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County approves fairgrounds sale

PHILLIPS — The Price County Board of Supervisors on March 15 approved the sale of the Price County Fairgrounds.

By a vote of 10-2 the county board approved the sale of the fairgrounds to Price County Productions, Inc., with Alexis Baratka as owner, and Darin Baratka as vice president. Board members Alan Barkstrom, Brian Ernst, Jeff Hallstand, Paula Houdek, Robert Kopisch. Mark Kyle, Waldemar Madsen, Larry Palecek, Jordan Spacek, Dennis Wartgow voted for the sale, with members Doug Erickson and Ginny Strobl against, and James Hintz not present.

“Regarding the vote, I was surprised myself that it was that much in favor of the sale,” said Robert Kopisch, chair of the county board and the executive committee that recommended the sale.

Erickson had not shown support for the sale while the matter was in executive committee, and Strobl was not against the sale so much but had reservations and wanted the process with the full board, he said. It wasn’t clear how the rest of the full board would go, he said.

“I am glad it came out that way (10-2), because if it would have been closer than that it would have been probably more of a lingering issue going forward,” Kopisch said.

The executive committee was already on board with the Baratka family that reached out to the county about buying the fairgrounds property that it already leases to hold their rodeo, he said. It was a matter of putting together terms for an agreement when the Price County Fairgrounds United came forward with an alternative proposal to sell to a 501(C)(6) nonprofit organization.

At that time the board put out the notice to invite proposals, Kopisch said. The full board approved a resolution to look into the lease or sale in December 2021.

The Baratka proposal was recommended from the start, he said. The Fairgrounds United proposal was reviewed but the committee didn’t have confidence that the new organization could raise the funds or follow through on other deliverables in a timely manner.

“I know there were a lot of allegations made about the closed sessions, and that it should be open to the public and all this stuff, and we even have a couple of board members that thought we should have been doing this in the open, but you can’t,” he said. “There’s a reason why the state statutes allow it in closed session, and just as with labor negotiations, the parties aren’t always talking to each other. They’re talking among themselves and doing strategy.”

Ginny Strobl said there was not enough information from the executive committee recommendation for the sale because it was all handled by four people in the executive sessions. This left her feeling like they were “rubber stamping” something approved by a few people in closed sessions, she said.

Any attempt to discuss the fairgrounds was labeled a negotiation and was not allowed to be discussed in the regular meeting, she said. Strobl said she supported the selling of the fairgrounds because she felt it would continue to deteriorate with the county. She said the Baratca’s have generations of public service and does not doubt their sincerity to continue the legacy of the fairgrounds.

“I just felt that we should have a public hearing where both sides (Baratca’s and Fairgrounds United) could present their case,” Strobl said. “So that people would know the reasons for our decision.”

Waldemar Madsen said he voted for the sale as a way to save the fairgrounds. The county has allowed the fairgrounds to fall into disrepair and could not possibly justify the expense to restore it to where the buildings could be used as intended.

“Every year the buildings continue to fall apart,” he said. “It’s never been a priority of the people to fix these buildings until now.”

The Baratka’s can make more cost effective repairs to the buildings than the county could with the additional requirements of government that limit the applicants to major contractor bids. The Baratca’s can hire the work out to qualified companies without the same restrictions.

“I trust them because they want to make the rodeo better and I don’t think they want the buildings around them to look like junk,” Madsen said.

The other reason Madsen said he voted for the sale was to require access for the fair committee and the organizational leases. Also, if the Baratca’s are unable to accomplish the terms of the sale the property reverts back to the county, he said.

Private ownership also takes the liability issues away from the county, which is what eventually made it impossible to hold tractor pulls, logging shows and similar events at the fairgrounds, he said. The Baratca’s are already running the rodeo and will be in a position to bring in other events.

The Fairgrounds United proposal looked good on paper but there were red flags with funding and too much of the work relied on volunteers, Madsen said. There were no “doers” in the proposal, and “everyone was just saying things,” he said.

The terms of the Baratka sale include a $150,000 purchase price that is payable in the form of an irrevocable letter of credit from a lender. During a 60 month period the owners will be able to pay down the purchase price with major renovations or improvements to structures and the property to exclude scheduled maintenance or basic repairs.

The terms require the Baratka’s to be “working in good faith” to restore or replace the cattle barn within the first 36 months. The terms do not allow any rodeo specific improvements to count toward the payment reduction.

The purchase agreement must be signed within 20 days of the March 15 board meeting where the sale was approved. The terms require the Baratka’s to honor current leases with Price County Fair Association, Inc., to conduct the two-week fair each summer, and to continue leases with the Boy Scouts, 4-H, the Antiques Association, and Retired Teachers.

The county will execute leasing agreements on behalf of the buyer, according to the terms. The county will also conduct a hydrology and hydraulic study of the property with results provided to the Baratka’s.

The county has a right of first refusal should the buyer elect to sell the property. The buyer may not use the property as collateral.

In other business, the board approved a $25,000 allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds for the Northern Price County broadband expansion project to update service to 826 homes as a partner with Charter Communications and for any future application for funding to expand broadband in the county. The resolution was amended to reduce the amount from $75,000.

Houdek, Kyle, Palecek and Wartgow voted against reducing the initial $75,000 allocation. Palecek, Strobl and Wartgow voted against the broadband resolution.

The board was unanimous in approving resolutions to ask the state of Wisconsin to reduce the county real estate transfer fee from 80% to 50%, and a resolution to eliminate the Badger Care eligibility disqualification for residents who lost Medicaid or other services for slight increases in income.


