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Legal hours for selling beer extended in Phillips

Following a public hearing on Feb. 2, the Phillips city council subsequently voted 5-1 in favor of amending the city's ordinance to extend the legal selling hours for beer in the city from 6 a.m. to midnight.

Previously, the city limited the sale of beer from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The recommendation to extend the limit was initially raised by alderman Bill Elliott, who told fellow council members that he would like to see the city's ordinance come in line with the hours allowed by all other area municipalities.

At the public hearing, one citizen questioned why this was being considered. A second citizen, Pastor Christian Markle, approached the city council at their Feb. 9 meeting, asking them to reconsider the proposed change.

"As a citizen, pastor, and law

enforcement chaplain, I believe extending the hours to extend the hours to sell beer through midnight is a fundamental mistake for the morals, health and safety of our community," Markle said, stating he believed increased access to alcohol would contribute to an increase in alcohol-related crime. He also stated he was concerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest for some council members "whose employers stand to financially gain by this decision."

Alderman Jerry Clark also spoke in opposition of the ordinance amendment, saying he believed the increased availability of alcohol in the community could affect crime rates, domestic issues, and overall alcohol abuse.

"As council members, I think we need to think about what's best for our community; not just what's best for sales, but what's best for the safety of our citizens," he said, adding that he strongly opposed the extended hours.

Elliott said it would be difficult to prove that increased crime is connected to the hours of sale, and added the people who wish to buy alcohol after the legal hours in Phillips will likely simply drive to one of the neighboring communities that already has extended hours.

"It's a revenue stream that could stay in Phillips, and it's safer than [driving to another community]," he said, adding that it was confusing to have unique hours of sale in Phillips compared to surrounding towns.

Alderman Dick Heitkemper echoed Elliott's statement, saying this was an effort to equalize the playing field for businesses across the county, and said the Phillips Police Department is capable of handling any potential increase in crime.

Alderman John Klimowski said that while his employer will likely benefit from the increased hours of sale, he is making the decision on behalf of the citizens he represents, not his employer.

A motion to approve the amendment and extend the hours of sale to midnight was approved, with Clark casting the sole dissenting vote.

Process underway for removing dilapidated house

Phillips Chief of Police Michael Hauschild reported that the property owner of a house on Jackson Avenue has begun dismantling the residence, which has been described as dilapidated and an eyesore.

After what was apparently years of warnings from the Phillips Police Department, the city council decided in December to move forward with having the building removed by whatever means determined legally possible.

Hauschild reported that the property owner has since started working to take down the house, and informed the city council that he had extended the deadline by another 30 days, provided work continued. The deadline to have the structure removed is now mid March.

Library budget

In a 2-4 vote, the council approved allowing the Phillips Public Library to bank $17,000 for a future capital improvement project at the library.

Library director Rebecca Puhl reported the library came in considerably under budget in 2020, with a significant reduction of services due to the pandemic. In light of the fact that the library is currently financially preparing for a future renovation project, Puhl requested the council authorize her to save that money for future library use.

A majority of council members voted in favor of allowing her to do so, with Heitkemper and alderwoman Laura Tomaszweski voting in opposition.

Heitkemper stated that while he was not against funding the library project, there are other city projects that he believes could immediately benefit from that unspent funding.

Recommendation to increase deer herd to receive state review

The Price County Deer Advisory Committee's unanimous recommendation to increase the county's deer herd by 20% over the next three years will go before the Natural Resources Board for consideration on Feb. 24.

The decision to increase comes in the wake of a poor buck harvest in 2019, which lowered the deer population estimate for the county from 30,500 in 2018 to 22,800 in 2019.

However, there are numerous factors that indicate the deer population may not be as low as the DNR's model suggests, according to information presented to the CDAC by local Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Derek Johnson.

The model, which is utilized to calculate an approximate number of deer in an area, predominantly uses the buck harvest success rate.

The 2019 hunt was complicated both by the lateness of the nine-day gun season, as well as severe winter storms that blanketed much of the state in over a foot of snow.

These conditions impacted hunters' success, dropping the buck harvest success rate and therefore also decreasing the population estimate.

