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  1. Watchdog says:

    Area school districts present united front against Gov. Walker’s budget
    By Meg Heaton on Feb 25, 2015 at 12:55 p.m.

    Superintendents from six area districts held a rare joint news conference to raise the alarm about what Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget will do to education in the communities they serve.

    At the meeting were superintendents from Hudson, River Falls, Somerset, Baldwin-Woodville, Spring Valley and St. Croix Central. Superintendents from Ellsworth, Prescott and New Richmond were not in attendance but joined their colleagues in opposition to the proposed changes. However, New Richmond Director of Fiscal and Building Operations Brian Johnston was in attendance at the meeting.

    Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten of Hudson opened the meeting by saying that the reduction in categorical aids to the districts of $150 per student will reduce the ability of all area school to provide a high quality education.

    That estimated lost state aid per pupil will be highest in Hudson at $840,000 followed by:
    — New Richmond, $478,000
    — River Falls, $460,000
    — Ellsworth, $253,000
    — Baldwin-Woodville, $242,000
    — St. Croix Central and Somerset, $230,000
    — Prescott, $204,000
    — Spring Valley, $108,000

    Bowen-Eggebraaten said the districts will have to consider both programming and staff cuts if Walker’s budget is adopted.

    Chad Smurawa, River Falls Director of Finance, who also attended the meeting, said the proposed cuts come on the heels of dramatic cuts four years ago that districts are still feeling. And he said the proposed budget cuts “came out of the blue,” after districts were assured that the budget would remain flat in 2015. The state aid cut amounts to $127 million for districts statewide.

    The superintendents also took issue with the $108 million general aid increase mentioned in the budget. In reality, none of that money will go to school districts. Rather the money will be directed back to municipalities and then passed onto taxpayers in the form of a property tax credit.

    The group pointed out that they have been fiscally responsible and as a result collectively spend around 8 percent less than the state average to educate their students. That means they have less room to cut expenses.

    The potential impact the proposed new statewide school voucher program was also addressed. River Falls Superintendent Jamie Benson said the program will siphon money away from public schools. He added that there is no empirical evidence that vouchers are a way to provide meaningful education improvements.

    Spring Valley Superintendent Donald Haack pointed to Wisconsin students’ ACT scores are the third highest in the nation and St. Croix Central Superintendent Tim Widiker noted that the state also has some of the highest graduation rates in the country.

    When asked what the next step it, Benson’s immediate response was “Pray.” The superintendents urged residents in their districts to reach out to their legislators to voice their concerns about the cuts to education in the budget, write letters to the editor and support their school board resolutions against the proposed cuts.

    Benson said “Kids don’t have lobbyists in Madison. That’s our job. We have to go to bat for our students and bring a level of common sense back to this process.”
    Most in the group said they have already been in contact with their legislators to raise their objections to the Walker budget and will continue to do so individually and collectively.

    The bottom line is that the group wants to see the $150 cut in aid per student restored as well as an increase for inflation based on the Consumer Price Index built into the state aid formula.

    There will be a series of Joint Finance Committee hearings on the budget scheduled across the state in the coming months that the superintendents urged residents to attend.

  2. Bean Pole says:

    Chicken Littles running city into serious debt
    NR News, Oct. 9, 2014

    To the Editor:

    I’m sure the City of New Richmond’s decision-makers feel they should not have to answer to the served (currently contracted) towns, but it really comes down to a need for bigger government (people elected by the city) to work with smaller government (town reps) and allow for all involved to be have a say. The towns’ concerns are really about as American as it gets when one side expects another to pay tax dollars.
    Have you seen the comparison of funds allowed to be bonded by state statute when comparing the three biggest western St. Croix County cities?

    New Richmond has the highest debt per thousand people, with a debt ceiling of just over $28 million and is just over $21 million already.

    So the City of New Richmond is already at 75 percent bonded (debt) allowed by state statute! Compare that to Hudson and River Falls. Hudson is allowed $70 million debt and is currently at $8.7 million (about 12 percent). River Falls is allowed $40 million debt and is currently at $18 million (about 45 percent). Look at the City of St. Croix Falls’ recent “new” used aerial ladder truck, a $250,000 purchase instead of $1.2 million SCFFD had their “new” used truck checked out by a company that does a professional assessment of equipment and needs.

    Are City of New Richmond residents going to let a few people drag them even further into debt by having to have new equipment, or are those just requests? Are residents willing to pay more taxes when those requests will bring the city ever closer to hitting the limit allowed by law on bond (debt). Oh, I forgot, the bridge is coming, the bridge is coming!

    A few elected and/or appointed Chicken Littles are willing to run the city right to the brink of allowable debt.

    Does anyone in the city ever question why in mostly closed meetings? What the heck is up with so many closed meetings in New Richmond city business? Do they really think they are so smart that they are getting the city better deals or have such great business insights they best not tip their hands? It looks like not, and all the while spending the city right to the gills.

    Who are these financial geniuses? These folks are sending a message to other cities and the towns they serve (who make do with less than new). Look how smart we are in New Richmond, you idiots don’t have the standards (wants) we do, buying used is buying junk, because the bridge is coming, the bridge is coming.

    St. Croix Falls already has a bridge, and less debt.

    David Kramer, Town of Richmond

  3. Bean Pole says:

    Our View: District, city should cooperate on skate park
    Posted on Oct 9, 2014

    Lynnete McCarty has been working for years on bringing a skateboard park to the youth of New Richmond.