Price_county_review
Annual business show returns to Phillips
  • Updated

PHILLIPS — Warm, sunny weather and the Phillips Sport, Home and Craft Show this past weekend was a sure sign of spring and brought out some of the biggest crowds ever, according to Scott Hahn, show owner and operator.

This is the 15th show in 17 years — with the past two years canceled for COVID-19, Hahn said. People were excited to be back with 37 vendors in 47 booths. This included 22 new and 15 returning businesses, he said.

“It was exciting to have new ones, including new participants from Park Falls,” Hahn said. “That’s why we call it the Phillips area.”

The variety of merchants is what makes the show successful, he said. There are arts and crafts and clothing vendors along with home improvement, outdoor recreation, motorized and silent sports, physical therapists and massage and automobile dealerships.

The support of the Phillips High School is also what makes the show possible, Hahn said. It all adds up to make a positive social and economic impact on the community with vendors staying over in hotels, and shoppers who buy gas and food during a day trip.

Jim Altenburg, the sales manager at Ryden Marine and Minocqua Yamaha, said the Phillips Sport, Home and Craft Show is important for the company as it handles a lot of sales on the Wisconsin 13 corridor through Price County. Business is better than ever with the development of trail systems in the region and as more municipalities open up the roads to ATV/UTV use for convenience and to impact the local economies.

“I mean, it’s off the charts, you can’t keep it up,” Altenburg said.

People this year had a lot of questions about Yamaha’s new Wolverine RMAX2 1000, he said. The next generation side-by-side UTV is considered the successor to the popular Wolverine X4 850.

Alexis Baratka, of the Price County Rodeo, said their booth was to promote the sport along with drawing interest in the Price County Rodeo at the county fairgrounds on July 2-3. The event also includes concerts.

“What we are really trying to do is educate people on what rodeo actually is,” Baratka said.

Jessica Moor, from the village of Wilson, in St. Croix County, was present in her capacity as Miss Rodeo Wisconsin to help out at the Price County Rodeo booth. She talked rodeo and took photos with visitors, along with assisting kids in trying to rope a concrete calf.

“I’m hoping to come back to Phillips to do school visits in May, and then I’ll be back here again in July for the rodeo,” she said.

Moor was crowned in August 2021 at the St. Croix Valley PRCA rodeo in Glenwood City. She was the queen in waiting until starting her year in January, and will serve through December which will include representing Wisconsin among the 31 states that participate in the Miss Rodeo America pageant in November.

In the first three months of her service, Moor has already been to several Wisconsin rodeo events in addition to rodeo-related events in Florida, Colorado, North Dakota and South Dakota. This summer Moor will attend around 12 of the more than 20 summer Wisconsin rodeos that are sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

“I get addicted to rodeos,” she said. “They’re really fun to watch.”

Moor said another role is to serve as a bridge between the rodeo fans and the rodeo production team and contestants. She will field questions, assist with autograph sessions and perform other communication roles with the goal of keeping the environment friendly and exciting to get more people interested in rodeo.

When she isn’t at rodeos, Moor is working to complete her senior year at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls, where she studies business administration, management and international studies.


Price_county_review
Pedestrian fatality in Worcester

PHILLIPS — A 36-year-old Phillips man has died after being struck by a vehicle in the town of Worcester on Thursday, according to a press release from the Price County Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff’s office was notified of a vehicle striking a pedestrian on State Highway 13 just north of State Highway 111 in the township of Worcester at about 10:40 p.m. on March 17, according to Price County Sheriff Brian Schmidt.

Preliminary investigation information that is able to be released at time indicates that the pedestrian was walking in the vicinity of the northbound shoulder of the roadway when he was struck by a northbound pickup truck, according to the press release. The pedestrian was pronounced dead at the scene.

The victim’s name is being withheld pending notification of family. The investigation is being conducted by the Price County Sheriff’s Office and the Wisconsin State Patrol.

The Phillips Police Department, Central Price County Ambulance Service, Phillips Fire Department, the Wisconsin State Patrol, and the Price County Coroner’s Office also responded to the scene.


Price_county_review
featured
Butternut couple displaced from fire

BUTTERNUT — A chimney fire on March 14 has displaced a Butternut couple, according to the Park Falls Volunteer Fire Department.

The Park Falls and Butternut fire departments were dispatched to a chimney fire at a Fern Road residence on Butternut Lake at 20:05 p.m., according to Price County Emergency Management. The Park Falls department brought three vehicles including the rescue unit, and Butternut brought two. Park Falls Ambulance Service also responded.

The fire started in the chimney but spread to the rest of the structure, said Fire Chief Larry Reas. There were no injuries to the residents but two firefighters were treated for ice related injuries, one for a twisted ankle and the other hurt his shoulder, he said.

“There was nothing but ice; everything was just solid ice out there,” he said of the scene.

The residents, a 68-year-old woman and a 72-year-old man, were displaced by the fire, according to Justin Kern, communications director for the American Red Cross of Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Two members of the Red Cross team communicated with the couple and provided emergency assistance for temporary lodgings, meals and clothing, he said.

The Red Cross will continue to work with the couple if there is a need to replace lost prescription medications or with mental health counseling to help cope with the loss of home and everything they are going through, he said. Going forward the Red Cross will create a recovery plan with the couple in conjunction with other agencies.

“Since the start of the year the volunteers and disaster teams have helped 989 people who were displaced by more than 200 fires since the start of the year,” Kern said. “So it will unfortunately eclipse 1,000 people soon. The winter is typically a busier time but this has been an unusually business couple of years especially with the pandemic.”


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