A total of 3,393 deer were harvested in Price County that year, only 1,961 of which were bucks. This compares to a total of 4,036 deer harvested in 2018, of which 2,838 were bucks.

The number of bucks harvested in 2020 increased by 185 when a total of 3,603 deer were harvested in the county,

2,146 of which were bucks.

There have also been increases seen in the negative deer-related impacts documented in the county over the past three years — including the number of local agriculture properties experiencing crop damage, the number of car versus deer collisions, and the extent of browse damage on forestry plots.

In light of these factors, Johnson's recommendation to the CDAC was to continue maintaining the deer population over the next three years.

However, following the CDAC's final recommendation to increase the herd by 20% over the next three years, Johnson recommended it be increased gradually with the awareness that a mild winter could result in a significant increase in the population.

Before implementation, the council's recommendation to increase the herd over the next three years will need review from the Natural Resources Board, which it will receive Feb. 24.

The deer population is managed by the antlerless quotas recommended by the CDAC each spring, and approved by the board.

The next meeting of the local deer council will take place at 6 p.m. on March 22, when a preliminary recommendation on the 2021 antlerless deer quota will be made.


New COVID case numbers dropping

Only 10 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Price County between Feb. 8-15, bringing the county's total to 1,132. As of Monday, there were 10,61 active cases of the virus statewide, bringing the state's total to 55,708.

Vaccination efforts continue, with 1,943 Price County residents having received at least one immunization and 470 people now fully immunized against the virus. Across Wisconsin, 715,375 people have received at least one vaccination and 240,907 have received both.

One more local resident was hospitalized last week, and regional hospital numbers remain stable, if still higher than normal with 813 of the 1,038 available hospital beds in north central Wisconsin in use. As of Monday, there were 53 patients hospitalized throughout the region with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis, 19 of which were requiring intensive care. One patient was awaiting test results.

Statewide, there were 8,505 of the state's 10,803 available beds in use, with 413 COVID-19 patients, 118 of which were in intensive care units. Another 31 patients were awaiting test results.

All the counties neighboring Price County saw declines in their new weekly case numbers, with the exception of Iron County. Rusk County had the lowest number of new cases between Feb. 8-15 with a total of four, and Vilas County had the highest with a total of 49.

Oneida County had confirmed 3,233 cases as of Monday — up by 44 from the week previous — with 85 active cases. There have been 155 hospitalizations, 11 of which are current, and 63 deaths (two of which are new since last week) attributed to the virus. A total of 3,074 people have recovered, and 20,872 tests have returned negative.

Lincoln County had confirmed 2,869 cases — up by 26 — with 22 active. There have been 115 hospitalizations and 56 deaths attributed to the virus. A total of 2,791 people have recovered and 11,175 tests have returned negative.

Vilas County had confirmed 2,183 cases — up by 49 — with 152 active. There have been 118 hospitalizations and 38 deaths attributed to the virus. A total of 1,992 people have recovered and 8,536 tests have returned negative.

Taylor County had confirmed 1,984 cases — up by five — with 32 active. There have been 65 hospitalizations and 30 deaths attributed to the virus. A total of 1,922 people have recovered and 5,582 tests have returned negative.

Sawyer County had confirmed 1,464 cases — up by 23 — with 41 active. There have been 69 hospitalizations and 20 deaths (up by three since last week) attributed to the virus. A total of 1,401 people have recovered and 7,902 tests have returned negative.

Rusk County had confirmed 1,240 cases — up by four — with 37 active. There have been 83 hospitalizations and 16 deaths attributed to the virus. A total of 1,187 people have recovered and 4,721 tests have returned negative.

Ashland County had confirmed 1,168 cases, up by seven. There have been 51 people hospitalized and 16 deaths attributed to the virus. A total of 6,637 tests have returned negative.

Iron County had confirmed 515 cases, up by 27. There have been 35 hospitalizations and 37 deaths attributed to the virus. A total of 2,441 tests have returned negative.

Active case numbers and recoveries were not available for Iron and Ashland counties.


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