    Things were looking up this autumn when an anonymous donor offered to put up $40,000 for a skate park if it were built by the end of the year and if it were built in the Paperjack Greenway.

    That proposal drew ire from the not-in-my-backyard crowd as well as environmental preservationists, and was shot down by a 4-1 vote of the New Richmond Park Board last week. Many of the residents who spoke at the meeting scolded the Park Board and Public Works Director Jeremiah Wendt for not doing basic research about other suitable sites in the city.

    But McCarty and Alderman Jim Zajkowski quickly put that notion to rest. McCarty explained that she has been searching for a suitable site for years, but had been turned down for multiple promising sites.

    Zajkowski laid the blame directly at the feet of the New Richmond School District Board of Education. He said the city hoped to work out a deal with the district to put a skate park on land on the northwestern edge of the Starr Elementary property, but that the district wanted to protect that area for its soccer activities. He also said the school district declined to host a skate park on its land near the high school.

    He urged the not-in-my-backyard residents, environmentalists and skate park proponents to rally together and petition the School Board to reconsider its position.

    It’s understandable if the district isn’t interested in operating a skateboard facility itself, but perhaps it can work out a deal to transfer some land to the city that can be transformed into a formal park that would be maintained by public works employees with the city government assuming all liability.

  4. Bean Pole says:

    Jackson appointed to City Council
    By Micheal Foley, New Richmond News, September 11, 2014

    There’s a new face on the City of New Richmond’s top decision-making board.

    On a secret ballot vote of standing council members Monday night, James Jackson narrowly beat out Ken Krohn, 3-2, to serve as the next alderman representing District 3 (wards 5 and 6) on the New Richmond City Council.

    When making the case for himself, Jackson noted his experience in law enforcement, emergency dispatch, small business ownership and the fact he has served on multiple other decision-making boards for the city, such as Park Board, and Police and Fire Commission.

    Jackson faced stiff competition from Krohn, who told the council of his 30-year career with General Motors where he served as a union representative. Krohn also expressed that he hoped he could draw more people to participate in public hearings and City Council proceedings.

    A third candidate for the seat, John Metzen, was not present to address the council.

    After the vote, City Clerk Tanya Reigel swore Jackson into office, and he took his seat at the council table for the remainder of the meeting.

    Mayor Fred Horne appointed Jackson to serve on the Airport Commission, Community Development Authority and Public Safety Committee.

    Jackson said he would resign his seat on the Police and Fire Commission, and it is unclear whether he would continue to serve on the Park Board with two other council members already serving on that body.

  5. Bean Pole says:

    Our View: City department tour is a valuable tool
    New Richmond New Editorial
    Posted on Sep 4, 2014 at 10:23 a.m.

    If seeing is believing, the members of the New Richmond City Council should have no problem believing the city’s department heads when they come looking for taxpayer money this budget season.

    Last month the City Council spent consecutive Monday evenings on little field trips to each of the city’s departments to get a better sense of how money was being used and how future funds could be allocated.

    Getting the council members out from behind their boardroom table and into the inner workings of the city is a practice that should be emulated at cities, villages and towns across the state.

    After all, doesn’t it just make sense that a politician should visually inspect rust damage on a snow plow truck before making a decision on whether the vehicle needs to be replaced? It’s also helpful for the decision-maker to know a bit about the life expectancy of an asphalt road, or how much energy is required to run the wastewater treatment plant’s clarifiers.

    Walking across the street to the fire hall and having the chief show the alderpersons exactly which equipment is required for his department to maintain its state certification is something that can be lost in translation if forced to put the information in a memo for the monthly meeting packet.

    The field trips also keep the city department heads on their toes knowing that they can’t simply submit a cleverly worded memo to get additional funding. They know they won’t be able to slip something into the budget that the council members don’t have firsthand knowledge of.

    With the popularity of TV shows like “How It’s Made,” it may even be a good idea to offer such tours to the general public. After all, shouldn’t each citizen be more concerned or at least curious about how their money is spent?

  6. Bean Pole says:

    Dale-Wozniak removed from City Council after moving to Hudson
    By Michael Foley, New Richmond News, 8/174/2014

    Bobbie Dale-Wozniak’s service on the New Richmond City Council has come to an end, but she will hold onto her spot on the New Richmond Library Board for at least a little bit longer.

    Dale-Wozniak recently moved to Hudson, but declined to resign her council seat and her seats on various city boards and commissions, which triggered the council to hold a due process hearing to determine her residency status and take action.

    “We were informed at the end of June that our lease was being non-renewed, and therefore I have moved to Hudson,” Dale-Wozniak said during the hearing.

    When asked by District 2 Alderperson Scottie Ard about whether the admission of moving to Hudson should be construed as a resignation, Dale-Wozniak pressed back.

    “No. I did not move voluntarily. I will not resign from the council,” Dale-Wozniak said.

    District 4 Alderperson Jane Hansen asked why Dale-Wozniak didn’t simply move to another rental unit in New Richmond rather than leaving the city. Dale-Wozniak said the only housing she could afford in New Richmond was “dirty and it reeked of cigarette smoke.”

    After the hearing was closed, District 1 Alderman Craig Kittel made the motion to remove Dale-Wozniak from the council, and Ard seconded. The council voted 4-0 in favor of removal with Dale-Wozniak abstaining. District 6 Alderman Jim Zajkowski was absent.

