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Flu kicks into high gear

While it may not be quite as deadly as the novel coronavirus spreading in China, influenza is spiking across Wisconsin, and Price County hasn't been spared during the height of flu season.

Since the beginning of the year, there have been 49 confirmed influenza cases, with one hospitalization recorded at Flambeau Hospital and Marshfield Clinic in Park Falls. During the first full week in January, up to 18% of the student body at Park Falls Elementary was absent due to illness, and the following week the North Campus in Glidden saw absenteeism at 14%, according to information released by the school. Information was not available from Phillips or Prentice.

So far this year, the most prevalent flu strain is influenza B, which is unusual for a flu season, according to Suzy Ocker, infection prevention/associate health manager at Flambeau Hospital.

"Typically, influenza A is the most prevalent strain at the start of the season and influenza B may surface later in the season," said Ocker. "Influenza B has been associated with a stronger virus/illness and more deaths as seen in previous influenza seasons throughout the country."

As of Monday, 32 of the local cases were classified as influenza B.

The local numbers reflect reporting by the state health department through the end of last week. As of Jan. 18, influenza B is the predominant virus, though an increase in A has been identified both in the state and nationally. Influenza has been associated with 10 deaths, and pneumonia has claimed 54 lives across the state since Jan. 1.

Since season reporting began in September 2019, a total of 943 hospitalizations have been reported statewide. Those aged 65 and older made up the largest number of those hospitalizations, accounting for 329, while those ages 18-49 made up the second-highest number at 226. Those numbers, though still far behind the 2017-18 flu season (approximately 2,500 total), are well above last year's numbers, at around 500.

Statewide vaccination rates — a cumulative percentage of Wisconsin residents who received one or more doses of the influenza vaccine — are at 39% so far this year, just behind last year's rate of 40%, but well below the state's goal of 70%. People ages 18 to 49, currently comprising the second highest age group for hospitalizations, is also the least likely to get a flu shot, according to data from the Wisconsin Immunization Registry.

Populations most at risk are newborns, elderly, and those with immunocompromised systems said Ocker, who encouraged people of all ages to get a flu shot.

"When high numbers of people get vaccinated it helps to keep the viruses from spreading to others who are not able to be vaccinated," she said. "Once vaccinated, it takes approximately two weeks for a person to have immunity to influenza. A person cannot get sick from the influenza vaccine; most people may have been exposed to the virus prior to getting vaccinated but blame the vaccine for their illness."

Those interested in receiving an influenza vaccine can get one at Marshfield Clinic, Price County Public Health, and other health systems and pharmacies around Price County.

"There is still time to get a vaccine," Ocker stressed. "Influenza season lasts for many months — usually into May and June."

164 finish Phillips Flurry snowshoe race

Aaron Jones of Appleton finished first amongst 141 runners on the 5K course with a time of 26:40 at the Phillips Flurry Snowshoe Race on Saturday, Jan. 25 at the Phillips School Forest. The top overall female finisher was Mackenzie Backman (31:32) of Hurley.

In the 10K division, Eric Hartmark (44:02) of Duluth, Minnesota topped the field, with Michelle Brost (1:06:47) of Eleva claiming first overall female. Twentythree runners completed the 10K course.

The race is also the Wisconsin State Snowshoe Championship event. Winning the high school boys division was Phillips, with Appleton East placing second. The Phillips High School girls team also place first. In the Corporate competition, BW Paper Systems placed first, with Flambeau Hospital in second, and Phillips Plating in third. In the mixed men and women's team division, Little Bear Lodge Racers placed first, with Run Like the Winded coming in second.

"The Price County area certainly had a strong showing of participants, with a hefty number of racers coming from outside the region to partake in the race and Winterfest," commented race director Kristi Speer. "We appreciate our sponsors who let us put on an event like this to help provide a healthy winter activity for everyone, as well as draw people to our community for the weekend."

