The Merrill Common Council Tuesday night gave a unanimous thumbs-up to a petition for annexation from Tampa, FL based Nortrax Incorporated.
The petition was received by the city on Feb. 24 and requested the city to annex 31 acres of land owned by Nortrax, near the new Walmart Supercenter; approximately ¼ mile south of STH 64, in the Town of Pine River.
As explained by Mayor Bill Bialecki on Tuesday, the petition was made to utilize city water and sewer facilities, services which the Town of Pine River is unable to provide. A majority of the land will be used for operation of a John Deere Construction and Forestry retail dealership. As part of the dealership, the company plans to construct a 20,000 square foot facility, employing 15 full-time personnel in functional parts, service and sales with an annual payroll of $900,000. The facility plans to include eight service bays and a paved lot as well.
Having garnered council approval, the measure will now be passed on for the consideration and approval process of the City Plan Commission and the Board of Public Works. If the concept makes it through those processes, Bialecki says the company has a very aggressive construction plan in mind, with a goal to be up and running by the fall of this year.
Another key agenda item unanimously passed on Tuesday evening was amendments to city ordinances allowing ATV, UTV and snowmobile routes on city streets.
6th district Alderman Dave Sukow took the floor and explained the process of how various entities came together during monthly meetings since December, to participate in the design and planning of the routes.
The entities involved consisted of Sukow, representatives from various snowmobile and ATV clubs, a safety officer with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, as well as Chief Ken Neff and Captain Corey Bennett from the Merrill Police Department.
“When we started looking at this in December, there was no way to pass through the city on snowmobiles and ATVs,” Sukow explained. “The Chamber would put out an ad inviting snowmobilers to Merrill, but there was really no way to get here unless they came in on the west side. They could come in, but there was no way for them to pass through the city.”
Sukow also added the current routes are not set in stone and can be changed as needed by the Merrill Police Department and Street Department. He repeatedly emphasized the goal of the trails being for the overall welfare of the city and abuse of the ordinance amendments should not be tolerated.
“This is not intended to allow people to be tearing up and down alleys and streets on ATV’s. If that happens, by all means call the police!” Sukow stated. “We can change things if we need to, but the whole point here is to allow snowmobilers, ATVs and UTVs to come and pass through the city, rather than spend their money elsewhere. If folks have concerns over the existing routes, the street department and police department can alter them.”
During discussion, aldermen Pete Lokemoen and Tim Meehean inquired about guidelines for users as well as speed limits and noise concerns.
“We have snowmobiles coming through our neighborhood at all times of night,” Lokemoen added.
Sukow stated the speed limit would be 15 mph, which was recommended by the DNR and Merrill Police Department.
He further added all users would be required to follow all guidelines set by state statute and more specifically for city street use; travel is only permitted on the right shoulder of roadways and in single file. In addition, users would not be allowed on Hwys. 64 or 107 and a portion of Center Avenue. In terms of noise, Sukow added the noise level would not be any higher than that of the average motorcycle.
As part of his address to the council, Sukow touched on safety concerns by referring to a question and answer from Tomahawk Police Chief Al Elvins, published in the “Ask a Cop” feature in last week’s Merrill Courier.
Elvins’ response to a question regarding ATV and snowmobile traffic in Tomahawk, read in part, “I believe that education induces compliance. The more that we can educate a person, the more likely they are to comply with the rules.”
Both the ATV/UTV and snowmobile ordinance amendments passed the council unanimously.
In other matters on Tuesday, the council unanimously approved a Personnel and Finance Committee recommendation to create a shared position between the Parks and Recreation Department and City Transit Department.
The council also voted 8-1 to approve an interim replacement plan for City Hall Maintenance, and a long-term plan of combining the City Hall Maintenance Supervisor position and Library Maintenance Supervisor position into one full-time shared position. Alderman Rob Norton was the lone dissenter.
During last month’s Personnel and Finance Committee meeting Transit Director Rich Grenfell proposed a full-time position, consisting of splitting part-time employment between the Parks and Recreation Department and the “Merrill Go Round” transit system.
The employee would serve four hours in the morning as a parks laborer and then four hours in the afternoon with the transit system; assisting with a bus route that is currently problematic.
“As it stands now, children who use the transit to get home from school aren’t getting home until 5 p.m. or later,” Grenfell explained. “We are just having a lot of issues with that route and are dissatisfied with the current service we are providing. This position would help make things run a little smoother by alleviating some of the stress and time crunch.”
According to city administrator Dave Johnson, the transit system has historically experienced difficulty in hiring and maintaining part-time drivers. Those who are willing to drive part-time are retirees who can only work limited hours to avoid interfering with retirement benefits. Otherwise most qualified applicants opt for full-time employment, over part-time. In addition, the three full time drivers presently employed are long-term employees with high-end vacation accrual. In turn, this produces more hours to be filled by part-time drivers.
Currently, the Parks and Recreation Department has a greater demand for laborers in the summer months whereas the transit system has a higher demand during the nine-month school year.
In a letter to committee members, Johnson stated he feels the city would be well served by creating a full time position which would entail driving a bus the majority of the time from September through May and then work as a laborer for the Parks and Recreation Department during the months of June through August.
“The idea here is to think outside the box when filling positions we have difficulty in keeping
Filled,” Johnson added.
Johnson then proposed a replacement plan for the retirements of the custodian at T.B. Scott Library and the City Hall Maintenance Supervisor position.
Currently, the City Hall Maintenance Supervisor is working only when needed due to medical reasons and will be retiring very soon. The Library Maintenance Supervisor is expected to retire at the end of the year.
“Originally we were going to replace this position,” Johnson stated, referring to the maintenance staff position, “but it makes more sense to combine with another position if possible. This doesn’t mean we have less hours for people to work, but it does mean we just pay one person. If we are able to combine now or at the time of retirements, we can make it work and save a little bit of money while we’re at it.”
At the culmination of Tuesday’s meeting, Bialecki congratulated Merrill High School Wrestling state champion and UW-Madison bound Mason Reinhardt, as well as wished the Merrill boys basketball team the best of luck in their quest for a state title run.
The mayor also thanked those involved in the ATV/Snowmobile route planning.
“Something like this has been long overdue. I think this is something that will be enjoyed by many and will be good for the city,” Bialecki said.