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Farewell, 2019
As we begin 2020, let's take one last look at the top stories of the past year.

January

• Three Park Falls residents filed papers to run for mayor: incumbent Dan Leitl, alderman Michael Bablick, and business owner Beth Roberts. The three-person ballot forced the first local primary election for mayor in over a decade. To help voters choose, the Price County Review held a moderated candidate forum. Leitl and Bablick advanced to the Spring Election in April, where Bablick won 346-239 and took his seat as Park Falls' youngest mayor at age 28.

• The Phillips school board postponed plans to send a $10-12 million referendum to voters later in the spring after receiving survey results showing the majority of district residents recognized the elementary school needed to be fixed but did not support the price tag.

• Amid a string of closures statewide, Shopko announced its Park Falls location would stay open despite the company filing for bankruptcy and closing over 100 stores. A few weeks later the Shopko pharmacy closed and the prescription records and inventory were purchased by Park Pharmacy, making it the only pharmacy in Park Falls. In late March, Shopko announced it would close all 120 remaining stores, including the one in Park Falls.

• West Nile virus was discovered in Wisconsin's ruffed grouse population for the first time.

January

Department of Natural Resources' monitoring of sick and dead birds found three out of 16 birds submitted by hunters tested positive for the virus.

Kwik Trip announced plans to build a 7,000 square foot store with an attached car wash and diesel fueling station in Phillips. The site chosen was next to where Elk River Rods store was located, with the building being moved to make room for the new gas and convenience store. Construction was estimated to begin in May 2020 and the company estimated employing between 30-40 people.

After 14 years hosting one of the largest ice fishing tournaments in the Northwoods, organizers of the Justin Donner Memorial Fisheree bid a fond farewell to anglers at a final fishing event at Donner's Bay Resort. The JPD Warrior Project, the nonprofit that organized the event, estimated donations of over $60,000 to local school districts for suicide prevention and awareness materials, training, and speakers since 2006.

February

What had been a mild winter abruptly changed direction when a blast of arctic air descended on the area, causing 80-degree temperature swings from January to February and setting a new record low temperature in Butternut at -49 on Feb. 1. Then temperatures warmed up to above 30 degrees, creating a fog that froze onto everything and ice storm accumulations up to three-tenths of an inch, closing schools, libraries, some businesses, and suspending the U.S. Postal Service from deliveries.

Park Falls, through its newly-formed Ordinance Review Committee, began to undertake some of the biggest changes to its city structure since it became a city in 1912, drafting ordinances that would eventually create a city administrator-clerk position to oversee day-to-day operations. The committee worked rather swiftly with the legal counsel to recommend three new ordinances that would bring about the changes. Common council members approved the legal language unanimously and immediately began the search for a new city administrator.

Former Park Falls High School graduate Jodi Cooley was honored nationally among over 400 scientists for her work as a physicist at South Methodist University in Dallas. Cooley's work focuses on dark matter, which is believed to make up about 27% of all matter in the universe.

The life of Kennan-area resident Gary Edinger became the focus of a documentary film by a group of visual storytellers interested in Edinger's locally-famous logging accident, and his journey to reclaim his independence after losing a leg.

Six Phillips High School wrestlers won individual titles and lead the Loggers to their second WIAA Div. 3 Regional title in two years. Javyn Freeman won his third-straight regional, as did Hunter Bruhn. Jacob Revie, Brandon Bruneau, Kees Hoogland, and Owen Roe also each placed first in the tournament.

After 40 years serving as a pastor, Park Falls resident Terry Wilson turned over the leadership of the Family Worship Center to son-in-law and fellow pastor Stephen Kjetland.

Price County reorganized its Health and Human Services Department to address the growing issues in alcohol and other drug abuse and mental health needs of the community, leading the county to join a regional consortium with Taylor, Sawyer, and Iron counties to offer Comprehensive Community Services to those struggling with mental health or AODA issues, as well as impacted children.

The Phillips High School mock trial team qualified for state-level competition, a first for the eight-year-old program at Phillips.

Price County was blasted by another onslaught of wintery weather when a blizzard dumped an additional half-foot of snow during 30 mph sustained winds and gusts up to 55 mph in the area. Snow depth was measured at about 34 inches at the end of February.

March

As the new Prentice school construction project began to take shape, the board of education was already getting details on where the project needed to be cut back to keep it within budget. Things like fewer skylights, floor-to-ceiling windows, double doors, glass walls, some interior security doors, and the renovation of some rooms were all put on the chopping block.

The Chequamegon School District was facing a projected $550,000 budget shortfall heading into 2020. Administration proposed cuts that would be as "far away from students" as possible at a March meeting of the board of education. Some cuts came through retirements, others via removal of staff positions, but district leadership also alluded to the likely possibility of a levy increase through a referendum in the not-so-distant future.

The abrupt departure of Price County Highway Commissioner Don Grande caused a stir when an anonymous letter landed on the desks of several county supervisors. A public records request by the Review revealed Grande was pressured by the county into signing a pre-written resignation letter, citing only "inappropriate conduct" as a reason for being apparently asked to leave. Further investigation revealed no written documentation of any such inappropriate conduct by Grande existed in files at the county administrator's office.

The Phillips High School boys' basketball team earned its seventh conference title. Four players later earned conference honors, with senior Austin Edwards recognized as conference player of the year and head coach Trevor Raskie recognized as coach of the year.

After three years of voting to increase the Price County deer herd, County Deer Advisory Committee members unanimously approved a recommendation of a 1,360 antlerless quota for the 2019 deer hunting season, a number intended to switch from increasing the population to maintaining the population of approximately 33,000. That quota was later bumped up to 1,500 as the official recommendation after the committee took public feedback.

The Phillips School District, after exploring options and taking feedback, approved increasing its two-day four-year-old kindergarten program to four days a week, a move intended to come in line with what other local districts offer parents and young learners.

April

Phillips Elementary School joined other local schools in offering a backpack food program to help students struggling with food insecurity. The program offers students a backpack with snacks and food on Fridays, which they can take home for the weekend. Student identities remain confidential. The program got started thanks to a donation of 200 backpacks and a $500 grant from Flambeau Hospital's Living the Mission committee.


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