    Mayor Fred Horne then thanked Dale-Wozniak for her service to the council.

    “We wish you well,” Horne said. “We had our differences. You stood up for what you believed in. I respect that, and I wish you well.”

    Later Monday night at a regular council meeting, Horne said that residents of wards 5 and 6 interested in filling the District 2 seat could attend the body’s September meeting and make a presentation to the council. He indicated that the council would make an appointment to the seat on the spot.

    With Dale-Wozniak no longer a member of the council, the remaining alderpersons were left to determine whether she should retain her seat on the Library Board, which has no specific residency requirement.

    According to state statute, the library board can have no more than two members who live outside the city, and Dale-Wozniak would be the third. Also complicating matters was a requirement that a three-fourths vote by the council is needed to remove a member. City attorney Ron Siler was unsure whether the requirement meant three-fourths of the total number of seats (six) or three-fourths of the currently filled seats (five). With Zajkowski absent, the council could record no more than a two-thirds vote of the six seats.

    After some discussion, Hansen offered the motion to remove Dale-Wozniak from the Library Board, and Ard seconded. The motion failed to reach a three-fourths vote with Kittel dissenting.

    “I think we were unclear on whether we had enough bodies here to even vote on it,” Kittel said after the special meeting. “I wanted to make sure we had the right information. I wanted to make sure we had the right number of people to make it a legal vote. So, I kind of wanted to put it off until we found that out. And if I voted no, we’d have to put it off anyway.”

    As the meeting was adjourned, an emotional Dale-Wozniak gave Kittel a hug, retrieved her name placard, waved farewell to the other alderpersons and city staff, and quickly exited.

    The move saved Dale-Wozniak’s seat on the Library Board temporarily, but Horne said he intended to hold another special meeting on the matter as soon as all five current members of the City Council could be convened so that the Library Board could hold its regularly scheduled meeting at the end of the month without being in violation of state statute.

    Kittel, who considers himself a friend of Dale-Wozniak, said he will miss her presence on the council.

    “I think she has done so much for the city,” Kittel said. “She’s a brilliant person who gets it. She understands how to do things the right way.”

    Dale-Wozniak sent the following statement to The News after the special meeting:

    “It has truly been my honor to be a representative for the citizens of the City of New Richmond since 2006. I deeply regret that circumstances beyond my control have resulted in my loss of residency and the councils’ subsequent vote for my removal. I wish only the best to the citizens, the city employees, the volunteers on city committees and the mayor and council. I believe that great things will continue to happen in New Richmond and wish I could be a part of those amazing changes and growth.”

    Want to be on council?

    New Richmond Mayor Fred Horne said residents of District 2 (wards 5 and 6) interested in filling the vacant council seat can make a presentation to the council at its September meeting. Horne indicated that the council would appoint its new member during the meeting.

  7. Bean Pole says:

    Our View: Commons site holds great opportunity
    Posted on New Richmond News, 7/10/14

    After more than 15 years of discussions and study, the city appears to finally have chosen a site for a new community library.

    Though it’s far from certain, the June 30 joint meeting of the New Richmond City Council, the New Richmond School District Board of Education and the New Richmond Library Board bore fruit with the city and district agreeing to work together to develop the Community Commons site with a library on it.

    The Library Board still recommends the city build its new library at the site of the current library, but moving forward with any site feels like good progress.

    It is still unclear exactly who will be among the up to 12 people invited to participate in the pre-project development charette, but that group will hold a huge chunk of the city’s future in its hands.

    This group will be the first to put their hands in the clay to shape what could ultimately become not only the city’s new library, but also has the potential to serve as a town square, city plaza or a community campus of essential government-run and nonprofit services.

    Mary Sather has written her column on Page 4B this week in favor of repurposing the 1926 portion of the building and using it as a new library, but to do so would be missing a grand opportunity to think big and build exactly what we want and need in a way that compromises nothing aside from what the community can afford.

    Cramming a library into a space once specifically built for another very different purpose would be a mistake. It would be an even bigger mistake to fumble away the opportunity to let the old building continue to decay on the property that could serve as a key community centerpiece for generations.

  8. BeanPole says:

    Judge Cameron rules newspaper should have access to basic information on police reports
    By Steve Dzubay, rivertowns.net, 3/26/2014

    In an action handed down Thursday, March 20, St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Howard Cameron granted judgment to the New Richmond News over the city of New Richmond in an open records case involving the Drivers Privacy Protection Act. The ruling also affects those, including the Star-Observer, seeking information from the Hudson Police Department.

    At issue is public access to the most basic information about matters handled by the local police department — names, addresses, ages and circumstances surrounding traffic accidents, burglaries, acts of vandalism and the like.

    “The DPPA does not require the redaction of the information requested by (the newspaper) because such disclosure is permitted under 2721(b) and the Wisconsin Open Records Law requires the City to respond to records requests and provide such information in the performance of official duties by the City,” Cameron wrote in his decision.

    “Just as our attorney general (J.B. VanHollen) concluded in 2008, Judge Cameron has ruled that the DPPA does not require the redaction of personal information from accident reports, incident reports or other law enforcement records before disclosure under the open records law,” said Bob Dreps, an attorney with the Madison office of Godfrey & Kahn, who represented the New Richmond News.

