Researched by Michael J. Caylor Jr
State Representative Sheehan Donoghue is hoping the state transportation budget reflects the needs of Northern Wisconsin. The state is hoping to find the funds to build a bypass around Tomahawk so Highway 51 no longer has to snake through the downtown and congest it for hours on the weekend. Donoghue related that right now she considers the Tomahawk bypass more important than the four lane project between Portage and Stevens Point, and it was rated a top priority by Governor Lucey when the Merrill bypass was completed. Much of the land acquisition, planning, and engineering has already been completed to get the bypass installed according to Donoghue. Once the bypass is built Donoghue envisions Minocqua demanding a freeway to their city has well. (They are still waiting). Donoghue also wants to see the state closely monitor future plans of the railroads. She noted that she feels rail service is the most economical way of transporting goods but financial issues of railroads such as the Milwaukee Road is allowing them to start abandoning tracks and could lead to service to northern Wisconsin being cut off. State Senator Clifford Krueger noted his support of a senate plan to cut taxes, and he said he has heard no support from his constituents for a plan by Governor Lucey to reimburse each taxpayer $20. Currently the state has an $89 million budget surplus.
The City of Merrill and Lincoln County are working to determine the best place for the proposed animal shelter building. Originally the shelter was proposed at the east end of Jackson Street in the Sixth Ward, but the city is balking at extending the sewer lines up into that area. County Supervisor DeLyle “Bud” Bohse is a member of the Animal Shelter Board and has said he will request the County Board provide property for the shelter to be built on the far east end of the fairgrounds in an area just north of the armory. The Jackson Street area is zoned for industrial use and city officials state not much land remains that is not in the flood plain.
Those pennies are adding up. According to City Clerk Robert Klug, the city’s parking meter fund sits with a balance of $77,012 as of Jan. 1. During this past year the account had expenditures of $10,268 with revenues of $41,510. The biggest single expenditure to the account was $5,000 removed for street repairs. Those funds went to dust treatment for gravel surfacing. The revenues were higher last year thanks to a payment of $19,369 by Merrill Housing Authority that purchased the Scott Street parking lot which is planned to be turned into an elderly high rise structure. The city parking meters brought in a combined $21,006 this past year, down from $21,869 last year. Aldermen had discussed removing $35,000 from the fund to pay for the local share of the new Merrill Go Round busses.
Nationally insurance companies are making a comeback and according to President Dieter Nickel, Church Mutual is among them with an excellent year this past year. Nickel stated the insurance industry has seen disastrous results in the past two years where the industry dealt with $9 billion in claims. Premium sales increased 37%, the largest single year increase in the history of the company. Nickel was also pleased that the company has now expanded into Arkansas, the 24th state in which they are operating. Also, at the meeting Russell Leyk was promoted to vice-president of underwriting, Thomas Wardall was promoted to assistant vice-president of rating and coding, and John Cleary was promoted to assistant secretary.
Expect changes in the Merrill Area Public Schools in the coming years as the BOE is looking at a restructuring plan which will shape classes and buildings. The concept is to make the neighborhood based elementary schools all K-5, develop a middle school with grades 6-8, and then put ninth graders into the high school with the sophomores, juniors and seniors. It is believed the restructuring will allow better transition when students move up and into other buildings. School Board President Rev. Dan Olson said he was impressed with the plan and is proud of the team of educators who put it together. Frank Roskos, Jim Boettcher, Rich Thwaits, Strand Wedul, Lanny Tibaldo, and Superintendent Tom Strick were key authors of the plan design. Strick hopes public education will bring support to the plan if it moves forward.
Church Mutual Insurance company is reporting good news this week at their 91st annual policyholders meeting. Church Mutual earned $1.6 million in underwriting profit in 1987 for its first underwriting profit since 1981. The company’s overall profit was $4.4 million and premium writings increased 25% to $115.9 million. Company President Dieter Nickel credited a stable weather year in aiding the reduction in claims. He did say however that the company was hit hard by the October 1987 stock plunge. At the meeting the board re-appointed Walter Schuster, Thomas Young, and Robert Savaske to three-year terms.
Church Mutual CEO Dieter Nickel knows two words he and the insurance industry loves, El Nino. Nickel stated the mild weather brought by the weather pattern resulted in much fewer claims in 1997 and provided an excellent year financially for the company. Claims in 1997 from weather related events were $5 million while in 1996 those claims reached nearly $20 million. While speaking at the 101st annual meeting, Nickel noted the 1997 underwriting profit was $5.2 million and the company saw its best losses and expense ratio since 1988. Nickel also advised that Church Mutual can now be found in 43 states.
In local briefs: All we need is Tommy Thompson to sign the bill and Lincoln County will have a second judge. That person will likely be elected next April and will start a six year term in August of 1999. Although Judge J. Michel Nolan has been unopposed in elections for years, it is likely numerous candidates will come forward for the new second branch. (Bet on the kid from Iowa.) The City of Merrill has created a four page policy on meeting agendas. The first two pages deal with who can make a meeting agenda. The policy outlines how employees can address perceived work place shortfalls and when citizens can speak to committees. The policy is in response to a city employee who stood up at a meeting and aired his grievances without prior authorization. The council approved the new policy at their monthly meeting last night; they also approved the appointment of John Swope to the Park and Recreation Commission to take the place of Paul Proulx and accepted the resignation of Gary Wright from the airport commission. (I assume his brothers Orville and Wilbur stayed on.)