On Monday, Feb. 15, the Village of Winter President Julie Ray, was informing residents that the main water tower in the village was being refilled and residents were being encouraged to use water as they normally would, allowing some water to trickle to keep pipes from freezing.
Normally, a village president nor the residents would be concerned about the status of the water tower, but after the previous week free-flowing water was on everyone's mind in the village.
On Friday, Feb. 5, the immersion pump in the main village well stopped working and at that point the village public works director Lance Armstrong turned to a back up well and the water continued flowing.
Over the weekend, Feb. 6.7, with school out of session, there wasn't a huge demand on the village's system, but by Tuesday, Feb. 9 with the temperatures dropping and school back in session the pressure on the second well was lost and there was not enough water to supply the village.
"We lost our water," said Ray. "We just all of a sudden had no water and any water that was in the water tower fell out because it was being used, so we basically drained our water tower."
Without water, school was called off for the following Wednesday and people were encouraged to store water.
A special crew of workers were called and traveled to the village with the goal of starting on Wednesday morning, but when they arrived Tuesday night, Feb. 9, they began tackling the problem.
"As soon as they got here at six o'clock they just got to work," said Ray.
By 8:30 p.m., water was restored to the village.
Starting the night of Feb. 9, a 24-hour effort began to refill the water tower but gauges indicated a problem and later a leak was discovered by the public library.
And then there was yet another issue.
"Part of our water tower froze when we lost all that water in it," said Ray.
The village needed a water tower expert and it so happened that an expert was on vacation at his home on Connors Lake and was within minutes of the village.
"This expert has been working with other municipalities that have had similar issues," said Ray.
Ray said the cold weather revealed infrastructure issues that needed to be addressed. The Village will be looking at federal block grants to address some of those more costlier problems.
In the meantime, residents are encouraged to keep their water trickling to keep pipes from freezing because the village pipes are not buried as deep as most municipalities.
Ray said the village would be adjusting water bills to accommodate trickling water and the recent disturbances to the system.
This week's good COVID-19 news is the number of new cases reported from last week is low — just 27.
The not-so-good news is that the supply of vaccine is still inadequate to meet the demand, not just in Sawyer County, but also in the state and across the nation.
"So our risk is coming down; the cases are lower," said Sawyer County Public Health Officer Julia Lyons. "We're all feeling good about that."
However, she said, not enough vaccine is coming to the county.
"We continue to get less vaccine that what we've been requesting, but that's true across the state," she said.
Lyons said the joint vaccination clinic held by her office and Hayward Area Memorial Hospital this week at Hayward Wesleyan Church will administer 230 doses, but she has more than 2,000 names on a waiting list, including many who are 65 years of age and older.
Last week, Lyons said the joint clinic could vaccinate 1,000 in a day if the vaccine was available.
Next week the joint community vaccination between Sawyer County Public Health and the hospital will move its locations to First Lutheran Church in Hayward. Lyons said the move was made so as not conflict with the Ruby's Pantry food distribution held at the Wesleyan Church.
The Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Health Center, she said, is scheduled to give 240 first doses both this week and next week.
"LCO has been giving their second dose right along all this time," she added.
In Wisconsin last week, Walgreens pharmacies also began administering a limited number of first doses of vaccine. Other local health care providers, including NorthLakes Community and Essentia Health clinics, are also scheduled to receive vaccine this week.
This week's numbers
As of Tuesday Feb. 16, there have been 1,468 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county, up 27 from the 1,441 reported last Tuesday, Feb. 9.
Of the 1,468 cases, 1,403 have recovered, 43 are active and 20 have died. Two others who were positive have died but not from COVID.
There are 34 probable cases, individuals who have shown signs of COVID but have not been tested.
Contract tracers are currently monitoring 29 who they suspect might have COVID.
There have been 70 hospitalizations and 7,916 have tested negative, including some who have tested negative more than once.
Yesterday in the state, there were 624 new cases and 38 deaths, bringing totals to 556,332 confirmed cases and 6,204 deaths in the Wisconsin due to COVID.
