Arla Homann gets a deserved sparkle in her eye when asked about her impending retirement.
After 36 years of working in the Park Falls City Hall, she will be leaving her position this week. Her reward? Time to take a deep breath and enjoy life.
However, Homann is quick to say that there have been many positives about her career.
“What I enjoyed the most was working on capital projects,” Homann said in a recent interview with the Price County Review. “I really like seeing how those projects make a difference in our community. That’s been very rewarding.”
Homann said that working with engineers ushering the projects from conception to completion, including working with grant applications and budgeting for projects like the Highway 13 reconstruction and downtown improvements, may have meant extra hours for her but have brought about sweeping improvements.
Working through detour issues and keeping the streets open for ambulances or for funeral processions meant pulling together a myriad of details with city staff.
“I love the way our downtown improvements turned out,” she said. “I think it looks great and I like the way the decorative elements from Highway 13 were incorporated into the final layout. I like that trees and flower baskets have been added because those are details that change the feel of our city.”
Homann fondly remembers when the city’s swimming pool was renovated in 2010.
“That was my favorite project because it meant the kids in the Park Falls area would continue to have a safe place to learn to swim. Before the community pool was built in 1966, the pool was in the Flambeau River where the water was so dark it was difficult to see if anyone needed help.”
She added that support for the pool fundraiser is a testament to the spirit of community pride found in great abundance in the Park Falls area.
When Homann started her job, she typed every payroll and accounts payable check on a typewriter. There was no voicemail, no fax machines, no computers, and no email. Every tax receipt was handwritten in triplicate. “Now I can check my email on my cell phone while I’m out of town for a business conference.”
“There have been many technological changes since my first day on May 18, 1983,” Homann laughed.
Always the consummate professional, many have commented on her dedication to her work.
“I guess my work ethic was ingrained from growing up on a dairy farm near Loyal, Wisconsin,” she reflected. “I am one of seven children and there was always plenty to do.”
From that dairy farm, she moved to the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire where she majored in comprehensive public accounting. Degree in hand, she moved to Park Falls and took on her first job working for John Meisinger CPA before beginning as the deputy clerk-treasurer for the city.
When clerk-treasurer Neil Hagmann vacated his position, she was promoted to that position where she began to take on one new task after another.
“The position has grown a great deal.” she said.
Stephen Hintz of Public Administration Associates — the firm contracted to recruit a first-time city administrator — told Homann she’s been the de facto administrator for the past 12 years in lieu of a city manager or administrator.
There is a lot of truth in Hintz’ comment.
The city council has approved hiring a full time city administrator-clerk.
Deputy clerk-treasurer Michelle Smith will be promoted to take on a new title of finance director-deputy clerk. A new 29-hour per week part-time employee will be added to assist Smith.
The new administrator will be responsible for working on the creation of Tax Incremental Finance Districts for future improvements for everything from environmental remediation to blighted areas.
He or she will be responsible for working with the Department of Natural Resources on a proposed 80-acre industrial park planned on County Highway E just west of Park Falls.
There will also be a new focus on human resources including updating the employee handbook, setting goals, and performance reviews.
As usual, there will be budgeting, capital project planning, and economic development, in addition to recodification of the municipal code.
“I think the most important thing the new administrator will bring to the position is vision,” Homann said. “We need someone who has time to look at the big picture and coordinate all our departments toward goals chosen by the mayor and council.”
Although she has worked with Community Development Block Grants, clean water, and safe drinking water funding, she said that it is imperative that the city continues to bring grant money into future projects.
Homann has served with seven mayors during her career, and said she is confident that the current staff will be supportive of the new administrator.
“It is very important that we continue to move forward on the new industrial park and other projects that encourage economic development in the city,” she noted.
Finally, she reflected on what having time for herself will mean. She and her husband Michael have enjoyed raising three children.
“Our son William and his wife Karlie have two children Calvin (almost 3) and Ansel (9 months),” she said. “I am so excited to spend more time with them.”
She added that their daughter Rebecca is engaged to Kevin Knapp. “Their wedding date is set for Sept. 7 and it has been fun helping with wedding plans.” she said.
“Our youngest daughter Michelle is currently living in LaCrosse where she is a land management intern at the Mississippi Valley Conservancy.”
Arla and Michael plan to spend more leisure time with their family at the cabin they built in Port Wing near Lake Superior.
“I love it there,” she said. “It is off the grid and is powered by solar and wind.”
But, the plans don’t stop there. She loves gardening and hopes to find more time to play piano and refine her musical skills.
“I want to become more fluent in Spanish and travel to Spanish speaking countries,” she said. “I am also hoping to travel to Italy, France, Australia, and other countries that produce fine wines.”
As she takes her retirement she says with a smile: “I know I’ll stay busy and I am looking forward to just having time. This job requires so much energy and I am excited to have time to nurture my interests and enjoy new adventures.”