Rhinelander city council approves 2020 budget
By Lori Adler, reporter
The Rhinelander common council passed the city’s 2020 budget Monday during their regular council meeting. The total tax levy for 2020 will be $6,009,886, an increase of $8927 or 0.15%.
Administrator Daniel Guild presented the budget, and finance director Wendy Bixby was on hand to answer any questions regarding any particular line items. Discussion, however, was brief and mainly concerned the proper posting of the budget for public view.
Alderperson Dawn Rog asked, “As far as the posting of this budget, was this posted to the public and advertised on the 9th of November?” Bixby replied that it was published and posted on November 9 as legally required.
“That posting says available at the clerk’s office for public inspection,” alderman Lee Emmer remarked, asking, “Was it available?” Again Bixby replied yes and added that she did fulfill one citizen’s request for a printed copy.
With little further discussion, a motion to accept the budget as presented was made by alderperson Steve Sauer and seconded by alderman David Holt. A roll call vote was then taken with only Rog and Emmer voting no, thus passing the motion.
While this action approved the tax levy for the 2020 year, changes to the budget that do not affect the tax levy, such as adjusting individual allocations, can be made at any time with a budget amendment.
The executive director of the Rhinelander chamber of commerce, Lauren Sackett, appeared before the council to discuss a tax known as room tax. A formal zone that includes Rhinelander and the town of Pelican was previously established, providing a certain tax on hotel rooms within that zone to be collected for tourism purposes.
Sackett pointed out that the 2020 budget shows a utilization of 45% of the tax, but Sackett explained that this is a violation of the allowable percentage per state statute, city ordinance and a contract between the city and the Rhinelander Tourism and Marketing Committee (which consists of city officials, Pelican officials, and representatives from the chamber of commerce, Downtown Rhinelander Incorporated and hotels within Rhinelander city limits).
Sackett stated that the 2020 budget is illegally utilizing room tax, keeping 45% when the rules state the city may only keep 30% and remaining must be forwarded to the chamber which is acting on the behalf of the Rhinelander Tourism and Marketing Committee.
City attorney Steve Sorenson provided comments regarding the legality of the issue, and Guild presented the reasonings behind the city’s utilization of the funds. The budget as presented with the 45% room tax allocation was passed at Monday’s meeting, but several council members requested the room tax issue be placed on a future agenda for discussion. Changes in the room tax allocation can be made in the future via a budget amendment.
Ethics code and ethics board
A draft version of the proposed code of ethics for the common council as well as an ethics board to enforce the code has been provided to council members and posted on the city’s website for public view.
Sorenson, who created the documents at the council’s request, explained that he can put in the legal aspects of the document and make suggestions for policy, but ultimately, it is the council who will set the policy. At Mayor Chris Frederickson’s request, Sorenson will mark the document to reflect those items that are policy decisions and those items that must be present legally, including a reference to the state statute involved.
Sorenson noted that he would like to get some feedback from the council regarding the document. He also requested that the code and board documents be placed on a future agenda for discussion.
Fire chief Terry Williams presented information on three raze orders the city has plans to execute for vacant and abandoned properties within city limits. At a previous council meeting, Williams explained that Habitat for Humanity had expressed interest in the properties, to which the council asked that Williams follow up with Habitat for Humanity before the raze orders were formally enforced.
Williams reported at Monday’s meeting that Habitat for Humanity is working with owner of 658 Coolidge Avenue to acquire that property and is also interested in 521 Gardner Street. However, Habitat for Humanity is not interested in 959 Eagle Street because the cost of demolition would be too prohibitive for them to proceed with that property.
Since lawful procedure has been followed, the city now has the authority to raze the 959 Eagle Street property. The city will hire someone to demolish the building, and the cost will be forwarded to the property owner via the property tax roll.
Rhinelander city clerk Val Foley attended a two-day conference on the upcoming presidential elections. The conference allowed Foley to review procedures and learn about the special requirements needed. This was also a chance to look at computer safety in regard to the elections, and it was discovered that the city will need some computer upgrades to address safety issues.
Rhinelander chamber of commerce has filed the initial paperwork to trademark the Hodag and claim it as intellectual property. It is a lengthy process that will take 9 months to one year to complete.
Work on the Stevens Street construction project has been halted due to early winter weather and is now slated to be completed in the spring. A public meeting regarding the project is scheduled for December 4.
Future agenda items
At the end of Monday’s meeting, alderman Emmer requested the following future agenda items: discussion/action regarding the incident at city hall on 11/21/19; discussion/action regarding administrator Daniel Guild under felony investigation for public record tampering and misconduct of office; discussion/action regarding the suspension of Daniel Guild pending completion of the investigation; discussion/action regarding city wells number 7 and number 8 shut down and test results for all city wells; discussion/action regarding the total capacity of the remaining wells and possible results of a run order during cold winter months; discussion/action regarding the winter shut down of the Stevens Street project and any conflict between city and contractor Musson Brothers regarding the shutdown; and discussion/action for a procedure for placing items on the regular agenda.
A meeting for December 2 was listed on Monday’s agenda as a future meeting; however, it was noted that this meeting was intended as a budget workshop with the council convening as committee-of-the-whole only, which allows for discussion but no action. A motion was made to set this date as a regular council meeting where items could be voted upon, but the motion failed. It is possible, however, that the meeting may still be scheduled as a budget workshop.
The Rhinelander planning commission will meet onTuesday, December 3, at 6 p.m. at city hall.
The next regular meeting of the Rhinelander common council will be Monday, December 9, at 6 p.m. at city hall.