    The city of New Richmond hasn’t yet indicated whether it will appeal Cameron’s decision.

    On Monday morning, March 24, when a reporter requested unredacted access to recent reports, New Richmond Police Chief Mark Samelstad said the department would not change its current practice of redacting information at least until after he was able to discuss the ruling with an attorney.

    If the City of New Richmond and its insurance provider decide to appeal the case to Wisconsin’s Sixth District Court of Appeals, it is possible Judge Cameron might permit the city to remain in noncompliance with his ruling until an appeal is heard.

    Statewide implications

    The Wisconsin Newspaper Association (WNA) is encouraging journalists who cover municipalities that are currently redacting records based on the DPPA to share last week’s ruling with law enforcement agencies and their counsel, and urge them to reconsider their analysis and comply with the open records law.

    The ruling comes just over a year after the News first filed a lawsuit against the city of New Richmond, alleging the city’s police department was unreasonably restricting access to timely information on accident and incident reports, on the basis of a misinterpretation of a recent U.S. Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit ruling.

    The lawsuit named the city as a defendant because it is responsible for the actions of the police department. It asked that the department reverse its policies and pay attorney fees and damages in the case.

    Within a few days of NRPD’s refusal to release accident reports and documents pertaining to other police action, police departments in Hudson and Kenosha also began limiting the release of information. At the same time, open records policies at nearby Somerset, River Falls and several other police departments remained unchanged.

    WNA staff informally tracked the spread of the records closures statewide as various other departments jumped on board, limiting release of information out of fear they might be sued for violation of federal privacy law. Among those around northwestern Wisconsin that shut down records are Barron, Burnett, Washburn and Sawyer County sheriff’s departments; Rice Lake, La Crosse and Medford police departments as well as the Milwaukee Police Department and a number of smaller departments in southeastern Wisconsin.

    At last count, the list numbered at least 70 jurisdictions, according to Mary Callen, WNA’s communications director.

    The disagreement

    The newspaper and the department disagree on the interpretation and application of the DPPA to requests for access to law enforcement records under the Open Records Law. The News contended that DPPA doesn’t require removal of personal information before public disclosure under the Open Records Law. The newspaper cited a 2008 Wisconsin Attorney General’s ruling in its filing.

    The police department claimed that DPPA requires redaction or blacking out of identifying information — names, address, dates of birth and driver’s license numbers — before records are released if that information came from motor vehicle records maintained by the Department of Transportation.

    In early January 2013, the News requested multiple accident and incident reports from New Richmond Police Department. Police Chief Mark Samelstad released the reports about 10 days later with names, addresses and dates of birth blacked out.

    Previous to mid-December, such information was routinely made available to the newspaper immediately or once a police investigation had been completed.

    Media in several other parts of Wisconsin began experiencing similar black-outs following the release of a memo by the Wisconsin League of Municipalities warning that cities could be at risk for lawsuits and paying damages if they didn’t limit public access to certain data.

    Under Wisconsin’s Open Record Law, it is the declared public policy that every citizen is entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government, wrote Dreps, in his action. The statute affirms the presumption of complete public access to governmental records, consistent with government business, and provides that the “denial of public access generally is contrary to the public interest, and only in an exceptional case may access be denied” Dreps wrote, quoting the statute, then adding — “This is not an exceptional case.”

    How it all started

    In the federal case — Senne v. Village of Palatine — a man who received a $20 parking ticket in the Illinois city, filed a class action lawsuit against the village in federal court, claiming violation of privacy in that his name, address, date of birth, height, weight and driver’s license number was placed in plain view on his windshield. A court panel ruled against him in the filing but upon appeal to the entire court, a panel whose jurisdiction extends to Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, his claim was upheld and the court awarded damages of $80 million.

    Some attorneys suggested that municipalities, community colleges and other governmental entities that issue parking tickets should immediately review their practices to ensure that they comply with the court’s decision.

    The court first found that placing the parking ticket on Senne’s windshield constituted a “disclosure” under the act because any passerby could have viewed the ticket, even though there were no facts to suggest that anyone had actually done so during the five hours before it was removed from the windshield.

    Sunshine Week

    Coincidently, the St. Croix County Circuit Court ruling arrived in the midst of Sunshine Week, March 16-22, a national effort by news organizations and open-government advocates to spotlight laws that keep government’s workings transparent. Sunshine Week is held in mid-March every year, coinciding with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, who is known as “the father of the Constitution.”

    The commemoration started with Sunshine Sunday in 2002 in Florida. Under the then-American Society of Newspaper Editors, it expanded to Sunshine Week and went national in 2005.

  9. BeanPole says:

    City planning next steps for library site issue
    By Michael Foley, New Richmond News, 3/20/2014

    Though the New Richmond City Council didn’t decide on a site for a new community library at its lengthy and much-hyped March 10 meeting, the city is hoping to move forward on the issue soon in the form of a joint meeting between the council and the Library Board.

    “That meeting will focus on needs and other options, if there are any,” said City Administrator Mike Darrow. “The big thing is to understand things that everyone can agree upon and kind of take it from there.”

    At the March 10 meeting, the council was presented with multiple pre-design concepts showing how a library could fit on both the current library site and the Community Commons property. Two motions — one to approve each site — were defeated by the council, and a third motion to further study the issue was approved.