Complete race results by age grouping are as follows:

1-9M: Owen Niemi, 1:00:02

10-14M: Lucas Anderson, 27:55; Ethan Michek, 31:32; Alec Bjork, 33:12; Nick Niemi, 44:44; Danny O'Grady, 1:00:14

10-14F: Lizzy Niemi, 46:07; Claudia Lasiowski, 1:00:09; Brooke O'Grady, 1:06:43; Mckenna O'Grady, 1:06:46

15-19M: Tony Kaster, 28:48; Logan Bjork, 30:08; Cade Zierer, 31:33; Alexander Nieto, 32:34; Tommy Hintz, 33:36; Jake Latour, 34:14; Laurence Mahnke, 35:14; Max Plutz, 38:35; Trey Tingo, 1:04:33; Brock Thiede, 1:04:53

15-19M: Jessica Ludwig, 36:43; Jazlynn Ludwig, 38:27; Kalin Baratka, 41:58; Allie Adomaitis, 44:46; Kylee Goodrich, 44:46; Megan Klaver, 54:33; Kyle Lochner, 34:38; Allen Thimm, 53:15; Kyle Kosmer, 1:08:19

10-29F: Amanda Martinovich, 42:22; Allison Roush, 43:50; Tara Quaas, 54:40; Alexa Reinhart, 57:31; Libby Huber, 1:00:18; Ali Kraetke, 1:00:19; Shelby Prochnow, 1:08:38; Jill Prochnow, 1:08:39; Leanne Koslowski, 1:14:01; Katlyn Kane, 1:30:06

30-39M: Nick Berndt, 26:46; Mark Krommenacker, 27:14; Trevor Koslowski, 40:07; William Litzer, 41:27; Ronald Juedes, 43:47; Richard Allen, 58:41; Paul Nicolaus, 1:08:43; Ernest Ziemer, 1:11:59

30-39F: Kathryn Tesch, 36:07; Apryl Cerkas, 53:59; Alee Ciula, 54:48; Shelby Biermann, 1:01:23; Heidi Brazee, 1:04:55; Kayla

Bushman, 1:07:11; Jessy Ramos, 1:07:25; Amy McDonald, 1:08:13; Bobbi Kussrow, 1:08:22; Trisha Vangroll, 1:11:57; Stephanie Haskins, 1:13:45; Amanda Obadal, 1:29:54

40-49M: Erik Olson, 27:50; Davey Sapinski, 29:47; Joe Tingo, 33:51; Ben Way, 35:38; John Mahnke, 40:47; Jesse Biermann, 46:25; Kevin Baars, 50:07; Benjamin Nieto, 53:04; Cole Bushman, 1:01:03; Tex McDonald, 1:08:14; Tim O'Grady, 1:09:17; Brian Haskins, 1:13:42; Dan Pollesch, 1:13:47; Matthew Wagner, 1:35:59

40-49F: Dawn Czech Webster, 36:34; Glenda Way, 37:08; Brandi Engen, 39:29; Krista Nieto, 53:04; Sandy Kilty, 56:03; April Lasiowski, 1:00:09; Anette Ludvigsen, 1:00:17; Andrea Bushman, 1:01:02; Treasa Schumann, 1:01:33; Deann Harbison, 1:03:34; Jennifer O'Grady, 1:09:18; Debbie Pollesch, 1:13:59

50-59M: Gregg Otto, 37:13; Rick Kilty, 56:01; Paul Brown, 56:15; Steven Olson, 58:43; Randy Schober, 1:00:13; Les Dodge, 1:00:59; Peter Nowak, 1:02:27; Glenn Harbison, 1:03:23; Mike Ball, 1:04:33; Jayaprakash Kamatchi, 1:05:00; Bruce Wywialowski, 1:10:48

50-59F: Rindy Buerger, 46:39; Sarah Steele, 48:57; Cathy Klaver, 48:59; Laura Hayden, 53:12; Kathy Schanter, 1:01:37; Linda Thimm, 1:02:16; Therese Nowak, 1:02:26; Patty Thiede, 1:04:52; Jill Nelson, 1:08:40; Cathy Wywialowski, 1:11:06; Susan Jones, 1:19:47; Barb Deml, 1:20:53; Nancy Risch, 1:21:01

60-69M: Stephen Clark, 28:53; Gary Buchanan, 30:23; Michael Costello, 32:34; Dave Rau, 35:39; Michael Malchow, 37:33; John Kann, 40:46; Tim Zbikowski, 42:17; Richard Windmoeller, 43:04; Jim Cihak, 44:50; Joseph Lange, 49:48; Terry Mueller, 51:37; Mark Earley, 53:24; Roger Thimm, 1:02:55; Bruce Marshall, 1:07:02; Brad Bacher, 1:08:24

60-69F: Michelle Lange, 47:18; Julie Teeters, 48: 44; Kathy Carr, 52:05; Debra Wickstrom, 54:38; Denise Kinner, 55:50; Susan Hawkins, 57:15; Kathleen Onchuck, 1:04:45; Patt Massino, 1:06:56; Sue Marshall, 1:07:01; Linda Windmoeller, 1:35:54

