A budget of $28,700,079 for 2021 was approved by the Price County Board of Supervisors at the Nov. 10 meeting. No comments or questions were received during the public hearing held prior to the board’s approval.
A tax levy of $10,541,892 has been set for next year.
Exception made for supervisor attending without a face covering
The meeting started with an unexpected topic, namely the presence of county supervisor Ginny Strobl in the county board room.
Since Price County adopted a policy requiring all employees to wear a face covering (unless they have a formal doctor’s note exempting them from following Governor Tony Evers’ state mandate), Strobl has attended meetings virtually in recent months. Her telephonic attendance has been complicated by technical difficulties that occasionally make the meetings difficult to follow or understand.
At approximately 6:13 a.m. on the morning of the meeting, an email was sent from Strobl to county administration. According to county administrator Nick Trimner, the email was not a formal letter from a medical profession, but stated that Strobl should not have to wear a mask due to sensitive dry eyes.
According to Trimner, the county’s policy allows employees with valid medical reasons to not wear a face covering if they have a formal doctor’s note. County employees with such an exemption are allowed to work without wearing a mask, provided they maintain appropriate distance from all other individuals they may encounter during the work day.
Trimner told the county board that the email received from Strobl was not sufficient to comply with the county’s policy, and said that in the case of an employee, administration would work with that individual to get proper medical documentation.
Strobl attended the meeting in person, not wearing a face mask, but distanced from anyone else in the meeting by at least six feet.
Since the email provided by Strobl did not comply with the county’s policy, county board chairman Bob Kopisch recommended that a roll call vote be taken as to whether Strobl should be allowed to stay in the meeting.
The vote passed 8-3 in favor of allowing Strobl to stay for the duration of the meeting. Voting in favor were supervisors Alan Barkstom, Jeffrey Hallstrand, Jim Hintz, Mark Kyle, Waldemar Madsen, Jordan Spacek, Strobl, and Kopisch. Voting against were Paula Houdek, Larry Palacek, and Dennis Wartgow.
A number of supervisors, including Houdek, Palacek, and Wartgow, voiced concerns about allowing Strobl to participate in the meeting in person. Hintz said that while he personally didn’t care for wearing a mask, he believed everyone should work together and “bear up” under the regulations put in place for others’ safety.
Barkstrom and Madsen said they did not have an issue with Strobl attending as long as she maintained the required distance.
Strobl informed the board that while wearing a mask affects her eyes and makes her vision blurry, she has been very careful, avoids going out in public, and maintains distance whenever she does.
Strobl was allowed to remain and participate in the meeting.
As of Nov. 17, an updated medical note had been provided to the county, according to Jean Gottwald, county clerk.
County extends pandemic related administrative flexibility through February
The county board voted to extend their resolution allowing for emergency administrative flexibility due to COVID-19 through Feb. 28, 2021. This resolution — which allows county administration to close county buildings as necessary, implement staffing and policy changes to ensure essential services continue uninterrupted, and maintain employees’ benefit status regardless of hours worked — has been in place since March 17.
It has been extended or amended four times due to the ongoing pandemic.
Strobl made a motion to add a paragraph to the resolution reading, “... while allowing the county board supervisors to continue to represent their constituents in the most effective way possible while protecting themselves and others by choosing social distancing or a mask or both.”
Wartgow questioned whether this was a request to override the county’s existing policy on face coverings.
Strobl said that she felt she was being marginalized by being prohibited from attending meetings in person unless she was wearing a mask, and said she felt unable to adequately represent her constituents due to the quality of the telephonic meetings.
A number of steps were taken during the Nov. 10 meeting to improve the audio quality of the meeting for those listening in over the phone.
Kopisch noted that he also participates in several electronic meetings each week.
“I don’t think anything has been done from the county’s side to marginalize any employee or supervisor by what we’re doing,” he said. “The fact of the matter is we are in a serious situation in this country … it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse. Taking precautions is not marginalization and I think the county has the responsibility to its employees to take the measures necessary to protect the workplace.”
A roll call vote on Strobl’s proposed amendment failed 2-9. Casting the two votes in favor were Strobl and Barkstrom.
A roll call vote on extending the original resolution passed in a 10-1 vote, with Strobl casting the sole no vote.
Tax deed process approved
The county has started the process of issuing tax deeds against 93 parcels of land whose owners are delinquent in paying their 2017 real estate taxes. Among these properties are parcels of land owned by the Park Falls Development Corporation (the company that owns and operates the Park Falls paper mill) and Phillips Lionite Wood Products.
For the two parcels of property owned by the Park Falls Development Corporation, the county is owed $113,745.68.
For the two parcels owned by Phillips Lionite, the county is owed $43,113.30.
Kopisch told the board that the owners of Phillips Lionite were in negotiations with the county treasurer and were expected to be making a payment in the near future.
A number of individuals were appointed to various boards.
Suzanne Ocker and Sally Huml were appointed to the Health and Human Services Board for three year terms. Ginny Strobl was temporarily appointed to the same board until May 31, 2021.
Susan Marshall was appointed to a three-year term on the Indianhead Federated Library Board.
Gail Redmond, Theodore Harvey, and Mitchel Surman were appointed to three year terms on the Veterans Service Commission.
Ron Kendziera was appointed to the Price-Taylor Rail Trail Corridor Commission.
County receives additional insurance settlement for fairground damage
Early this year, the west wing of the historic livestock barn collapsed at the Price County Fairgrounds and during the subsequent structural evaluation, the Open Class building was also determined to be structurally unsound.
However, the county’s insurance provider for the fairground, Municipal Property Insurance Company, declined to pay out insurance funds above $5,000, citing pre-existing structural integrity issues in both buildings.
Over the past months, county administration has continued to pursue a higher settlement, and MPIC recently offered a settlement of an additional $17,000 for a total of $22,000. The county has accepted this offer and will be moving forward with pursuing contractor bids to remove the collapsed barn wing and Open Class building.