    Darrow didn’t expand on a specific timetable for when a library site decision could be made after an upcoming joint meeting.

    “Our goal in this is to take it just one step at a time before we get too far ahead,” Darrow said. “One thing that I try to do is to make sure everybody has a good understanding of the next steps. I think the big thing is to make sure our joint group is working together.”

    Working together may be a challenge for the joint group. Members of the Library Board strongly dislike the Community Commons site and strongly favor the site the Friday Memorial Library now occupies. However, only District 3 Alderwoman Roberta Dale-Wozniak, who also serves on the Library Board, was willing to cast a vote to approve that site during the March 10 council meeting.

    Mayor Fred Horne acknowledged that many community members aren’t in favor of repurposing the 1926 portion of the school district building for a state-of-the-art library.

    “I know people aren’t seeing the old middle school as a library site,” Horne said. “If we can’t sell that idea, maybe think of a brand new cleared site. How would that work? Maybe we could work with the school and some of the nonprofits that have space down there, because I would hate to kick them out.”

    Horne also mentioned that there were new ideas for building at the current library site.

    “I know there’s a couple new ideas out there, so not only are we seeing what Cuningham Group has come up with, but maybe we look at just doing an addition,” Horne said. “At the council meeting, there were some ideas of just putting an expansion onto the current building. Maybe there’s something there we can work on.”

    No matter which site is eventually chosen, Horne said he hopes to keep the library in the downtown area.

    “Whether it’s at the current site or a leveled middle school site, it’s still close to the downtown area,” Horne said. “I think that’s what the council is trying to look at to keep downtown growing and alive.”

    Darrow said the joint meeting will take place sometime in the next three weeks and will be scheduled when Library Director Kim Hennings returns from vacation.

    “I’m looking forward to that next joint meeting, because I think there’s a lot of good ideas out there,” Darrow said. “We just need to formulate a collective timeline together.”

  10. Bean Pole says:

    Council tables library site issue
    By Michael Foley, New Richmond News, 3/11/2014

    The City of New Richmond has been exploring possibilities of building a new library for more than a decade, and it’ll be a while longer before a decision is made on where to build it.

    After hundreds of hours put in on reports by Library Board members, city staff, contractors and consultants, and input from city residents, the New Richmond City Council still didn’t have enough information to decide whether to build a new library at the site of the Friday Memorial Library or the Community Commons.

    The council voted 5-1 at its meeting Monday night to table the library site issue until more information on estimated costs for both sites could be calculated.

    Two alderpersons, however, appeared to have enough information to make a decision. District 6 Alderman James Zajkowski and District 3 Alderwoman Roberta Dale-Wozniak both felt comfortable enough to make motions to approve the site of their choice, but both were defeated.

    Council discussion

    Dale-Wozniak, who also serves on the city’s Library Board, first moved to approve building at the site of the current library, and the motion was seconded by District 1 Alderman Craig Kittel.

    Dale-Wozniak asked staff to imagine giving directions to someone coming from the new St. Croix Crossing to the new library.

    “Would you like to tell them, go across the bridge over the Willow River, look to your left, there’s a park, and the brand new library is right there. You can’t miss it,” Dale-Wozniak said. “Or would you like to say, keep on going downtown, take a left at the auto parts store or the post office, and then it’s back off, sort of to the southeast of the ambulance garage. So just park there and you’ll find it. That’s not my vision of the future.”

    Dale-Wozniak also pointed to the community vote tallies, which showed 394 votes in favor of the current library site versus just 198 in favor of the Community Commons site.

    She also made the case that of the five options presented by architect firm Cuningham Group, the current library site was the least costly option — at an estimated $4.7 million.

    That cost estimate was challenged by Mayor Fred Horne, who asked City Administrator Mike Darrow to present information on the costs for each option.

    “Our assumptions are that we don’t know what the cost is,” Darrow said. “Is the cost of the current site $4.7 million? I can’t look you in the eyes and say, ‘yes it is.’”

    At that point, Dale-Wozniak and Zajkowski engaged in a heated exchange in which Zajkowski tallied his own estimated cost for the current site at $6.8 million. District 4 Alderwoman Jane Hansen chimed in with her own estimate of $7.6 million, which included buying nearby homes and demolishing them to build parking lots.

    Numbers presented by Cuningham Group in spring 2013 showed an estimated cost of $4.7 million, but the contractor apparently sent new information to city staff that didn’t make it into the staff’s memo to the council.

    Kittel attempted to calm the waters by telling a story about his involvement with the Park Board’s efforts to bring more ballfields to the community. He said that even though the work he and other board members put in on their preferred site didn’t pan out, he made the best of it and embraced building new fields at Freedom Park.

    Dale-Wozniak’s motion was voted down 5-1, and Zajkowski then moved to build at the Community Commons site, but his motion died for a lack of a second.

    District 2 Alderwoman Scottie Ard then moved to “look for further information on both sites, that we have greater access to information regarding the proposed costs and that those are evaluated by our City Council, the Library Board and members of staff, and that the community be invited to those also so they are getting a firsthand look at exactly what each has to offer and does not.”

    Ard’s motion was approved by a 5-1 vote with Dale-Wozniak dissenting.

    Reports and analysis

    The council’s 30-minute discussion came after nearly 90 minutes of reports from Darrow, Library Director Kim Hennings, Cuningham Group’s Chad Clow, city planning consultant Dan Licht and more than 30 minutes of public comments from a total of 13 community members in the audience.