And yesterday, 82 more were hospitalized statewide, bring the total who have been hospitalized in the state to 25,422.
Lyons said the National Guard will continue its 9 a.m. to noon testing at the Winter Fire Station until the end of March, and LCO Health Center will reinstate drive-up testing with warming temperatures.
Others who need testing and think they might have COVID are encouraged to call a hotline operating all week to schedule an appointment. The number is (715) 934-4518.
Two county committees will be asking the Sawyer County Board at its Feb. 18 meeting to approve borrowing up to $8 million to pay for construction of a second large courtroom and remodeling of the current court wing.
County Administrator Tom Hoff said that in 2017, the county board passed a resolution approving a second circuit court branch with the supporting facilities and personnel. Since then, the county has looked at options on where the second courtroom would be placed, Hoff said.
On Feb. 10-11, Jon Cain of Venture Architects presented an update to the county's public works and finance committees on the building options. He also presented the estimated costs prepared by Market and Johnson.
If the project is bid this year, the estimated cost of the new construction is put at $5.7 million to $6 million, to include the courtroom, remodeling of the existing courtrooms, clerk of court wing and jail and a new veteran's service office.
The non-construction cost adds 26% to the total, or $1.482 million to $1.560 million. This includes professional services fees (architect and construction manager) courtroom technology, furniture, survey and soil borings and plan review fees.
The total cost is projected at $7,182,000 to $7,560,000.
Cain added that if the project is delayed to a future year, costs would go up 4% each additional year.
"There will be a day when Sawyer County has a second judge. You're on the list (for state approval and funding)," Cain added. "I think the project will happen someday. But inflation is not your friend."
County board member Dale Olson said, "Right now the price of materials is outrageously high. I can't see it coming down."
Hoff said that besides the construction, the county will spend $400,000 to pay the City of Hayward for the abandonment of one block of Fifth Street between the courthouse and sheriff's office and the extension of California Avenue west to Nyman Avenue to accommodate vehicle traffic in the vicinity.
The county plans to construct the second courtroom and associated offices from the west wall of the existing large courtroom and across Fifth Street to connect with the east wall of the Law Enforcement Center.
Cain said that to comply with state codes, the new facility must have a fire sprinkler system.
People using the courtrooms would enter the courthouse from the Kansas Avenue parking lot through a new secure lobby.
Prisoners would be escorted to their court appointments from the jail through the new enclosed building, and would not have to cross Fifth Street as they do now. The new facility would keep the public, prisoners and court personnel separate from each other, except in the courtroom itself, Cain said. People would enter either courtroom through a vestibule, with two sets of doors.
There would be small spaces for attorneys to confer with their clients, Cain said.
Board member Marc Helwig urged the county to consider constructing a drug addiction/mental health treatment facility in the new addition.
Hoff said the plan calls for demolishing the veterans service office on Fifth Street and moving it into the new building or to another location. Additional parking space could be created on the former veterans service lot and on the maintenance building lot, "which we don't use for garage work anymore," he said.
The criminal justice coordinator office would move into the current assembly room, and the assembly room would be relocated.
The clerk of courts would add staff for the new court branch, and "we're proposing a complete gut and remodeling of their (office) area" in the current wing, Cain said. The current small courtroom would be expanded "to make it much more efficient" and there would be additional space for the district attorney in that wing, Cain added.
Sheriff Doug Mrotek said that "safety and security for staff, public and inmates is key, as well as staff efficiency."
If the second courtroom and courthouse remodeling project is approved, the county anticipates a first-year debt service levy of $3,393,000 principal plus $123,704 interest in 2022. For the second year, the county would borrow $6,285,000, and pay interest of $1,762,918.
The budget anticipates that the total county tax levy would increase 5.6% in 2021, 4.9% in 2022, 5.1% in 2023 and 5.0% in 2024. Then the levy increase would decline to 1.2% in 2025 and 0.6% in 2026.