Opposition to more taxes tops Leader stories of 2017

However, voters sign off on parks borrowing plan

Leader Staff

Leader Photo by Tim Ryan Jerry Strickland encourages the Shawano Common Council to cut spending rather than adopt a 60-cent per $1,000 increase in the tax rate at a November budget hearing at City Hall, 127 S. Sawyer St.

Taxes and public opposition to increasing them lead off this year’s Top 10 stories of 2017, though that opposition didn’t extend to improving the city’s park system, which saw overwhelming approval. The year was also marked by the loss of a renowned community leader and the closure of a longtime business, as well as some stories, as chosen by the Leader staff, that will bring changes for 2018.

1 Shawano wheel tax fails, tax rate spike remains in budget

Shawano city officials ditched a proposed wheel tax in November after hearing from an angry contingent of citizens opposed to it, but a spike in the city’s tax rate that also roiled residents remained in place.

The city approved a tax levy hike of 5.8 percent, from $4.7 million to $5 million, pushing the city’s tax rate up from $9.29 per $1,000 of assessed value to $9.89 per $1,000, the biggest increase in city taxes in years.

The wheel tax, which would have added an additional $10 fee for vehicles registered in the city, also brought charges that city officials had sprung the measure on residents without adequate warning — an alleged lack of transparency that could be an issue in the upcoming mayoral race.

The defeat of the vehicle registration fee means the city will have to either cut back on its capital improvement projects next year or find other places to cut to make up for the loss of what was expected to be about $99,000 in revenue.

2 Bonduel voters reject school measure a second time

Voters in the Bonduel School District said “no” for a second time in August to a referendum aimed at rescuing the public school system from a difficult budget crunch.

In a special referendum called in the hope of reversing the earlier defeat, voters again rejected the school district’s request for an extra $2.7 million over the next three years by a vote of 1,004-851.

A similar measure in April was defeated by a vote of 708-602.

Bonduel school administrators had warned that the district and its 800 students would face potentially painful budget cuts if the voters rejected the new ballot measure.

3 Shawano voters back $1.8 million park borrowing plan

Shawano officials approved increasing the city’s debt limit to borrow $1.85 million for park improvements that had been overwhelmingly supported by voters in an advisory referendum in April.

The borrowing, which is being done through a 20-year bond, adds 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to the tax bill, or $25 per $100,000 home.

The non-binding advisory referendum asked voters whether the city should approve $1.85 million in additional borrowing for development of Franklin and Smalley parks and a splash pad to replace the kiddie pool at Memorial Park.

The referendum passed by a vote of 767-440.

4 Shawano Pick ‘n Save closes its doors

The owners of Pick ‘n Save in Shawano announced in May they were closing the grocery store, displacing about 65 employees and leaving many shoppers disappointed.

The closure, which took place in June, created a major vacancy in the Shawano Plaza shopping center, 128 Woodlawn Drive, which lost both Kmart and JC Penney in recent years.

Originally located across town under a different name, the Pick ‘n Save store moved to newer and bigger space in 1990 when the Shawano Plaza shopping center was developed.

5 Work begins in crafting a new vision for downtown

The city set its sights on crafting a new vision for downtown Shawano and handed the project over the the Shawano Redevelopment Authority to draft a new downtown master plan that will largely depend on input from the community and an ad hoc citizens committee.

The goal is to create “a new vision and identity for the downtown” that would highlight the area as a pedestrian friendly destination spot, recommend highest and best uses for downtown properties, seek to preserve historic and community-significant buildings, set standards for site and building design, and develop an implementation plan to help the city achieve its goals.

6 Safe Haven raising money for expansion

The Safe Haven Domestic Abuse Shelter began fundraising this year for an expansion of its overcrowded facility on Lakeland Road.

The shelter is hoping to break ground on the 2,000 square foot expansion this spring, if it can raise the $425,000 needed to finance the addition.

There are five bedrooms in the existing shelter, along with office space for the staff. The expansion plans include three more bedrooms and additional office space, along with updated technology and security systems and a new roof.

In addition to providing more space for clients, it will give the shelter more room for outreach and counseling.

7 Doug Knope remembered for his contributions to the city

Longtime fire chief and local business owner Doug Knope, 80, passed away in August after a 6½-year battle with cancer.

He served as Shawano area fire chief for many years, owned several businesses and was a tireless contributor to the community.

A private man who never wanted public recognition for his accomplishments, Knope stepped down as chief in June 2016 after 25 years overseeing the department.

Friends, acquaintances and those who worked with him described him as a consummate champion and inspiration for the community.

“He contributed so much to this city over the years without taking any credit for it,” said former mayor Schmidt. “He made Shawano what it is, in my opinion, or helped to.”

8 Library consolidation ready to roll in January

The Shawano County Board signed off on a deal to consolidate the county’s six libraries into one district, effective in January.

Shawano County has been susceptible for years to charges from neighboring library systems whenever local patrons cross into a nearby county to borrow a book or use other resources. The county has received bills exceeding $100,000 a year for such cross-border borrowing.

Under state law, surrounding libraries are prohibited from collecting such fees if Shawano County converts its patchwork library structure to a consolidated county-run system.

With the arrangement scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, the county will take responsibility for all library funding countywide and will manage all facilities through a county-appointed library board.

9 Stockbridge-Munsee suit against Ho-Chunk dismissed

A federal judge ruled in October that the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe waited too long to challenge the expansion of the Ho-Chunk Nation’s casino in Wittenberg.

The Stockbridge-Munsee sued the Ho-Chunk and the state in April over Ho-Chunk plans to expand its casino in Wittenberg, about 20 miles away from the North Star Casino Resort operated in Bowler by the Stockbridge-Munsee.

The suit alleged the expansion could cost the Stockbridge-Munsee $22 million per year.

In dismissing Ho-Chunk from the suit, U.S. District Judge James Peterson found that the Stockbridge-Munsee should have sued in 2008 when the Ho-Chunk casino first opened.

The Stockbridge-Munsee maintain the judge erred in that decision and said the tribe would seek reconsideration of the ruling.

10 Menominee tribal officer fired, faces federal child sex charges

A Menominee tribal police officer was fired in November in the wake of federal charges filed against him, including attempted sexual exploitation of a child.

Basil O’Kimosh, Jr. was arrested after an investigation into a report that he was having inappropriate communication with a 15-year-old juvenile.

An undercover sting operation was conducted by detectives of the Menominee Tribal Police Department, special agents of the FBI and the state Department of Criminal Investigations.

O’Kimosh has been charged with attempted sexual exploitation of a child, attempted transfer of obscene material to a child, and attempted enticement of a child.