    Hennings reported on the need for a new library to be built, regardless of site, along with a strong recommendation from the Library Board to build on the current site.

    Clow’s presentation detailed each of five pre-design concepts for a new library. One concept was presented for the current library site, and four concepts were presented for the Community Commons site. Each of the concepts were presented previously at a Commons Group meeting, and the city solicited public input from the community on the concepts.

    Licht presented detailed information about both sites from a site analysis and plan review. His presentation including analyses of zoning, surrounding land uses, lot requirements, building coverage, impervious surface area, building height, pedestrian access, vehicle access and circulation, emergency service vehicle issues, parking, landscaping, stormwater management, utilities, trash and expansion potential.

    “City staff has identified no red flags on either site,” Licht said. “And it basically becomes a community preference issue on which site to move forward with.”

    Citizen comments

    After the reports, 13 community members addressed the council during a public comment period in which each person got three minutes to speak.

    Among the citizens who offered their opinions were longtime Library Board President Jeff Peplau, 11-year-old Katey Eickhoff and her mother Julie, and Nanette Noland, Jerry Pults, Brandon Gess, Jim Drill, Lorraine Hess, Edna Grotjahn Early, Wayne Tubbs, Tim O’Brien, Davyann Lee and Michele Hermansen.

    The community members presented a variety of opinions, including the need for a new library, where it should be built, what should be done with the Friday Library building, neighborhood concerns and more. In all, six citizens speakers favored the current site, two favored the Commons site, and five expressed opinions without regard to site.

    What’s next

    Ard’s motion to seek further information on estimated costs for each site was approved by the council, but it didn’t include what that information should be, and no timetable was given for followup.

    Clearly frustrated after the meeting, Dale-Wozniak was at a loss when trying to figure out where the Library Board will go from here.

    “When they say ‘compare apples to apples,’ I don’t know which apples they’re talking about,” Dale-Wozniak said. “We had the architects and engineers already provide us with numbers for the various options. So, I think they just have to specify exactly what two things they want to compare apples to apples. Then, I assume we’re going to have to hire more people at greater expense to figure all this out, because I do not know if city staff have the expertise to create those numbers on their own.”

    Ard, however, is looking for more community input before deciding on a site.

    “I’m looking for a larger number than 324 persons,” Ard said. “This is a city of 8,500. We have a school district of 21,000. I want to hear from not just New Richmond — we will bear a cost — but those townships will bear a cost also, and I haven’t heard from them yet.”

    Hansen said she would like to see costs associated with buying up neighboring homes as part of the concept options before deciding on a site.

    Meanwhile, as a member of the Library Board for the past 14 years, 12 as president, Peplau said he has been discussing building a new community library since his first meeting.

    “At some point you have to make a decision, and we’ve got a whole book that’s about two inches thick that’s got all the information that’s needed to make a decision,” Peplau said. “The public is strongly behind our current site, and I don’t think we have support at the other site — and I think it would be too costly.”

  11. BeanPole says:

    City seeks public input on site options for new library
    New Richmond News, March 6, 2014

    The City of New Richmond and the Friday Memorial Library Board of Trustees invite the public to a community meeting to be held on March 10, at the New Richmond Civic Center to discuss the library building project and possible locations.

    Architects from the Cuningham Group have prepared conceptual designs for a new library at two locations within the city. The first design option keeps the library at its current location at 155 E. First St., and the second design option incorporates a library as part of the Community Commons at 421 S. Green Ave.

    A total of five design options will be presented during the public meeting; one at the existing site and four options at the Commons site. In addition to the review of the five design options, there will be additional analysis offered by city staff pertaining to site evaluations and planning issues (zoning requirements, parking, circulation, easements, etc.) and deed restriction information pertaining to the locations, operational costs, grants, and analysis addressing both short and long-term facility needs.

    A social hour will be held from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Civic Center with a formal presentation during the Council Meeting at 6 p.m.

    The public will be given an opportunity to ask questions or make comments during the event. City staff will present options for possible council action to be considered during the meeting.

    In addition to the meeting, the public is invited to review displays of all five of the concepts at the Civic Center, Friday Memorial Library and the Community Commons. Comment cards and an online survey will also be available for public comment.

    For questions related to this meeting, contact City Administrator Mike Darrow at 715-246-4268 or mdarrow@newrichmondwi.gov.

    Submitted by the City of New Richmond

  12. SusieQ says:

    Drug Task Force Battling Heroin
    by Micheal Foley, New Richmond News, 1/30/2014

    When New Richmond Police Department first came into contact with heroin last fall, Police Chief Mark Samelstad was already aware that St. Croix County, and the City of Hudson in particular, was in the throes of a heroin crisis, with multiple overdose deaths and several known addicts.

    NRPD’s own Detective Veronica Koehler is part of the St. Croix Valley Drug Task Force that is responsible for investigating drug crime in the three-county area of western Wisconsin that includes St. Croix, Polk and Pierce counties. In St. Croix County, investigators Jim Mikla andJames “J.J.” Haefner of theSt. Croix County Sheriff’s Office are also on the task force.

    According to statistics provided by Lt. Cathy Borgschatz of the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office, the task force opened 1,446 new investigations in 2013 with 418 misdemeanor arrests and 504 felony arrests, though not every arrest resulted in a formal charge.

