expense.
Oneida County highway commissioner Bruce Stefonek appeared before the council Monday to provide information about the promised funds and answer any questions. He revealed that the promise had been made by then Public Works director Tim Kingman and provided the city with emails and other documents assuring a verbal contract. The council had time to consider these documents prior to Monday’s meeting, and therefore, were ready to act.
Alderperson Lee Emmer moved to make this payment a future agenda item so the council could act and then remarked, “I would like to thank the county for agreeing to pay half of it,” explaining that the cost could have been so much more if it had not be agreed to be shared.
The motion was seconded and approved by the council, so a formal payment request will be presented to the council as a future agenda item.
“The city follows through with promises that were made,” Alderman Steve Sauer added, “regardless of who made the promises.”
Mayor Frederickson then asked if there were any other promises made to Oneida County so that the council would not be caught off guard in the future, to which Stefonek replied that there were no other agreements.
Hodag BMX/West Side Park
Robbie Deede of Hodag BMX appeared before the council to discuss improvements to West Side Park. The club is looking to build a two-story structure that would provide an area for concessions and bathrooms. In addition, it would allow for a spot to conduct bike maintenance and repair classes to members. The entire building would be ADA accessible, including an observation deck on the second level to allow a viewing location for those who are physically unable to see the track otherwise. The club has raised about $25,000 to pay for this building. While the BMX club would construct the building, it would be available for use by anyone utilizing the park.
Deede came before the council to help resolve some barriers. The main problem is that there are no water or sewer utilities in the park so the club asked the city to contribute approximately $25,000 to the project in order to get utilities in the park. Another obstacle is with the open bid policy for construction problems and how to work with that when potentially dealing with volunteer contractor services. Lastly, Deede is asking for formal approval of the project by the city which would allow him to garner additional financial support from other community groups that may be willing to contribute.
City administrator Daniel Guild noted that there may be some funding still available in the current budget or that this project could be added to the 2020 budget. He also noted that perhaps the council should consider bringing water and sewer utilities to all the parks before completing any other park projects.
Mayor Frederickson suggested the alderman Lee Emmer could help the BMX club in ways to cut down on costs as well as opportunities for working with the open bid process. Emmer remarked that he would be willing to help and had several suggestions already in mind.
Other funding requests
The YMCA requested funding for lifeguard services at Hodag Park for 2020. In the past, the YMCA has provided all the lifeguards at Hodag Park throughout the summer. The council moved to add funding for the lifeguards as a future agenda item for consideration.
City clerk Val Foley made her budget request, explaining an increase in her office’s budget due to upcoming elections. There will be five elections in 2020, which will incur additional labor and technology expenditures.
Finance director Wendy Bixby’s requests were for additional software to allow her to complete her job faster which in turn frees her up for additional tasks. The finance department has recently taken on additional tasks due to changes in city staffing.
Tara Tessmann, IT coordinator, requested technology improvements, most of which surround the need to upgrade all systems to a newer version of Microsoft Windows as the city’s current version will no longer be supported by Microsoft as of January 2020. In addition, Tessmann stated the need to replace some computers and servers that would not be capable of running the newer operating system. The department is also requesting funding to create a shared integrated system with all necessary hardware and important additional software such as ransomware.
Regular Legislative Session
Stevens Street project
Mark Barden of Town and Country Engineering presented an update on the Stevens Street project. He stated that the asphalt has all been laid down, but there have been issues with the concrete installation, which concerns sidewalks and driveways. Barden explained that the early cold weather prevented the pouring of the concrete, and the contractor has recommended a work stoppage until spring. Barden said he agreed with the contractor, so recycled material is being used to patch and prepare areas for winter. The concrete will then be poured in the spring when warmer weather returns.
The unpaid legal bills which have been causing much debate among council members have been paid. A formal resolution to amend the 2019 budget, reallocating the legal expenses to other appropriate departments, was approved by the council Monday, followed by the formal resolution to pay the legal bills. Both resolutions were passed by the council unanimously.
Legal bills for October, November and December are yet to be received; however, payment of those bills may require another budget amendment. Monday’s budget amendment is only the second one of the year, and the council has done three budget amendments per year on average.
Guild provided an update on the new city ethics code. He stated that city attorney Steve Sorenson had completed a first draft of the code and only just provided copies to council members for their review. The draft code is also available for public review on the city’s website. Discussion of the draft document is planned for the next regular council meeting.
Raze actions/abandoned properties
Fire Chief Terry Williams updated the council on five vacant or abandoned properties, noting that there had been recent success with these properties since the von Briesen law firm became involved. Issues with two properties have been addressed, with property owners cleaning up and making necessary repairs to the properties.
Three problem properties remain: 521 Gardner, 959 Eagle, 658 Coolidge. Raze orders have been issued which give the city the power to demolish structures and clean up these properties as needed and place the cost on the owners’ property taxes. Williams said that he suspected, however, that the city would never recoup the money and offered another possible solution.
Habitat for Humanity is interested in working with property owners to acquire properties and remodel or rebuild as needed. They are even interested in 959 Eagle which would require complete demolition due to extensive damage and unsafe conditions.
Williams requested council permission to pursue the possibility of working with Habitat for Humanity before deciding on demolition at the city’s expense. The council agreed but requested a short timeline for this consideration given the potential safety issues.
Williams will speak with habitat for Humanity and see what can be arranged with property owners. He will return to the council meeting on December 9 with an update.
The Rhinelander Common Council will hold the following meetings:
- Special meeting/budget workshop on Monday, November 18 at 6 p.m. at city hall.
- Regular meeting and annual budget hearing on Monday, November 25 at 6 p.m. at city hall.
- Special meeting/budget workshop on Monday, December 2 at 6 p.m. at city hall.
- Regular meeting on Monday, December 9 at 6.pm. at city hall.