70-89M: Matt Triolo, 53:21; Bob Rusch, 1:04:59; Peter Spiegl, 1:06:48; Mark Mueller, 1:06:49

70-98F: Carol Klitzke, 56:46

10K Results

15-19F: Signe Buerger, 1:10:59

20-29M: Jeffrey Quednow, 46:28; Scott Pederson, 51:05; Travis Bube, 1:09:16

20-29F: Ariel Rinehart, 1:23:31

30-39F: Pamela Onchuck, 1:08:40; Aurora, Rinehart, 1:23:29; Caitlin Anderson, 1:35:57

40-49M: Joe Anderson, 54:44

40-49F: Nicole Finstad, 1:08:01; Stephanie Erickson, 1:09:59; Jan Wellik, 1:30:02; Phonda Narlock, 1:44:41

50-59M: Mark Brose, 48:27; Larry Buerger, 56:53; Todd Hochstetler, 1:02:14

50-59F: Diane Meinholz, 2:00:42

60-69M: Jim McDonell, 1:09:41; Jim Jowak, 1:34:59

70-98M: Jim Graupnet, 1:13:14; Richard Lecher, 1:41:36

Plan drafted to address local highway needs
PASER: 59% of Price County highways in poor or fair condition

A significant number of Price County's roadways have been determined to be in poor or fair condition, according to the Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating system.

The PASER system — which assesses pavement quality on a 1-10 scale, with one being the worst quality and 10 being the best — shows that of 220 miles of roadways assessed in Price County, 7.25% are considered failed or very poor, 59.42% are poor or fair, 20.51% are fair or good, 10.09% are good to very good, and 2.73% are excellent.

Price County highway commissioner Joe Baratka presented these findings to the executive committee on Jan. 16, after which committee members got a first glimpse of a first-draft, multi-year funding strategy to address the needs identified on the county's highways.

According to Baratka, the funding plan would allow the highway department to extend the life of the county's roadways by addressing those that are rapidly deteriorating. Baratka noted that once the process is started, there will be an improvement to the county's highways and maintenance expenditures will likely be reduced. The plan is designed to reduce the likelihood that the county is again faced with high percentages of roads in need of repair, according to Baratka.

County administrator Nick Trimner pointed out that the

drafted funding strategy is in the earliest phases, and can be adjusted or changed as discussions develop.

Three potential borrowing plans — playing out over either three years, five years, or 10 years — were presented to the committee for their review.

Based on an assumed 2% interest rate, the three-year option would see the tax levy increase by a total of 9.23% in its third year, going from $9,390,849 in 2020 to $10,257,739 in 2022. By 2022, the county would have borrowed $4.5 million and would owe $181,200 in interest.

As the three-year plan would continue after 2022, the levy would steadily increase each year until 2026, when it is projected to stabilize at $11,471,379 — a total levy increase of 22.15% from 2020. The county's 10-year projection for this plan shows a total of $18.5 million borrowed with $744,910 paid in interest.

With the five-year plan, the levy would increase by 14.68% in its fifth year, reaching $10,769,879 by 2024. The levy would continue to increase until 2028, when it would stabilize at $11,512,434. The 10-year projection for this plan shows a total of $18.5 million borrowed with $1,124,662 paid in interest.

The 10-year plan would result in a total levy increase of 19.56% by 2029, reaching $11,227,737. The levy would continue increasing until 2033 for a total percentage increase of 20.71% from 2020, and capping out at $11,617,379. The 13year projection for this plan shows a total of $25 million borrowed with $2,321,940 paid in interest.

According to Trimner, the plans have pros and cons, with the three-year plan keeping the interest costs relatively low while the fiveand 10-year plans spread the levy increase out over a longer period of time.

"The 10-year plan really reduces how quickly the levy goes up," Trimner told the committee, although he pointed out that it would require an increased number of loans and increased interest costs.

While the plan is broken into three, five, or 10 year periods, Trimner noted that the aim is to make this a permanent plan that continues at the end of each cycle. Payments would no lon ger go up, but the county would continue borrowing in order to fund consistent road repairs, according to Trimner.

Trimner pointed out the draft of this plan is in the earliest phases, and can be adjusted or changed. Funding for the highways may also change in the future, he said, with more funding available in the county budget to go toward road repairs.

County Chairman Bob Kopisch said he believed it would be important to gain input from citizens on the possibility of a long-term funding plan for the county's highways. The possibility of an advisory referendum was suggested by Kopisch as a means to gain local feedback. In order to get an advisory referendum question on the Aug. 11 ballot, a resolution would need to be passed by the county board before June 2.

