Researched by Michael J. Caylor Jr
The City of Merrill transit commission met Monday at City Hall. Though the group lacked a quorum to officially vote on the subject of new buses, all present agreed on the need. A study conducted by the Urban Mass Transit commission told the group if they wished to seek new buses they should use available federal money now to make those purchases as a plan by President Jimmy Carter would likely de-fund transit systems in cities the size of Merrill. Oddly enough, according to the state DOT, the same program changes that would take money away from Merrill for running the bus program would provide the funding for the new buses. (Actually it’s government – so it makes total sense) The results of the study showed Merrill should be running three full time buses with two having the capacity for 25 passengers while the third would be smaller but equipped with a handicapped accessible ramp. The Transit Commission also decided the cost of having a telephone in a bus was too expenses for all buses and voted to remove the phone from all but one bus. The phone, which is used to phone late pick-ups to drivers doubled in cost from $45 to $90 per month. The group also voted to begin accepting applications for part-time drivers. (For not having a quorum they sure did a lot of work)
What started out with a kid thrown fresh into the water in a United States Navy mess has turned into a family restaurant which anchors the city’s north side. Howard “Ookie” Rajek and his wife Janice own Rajek’s Riverside Club and operate it with the help of their two sons, Randy and Marty. Howard served in the United States Navy from January of 1945 until August of 1946 when he received his honorable discharge. According to Howard, he knew more about eating then he did about cooking when he was assigned to the ship’s galley where food preparation, decoration, and purchasing were all a part of the education. Because the ships were afloat for such long periods of time, the galley workers did everything from butchering to baking, and the food in the Navy was reputed to be some of the best in the armed forces. When Rajek returned to Merrill he first took a job at the Badger Hotel, then known as one of the most exquisite dining venues in town. From there Ookie went to the Bellevue Café, another fine restaurant located on East Main Street, then he went to Hinz’s Cork and Dyne where he cooked for 23 years before purchasing the Riverside Club. Rajek stated that you will find no cans in his kitchen as all of his products are fresh from scratch including soups and sauces. Rajek prefers to emphasize a family dining atmosphere and notes none of his recipes are family secrets and he will share with anyone who asks nicely. The restaurant which is located at Hwy. 51 and Hwy. 17 can seat up to 120 people. (It was last known as Victory Lane)
The City of Merrill Common Council has denied two arcade licenses for store fronts in the city. Steven Patraw runs the Good Times Arcade at 417 Grand Ave. and Franklin Krueger is seeking to begin one at 203 E. 2nd St. Chief of Police Charles Johnson notes that Patraw has made a significant investment in the Grand Avenue location and has had few issues with the business since he took it over in October of last year. But in a 7-1 vote, aldermen denied both men licenses to operate the arcades saying they had received phone calls from constituents opposed to the businesses. Alderman Russell Grefe cast the lone vote of approval for both businesses, reminding his fellow aldermen that the ordinance allows them to revoke the license at any time if there are problems but his pleas did not change the votes of the other seven. The few members of the city council who stand opposed in the spring election will have a candidate forum tomorrow at the Lincoln County Annex on 8th Street. Rev. Robert Smallman will moderate the dais which will feature school board, county board, council, and mayor candidates.
A spectacular fire in the Town of Pine River has destroyed a dairy farm taking 80 cattle with it. Firemen from Merrill were alerted to the fire at around 12:42 a.m. Monday morning by a passerby. The man who spotted the blaze was not able to reach anyone on his CB radio so he returned to the Henrich’s Club (which was open that late?) to summon the fire department. Lt. Dan Deml reported the fire had consumed most of the upper portion of the barn by the time firefighters arrived. They received help from the Town of Texas Fire Department whose combined efforts saved a nearby garage storage building. Jay VanDerGeest of VanDerGeest, Inc. was able to don firefighter turnout gear and enter the barn where he rescued eight cows and two heifers. Sheriff’s Deputy Tom Koth brought owner Robert Beckman to the scene early Monday morning to view the destruction but he asked to be driven home after just a few minutes on the scene.
Could the Lincoln County Fairgrounds be used more often and become a revenue source for the county? Recent discussions by the Long Range Planning Committee requests the county do more to market and improve the complex including possibly building a new grandstand. County building maintenance supervisor Joel Wendt said the fairgrounds is really only used a month a year and it costs the county about $22,000 a year to maintain the grounds. In turn the county makes around $6,000 in revenue from the grounds, mostly for the water and electricity used. Chair of the committee Melissa Schroeder stated she is worried about the condition of the grandstand and would like to see a new structure which could seat at least 1,800 spectators, although the cost of a new structure would likely run around $385,000. Board Chair Gordon Schroder reported that clay put in front of the grandstand for tractor pulls seems to pool water all year long which prohibits the area from being used for other activities.
A report recommending pay increases for non-represented city employees likely will not have any effect on their check anytime soon. The study, which was conducted by a Wausau based firm, cost the city $7,500 but according to Foto News reporter D.W. Pfister some of the numbers are suspect and one alderman leaving the hour long informational meeting acted as if he was striking a match to set fire to the study. Inconsistencies pointed out in the article included listing Finance Director Bruce Redlin at nearly $4,000 less than he is actually making and then calling for him to get a raise, saying Merrill’s airport manager salary could not be compared to the one in Portage because they do not own a municipal airport when they actually do, listing City Attorney Jim Godlewski over $3,000 less than his actual salary, and noting that new Chief of Police Neil Strobel is right in line with other cities such as Portage and Antigo in salary while a check with those cities shows their chiefs there making an average of $6,500 less than Strobel. The report calls for having a city administrator with a comparable salary of $65,000 when the actual salaries of the compared cities shows the average salary for an administrator to be $57.000. City Building Inspector Darin Pagel was paid $40,000 but the survey noted he should be bumped up, yet a check with Antigo showed their inspector was making $10,000 less than what was quoted in the report and other comparable cities actually contract for inspections, and no one else except Rhinelander had a full time city attorney, making comparisons difficult. When the pay study was authorized, an alderman noted that the city secretarial staff was making much less than those working in similar roles in the county, but the study never compared any wages of county versus the city.