    “It’s a problem,” Mikla said. “We know it’s out there, and we are utilizing every resource that we have between the three counties in every agency to deal with it. We certainly do have a problem, but I think it’s a problem we have a handle on.”

    Borgschatz’s statistics also show that the task force in 2013 alone seized nearly 12.2 pounds of marijuana, nearly 3 pounds of methamphetamine, 641 prescription pills and about 12 grams of heroin.

    Though the amount of heroin may seem very small, Borgschatz said it is common for the drug to be sold by the tenth of a gram. She said the statistics are also skewed a little lower because of how evidence reporting procedures work among the multiple agencies that work together on drug cases.

    Investigating drug crime is a team sport. Even though law enforcement agencies are organized along municipal borders, drug dealers and addicts don’t care what town, village, city, county or state they are in.

    “We’re a group of individuals that work together and share information,” Mikla said. “We share personnel and we all work together as a unit. We utilize resources in each town, whether it’s Hudson, River Falls, Baldwin, etc. We utilize their knowledge, their personnel, and we attack it as a team — as a drug task force.”

    Oftentimes, working as a team means partnering with neighboring drug task forces, especially in the Twin Cities, where most of western Wisconsin’s illegal drugs come from.

    “We’re going after the dealers,” Mikla said. “Obviously, when you use, you’re still looking at consequences for your use. But we like to attack it from a dealer standpoint. we do that by utilizing and sharing information and informants.”

    Mikla, Haefner and Borgschatz declined to share specific stories or information from cases they have solved for fear of tipping off criminals to their tactics, resources, and informants.

    “We maybe sound like we’re kind of coy, but I can tell you a lot of this drug stuff all ties in together,” Mikla said. “In some way, shape or form, it all ties together. We try to keep it as tight-knit as possible, because there’s always one offshoot of the investigation that leads to something else. So, we have to keep kind of working the same circle to get inside. That’s why we don’t like to talk about war stories too much.”

    That interconnected world of the drug trade keeps county investigators extremely busy. Mikla said that more than 185 drug search warrants were executed in 2013. Each search warrant is essential in a raid in which multiple officers enter a location, forcibly if necessary, to conduct a search, make arrests and seize evidence.

    “These buys are very busy,” Borgschatx said. “if you look at the numbers the last couple of years, since Jim and J.J. have come on board, the number of investigations have gone up. But I don’t think their numbers can really get any higher just due to the manpower. We’re kind of working at maximum capacity. It’s a lot of weekends and a lot of late nights. There’s probably more being done than undone, and that’s a sad thing.”

    The NRPD, the NR School District and the NR Area Community Foundation are sponsoring a public forum in an effort to address the issue of illegal drugs and prescription drug abuse.

    WHEN: 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 20
    WHERE: New Richmond High School auditorium
    Karen Hale, mother of girl who died from heroin overdose
    Phil Drewiske, recovering heroin addict who lost a friend
    Jodi Skoog, Roger Drewiske and Greg Berg – family members affected by addiction
    A Westfields Hospital ER doctor
    NR High School Principal Tom Wissink
    St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Edward Vlack
    NRPD Detective Veronica Koehler
    St. Croix County Investigator James Mikla
    St. Croix County AODA Counselor Sara Sedahl
    Darren Hynek, WI Division of Criminal Investigation

  13. mercury says:

    City Government Keeps eye on Future
    New Richmond News Editorial

    Excitement was in the air as the New Richmond City Council held its annual retreat Saturday morning in the New Richmond Civic Center basement conference room.

    The mayor, alderpersons, the city administrator and representatives from each city department gathered to provide a recap off 2013 and a preview of 2014. Each of the department heads delivered a report via PowerPoint presentation and fielded questions from the alderpersons and mayor.

    We journalists cover a lot of public meetings. Some boards or councils are businesslike. Some are borderline-dysfunctional. Others are a flat-out mess. The City of New Richmond not only runs its meetings in a businesslike fashion, it goes above and beyond by taking on issues before they become problems that require urgent action.

    It’s not uncommon for boards or councils to spend time bickering over issues big and small while politically posturing for the next election.

    A perfect example of the city’s proactive approach was on display at the city’s Jan. 8 Public Works Committee meeting. Among the agenda items was changing parking signage outside a specific business.

    When presenting the issue, Public Works Director Jeremiah Wendt compared it to other similar areas, and he uncovered other areas that would need attention in the future.

    The committee’s action is a microcosm of how the city operates on every level, from the smallest commission, to each department, to the City Council.

    The very fact that the City of New Richmond holds an annual retreat to take stock of the previous year and plan out its priorities for the upcoming year shows that politicians and governmental employees have risen above the petty bickering and posturing that paralyzes other public boards and councils.

  14. SusieQ says:

    Heroin makes its way to New Richmond
    By Michael Foley, Rivertowns.net, 1/16/14

    The heroin problem that struck Hudson over the past two years has made its way to New Richmond.

    New Richmond Police Department officers encountered heroin for the first time within city limits this fall, according to New Richmond Police Chief Mark Samelstad. And it wasn’t an isolated incident.

    Now Samelstad and Detective Veronica Koehler are working with school district officials and St. Croix County Public Health officials, as well as with other law enforcement agencies to help the community protect itself from deadly drugs.