"How much, how fast, and how does this play out — because we have a lot of roads that are on the edge," said Kopisch.

"We do," agreed Baratka. "We have an obligation to provide safe highways. Yes, input is very important, but we still have a responsibility here."

Baratka noted that in order to start this year's highway maintenance, he will need direction from the county board in the near future in order to request bids.

Kopisch said it was possible initial work could be started this year, and based upon the public feedback, the county board could determine whether or not this would be a long-term plan suitable for Price County.

It was noted the topic will be discussed further at the executive committee's next meeting on Feb. 13, and any funding plan will need to be considered by the full county board before any action is taken.

No action was taken by the executive committee on the funding plan.

Other executive committee business

* County Clerk Jean Gottwald notified the executive committee that a complaint had been filed with the Wisconsin Election Commission by Ginny Strobl on behalf of the Town of Georgetown, claiming that Gottwald abused her discretion in the county's purchase of new voting machines for the county's 19 polling locations. In particular, the complaint calls into question the agreement the county required local municipalities to sign in order to take ownership of each machine. Since the complaint was filed with the Election Commission, a response on behalf of Gottwald was filed by the county's legal counsel Leanna Samardich, contesting any alleged wrongdoing on Gottwald's part and providing documentation of the machines' purchase and communication with local municipal clerks.

The case remains under the review of the Election Commission.

Gottwald notified the executive committee that since the complaint was originally filed with the Election Commission, Georgetown has signed a slightly modified version of the county's agreement in order to accept ownership of the machine.

The Town of Hackett is the only municipality that has not signed the agreement, and has therefore not received a new voting machine. Hackett Chairman Edward Hainy did not respond to a call for comment prior to press time.

* A majority of executive committee members agreed to include the county's name in a request for proposals for a regional housing study, which will aim to define local housing needs in the hopes of attracting developers to the area. The call for the housing study has come from the City of Park Falls, which invited Phillips, Prentice, and Price County to participate in the request for proposals. At this point, there is no financial commitment on any of the municipalities. Both Phillips and Price County agreed to participate in the request for proposals. After bids have been received, each municipality will have the opportunity to decide whether to continue their involvement in the housing study. Bruce Jilka cast the sole nay vote on the executive committee.

* A resolution was signed off on by the executive committee, allowing engineering to begin on a series of proposed improvements and repairs at the Price County airport. The estimated cost of the project is $2,450,000, of which the county's share will be $122,500.

Park Falls man facing child sexual assault, incest charges

Charles Pierce

A 61-year-old Park Falls man being held in Price County Jail on a $25,000 cash bond is now facing multiple felony charges for sexual contact with a child under the age of 13 and incest.

Charles E. Pierce is facing two counts of first-degree child sexual assault, sexual contact with a child under age 13; Class B felonies that each carry, upon conviction, imprisonment not to exceed 60 years.

He is also facing two counts of incest for alleged sexual contact with a child he knows is related by blood or adoption, to a degree of kinship closer than a second cousin; Class C felonies. Each count, upon conviction, may carry a maximum fine of $100,000 or imprisonment up to 40 years or both.

Pierce was court-ordered Jan. 17 not to have contact with the victim or family, no contact with anyone under the age of 18 without supervision, is not allowed to leave the state, is not allowed to possess a firearm, and may not go upon Marian Lane in Park Falls.

Pierce was arrested Jan. 3 after police were summoned to the Flambeau Hospital on New Year's Eve for a suspected child sexual assault victim. Information obtained by officers at the hospital and subsequent information obtained by the Child Advocacy Center in Marshfield indicated the victim was touched on their "private parts" on New Year's Eve, as well as approximately three previous times over the last year, according to the criminal complaint.

Having received credible information Pierce possessed firearms and was proficient in their use, police believed Pierce may be a danger to himself or officers upon arrest. Before making the arrest, police chief Jerry Ernst called for the Specialty Response Team from Lincoln County, a specialized tactical unit, ac cording to a report given to the Park Falls Common Council Jan. 13. Pierce was taken into custody without incident.

Price County Judge Kevin Klein granted police a search warrant Jan. 6 for all computers and digital devices including cell phones and digital storage devices at Pierce's residence and/or vehicle.

Online court records indicate no prior convictions for Pierce.

An initial appearance for the case has been set for 10 a.m., Feb. 18 at the Price County Courthouse. Pierce has been appointed public defense counsel Kristopher Ellis. Ellis did not return an email request for comment.

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