County approves Tomahawk purchase of former Lincoln Industries property
Non-essential spending moratorium, hiring freeze, new patrol vehicles, advisory referendum approved
By Tina I. Scott
MERRILL – On Tuesday, Dec. 15, the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution (2020-12-48) to sell the former Lincoln Industries property in Tomahawk to the City of Tomahawk for $1.
The Board entertained lengthy discussion on the merits of the sale, with District 21 Supervisor Gene Simon, District 12 Supervisor Paul Gilk, and others suggesting the property be appraised prior to entertaining a sale.
The intended use of the property appeared to be a turning point for many Board members. Steve Taskay, Mayor of the City of Tomahawk, confirmed, “The sole purpose of the property is for the Tomahawk Fire Department.”
He is envisioning a new fire station, training area, and emergency services hub to be built on the approximately 18-acre parcel, but the property will need upgrades.
Taskay said grant monies and other funding assistance could be available to the City for the upgrades and construction; however, owning a parcel suitable for the build is a prerequisite to applying for any of the funding opportunities.
In talking with Mayor Taskay following the meeting, he confirmed, “We are in the initial talks with a design firm, which is Wisconsin-based, to help us design and build the new station. They have two grant writers on staff who just focus on finding funding for projects like ours, and they feel confident we would qualify for state and possibly federal aid. We also will soon reach out to the generous Tomahawk community for financial support. We realize it will come at a cost, but our goal is to have minimum impact on the taxpayers.”
Taskay said the existing building would form the basis for a new fire station, housing a large training room that can be used “not only by our own fire department, but by others for emergency services training.” The plan would be to construct apparatus bays to the south. Currently, the property does not have city water and sewer, but the parcel does have two ponds and a crop of forest that will allow for additional practical training outside of the building, according to Taskay.
During the meeting, District 1 Supervisor Bill Bialecki spoke in favor of the proposal and likened the proposal to the 2015 transfer of the former Lincoln County Fair Grounds property to the City of Merrill for $1, when the property changed hands and the City assumed responsibility for the development of the property. Several other Board members, including District 9 Supervisor Don Friske and District 10 Supervisor Jeremy Ratliff, spoke to the merits of conveying the property to Tomahawk, citing the benefits to the Lincoln County community and the Northwoods at large, if an emergency hub can be built.
“The City of Tomahawk serves a community much larger than itself, including the northern half of Lincoln County and the southwestern part of Oneida, and they’ve been doing it for years out of an antiquated facility,” Friske said. “This is a property we (as a County) really had no plans for … and the city would be using the property for an emergency services housing facility, to better serve all these people.”
“This is really about government helping government,” Ratliff added. “It should be a slam dunk.”
Ultimately, the majority of the other board members concurred. Despite a motion to postpone consideration of the resolution, which failed by a narrow 11 to 10 margin, the board ultimately approved the original resolution by a 16 to 5 roll call vote, with Supervisors Julie Allen, Norbert Ashbeck, Bill Bialecki, Hans Breitenmoser, Calvin Callahan, Don Friske, Brian Hafeman, Christopher Heller, Kevin Koth, Robert Lee, Elizabeth McCrank, Timothy Panfil, Nathan Peterson, Jeremy Ratliff, Greta Rusch, and Bob Weaver voting in favor of the resolution. District 16 Supervisor Mike Loka abstained from the vote because he is on the Tomahawk City Council.
Moratorium on non-essential spending, hiring freeze plan
The board voted to extend the moratorium on non-essential spending and to extend the hiring freeze plan through May 19, 2021.
Only county positions deemed essential (deputies and jailers by definition in the referendum) could be replaced unless an exception is granted. This will slow the automatic replacement of staff and challenge the county to consider possible reorganization or reassignment of duties, at least on a temporary basis, to control personnel spending costs. Likewise, department heads were challenged to postpone any non-essential spending.
Board approves purchase/replacement of patrol vehicles in 2021
During 2020, the Sheriff’s Office delayed the purchase of vehicles due to the COVID-19 crisis and also due to delays in automobile production and higher demand for replacement vehicles. The Sheriff’s Office requested carrying forward the budgeted 2020 Capital Improvement Plan funds and combining funds budgeted for 2021 to purchase six vehicles that require replacement in 2021. The request (Resolution 2020-12-41) passed unanimously.
Advisory referendum approved
An advisory referendum will be on the ballot in the Spring Election on April 6, 2021. The purpose of the referendum is to determine whether the people of Lincoln County support raising additional funds (outside the levy limits) in order to fund ongoing highway operations and road maintenance.
Prior to a vote, discussion focused on the exact language for the proposed referendum. Ultimately, the original language for the proposed referendum passed by a 15 to 7 roll call vote, with only Supervisors Calvin Callahan, Don Friske, Brian Hafeman, Mike Loka, Nathan Peterson, Jeremy Ratliff, and Gene Simon voting against the referendum.
In other business, the board approved the Lincoln County Forest Comprehensive Land Use 15-Year Plan; accepted donations to the Healthy Minds Coalition from Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital, Trinity Lutheran Church, and the Northwoods Coalition; approved the conveyance of delinquent real estate to the City of Merrill; and approved ordinance amendment requests in the Town of Bradley.
County Board Chair and District 17 Supervisor Kevin Koth also recognized and thanked Corporation Counsel Nancy Bergstrom for her 33 years of service and wished her a great retirement; and welcomed Catherine Wylie, the new Human Resources Director/Administrative Coordinator, to her position.