    “What piqued my interest in looking at this was this last fall we had two or three incidents where I saw the results come back from the crime lab from paraphernalia — needles or a spoon — where we got a positive test for heroin. That’s the first time that I had known that heroin had shown up in the city.”

    After a December traffic stop in the city, the drug itself was found. Police arrested a suspect who was allegedly hiding multiple gem packs of the drug inside his body.

    “He had three or four two-gram gem packs that tested positive for heroin,” Samelstad said.

    A county crisis

    St. Croix County has seen its share of problems with heroin since 2011, especially in Hudson where Police Chief Marty Jensen and Detective Geoff Willems have investigated more than 12 heroin overdose deaths. Willems said the county has investigated at least 35 heroin cases.

    Last July, the Hudson community held a heroin forum that included presentations from law enforcement officials, public health officials, overdose victims’ families and recovering addicts. Event organizers were hoping for about 100 attendees, and more than 500 people showed up.

    Samelstad is hoping to get proactive by organizing a similar event for the New Richmond community before overdose fatalities take place.

    “I don’t want to focus just on heroin. I want to do a little more than what Hudson did,” Samelstad said. “It’s an educational thing, too. With the schools we want to give parents resources on where to go to get help. It’s more than just a law enforcement thing.”

    Overdose danger

    Though there has been several types of drugs in New Richmond, heroin poses a more serious concern.

    “Heroin you see the overdoses on,” Koehler said. “With meth, it’s highly addictive, but it doesn’t carry the same type of issues as heroin. With heroin, the purity levels are quite high and that’s where the issues are coming from. People are using heroin after they’ve become addicted to pain medication, because it’s easier to get on some levels.”

    Koehler said users take heroin not knowing how much the body can tolerate, and end up overdosing.

    Another troubling aspect of the drug is that just about anyone can become an addict.

    “I guess the things parents would have to look out for are changes in behavior, friends their kids are hanging out with, their appearance,” Koehler said.

    Drugs at school

    New Richmond School District Superintendent Jeff Moberg agrees, and suggests parents keep a look out for behavior that is out of the ordinary.

    “You may notice changes in hygiene, social contacts, level of engagement in terms of communication, family engagement,” Moberg said. “They may be a little more withdrawn.”

    Moberg says there haven’t been any heroin incidents in New Richmond schools, and he hopes to keep it that way.

    “Hearing that it’s in the county and in the community, we also want to work with law enforcement and take a proactive stance and educate parents, staff and kids obviously on the dangers, what to look for, and where to go if you need support and help,” Moberg said.

    Moberg said less than 3 percent of New Richmond high-schoolers reported using drugs other than alcohol, according to a school survey.

    “Alcohol and prescription medications are probably still our most pressing issues,” Moberg said. “Even though it’s a small percentage, the danger level of things like heroin and meth are so high that it’s a concern.”

  15. BeanPole says:

    Nothing on Rivertowns.net about New Richmond city council or mayor race?? I’ve heard through the grapevine there are no contested races for these positions?? WOW — “all must be well” in New Richmond??

  16. mercury says:

    EDITORIAL: What’s happening? Information lacking from police dept.
    From Rivertowns.net, Published May 31, 2013, 08:32 AM

    Two weeks ago, a reader inquired at the New Richmond News office why we’d not reported anything on break-ins at several downtown businesses.

    Upon checking with the New Richmond police, we were advised via an e-mailed response from a supervisor Tuesday, May 21, that “those cases are currently under investigation and I cannot release information to you until they are cleared or closed…”

    So in the event the burglaries aren’t solved, the community has no right to know they’ve even occurred?

    While we’d never have described NRPD as being “pro-active” with its public information practices, department relations with the newspaper have certainly chilled since the News filed suit against the City of New Richmond last February in an effort to reopen access to the most basic information involving the most basic department activity.

    The department says it began restricting access to information on the belief that it could find itself in violation of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act and open themselves to a lawsuit from someone who believes their personal information was improperly released.

    Since February, a number of other departments across the state have adopted a similar position. All are apparently waiting for a court to clarify the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision that prompted their conservative response.

    Clearly, releasing basic information about burglaries has nothing to do with DPPA. We’re not asking for the names and driver’s license numbers of suspects and its unclear how public release of the who-what-where-when of a burglary could jeopardize an investigation.

    Lest they have any doubts, NRPD need only look to a 2008 Wisconsin Court of Appeals finding involving a similar dispute between the Portage Daily Register and the Columbia County Sheriff’s Department involving a much more delicate investigation involving a nasty political campaign.

    The court found no justifiable reason for the law enforcement agency’s actions.

    “Exceptions to access to public records are to be narrowly construed; unless the exception is explicit and unequivocal, courts will not hold it to be an exception,” read one of the cases cited by the court.

    “Sheriff’s department’s statement that a matter had been referred to the District Attorney’s office and was related to an ongoing investigation was not a sufficiently public policy reason for denial of request for the investigative report under the open records law …” came another.

    We won’t belabor the point but, suffice to say, it looks like the NRPD is playing sour grapes because it’s being sued by the newspaper.

    Meanwhile, it’s the taxpayers and good people of New Richmond who aren’t allowed to know what’s happening in their city. And in reality, we believe, the police are shooting themselves in the foot in their attempt to solve the crime. If the public is aware of all that has occurred in the city, there may be someone out there who witnessed something that could help, if only they knew the police were looking for information.

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