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Recall candidates answer TPR questionnaire

GLENWOOD CITY — Frac sand mining has been a controversial and divisive issue in many West central Wisconsin communities in recent years and Glenwood City is no different.

A proposed frac sand mining site in the Town of Glenwood, less than a mile from the Glenwood City Schools, and talks of possible annexation by the City of Glenwood City prompted a group of concerned area citizens to organize and successfully execute a drive for a recall election of three members of the current Glenwood City council.

The group, “Glenwood City Citizens for Legal and Ethical Representation”, presented a signed petition to the City office in October which was later certified by city clerk-treasurer Shari Rosenow that seeks to recall current Mayor John Larson and incumbent city council members David Graese and Nancy Hover. All three of those seats will be up for election again in April of next year despite the recall election.

Ken Peterson is challenging John Larson on the recall ballot for the position of mayor while Chris Schone will face David Graese and Barb Standaert challenges Nancy Hover for the city council seats.

In preparation for the December 17 recall election, the Tribune Press Reporter sent out a questionnaire to all candidates. It asked each candidate for a short bio and to answer the same six questions. The candidates background information along with their responses to the questionnaire follow.

Candidates’ Profiles

John Larson has served as Glenwood City’s Mayor since being elected in a July 2007 recall election.

Larson was born and raised in Downing and graduated from Glenwood City High School. He and his wife Charlotte have been married for 43 years and have three grown sons and ten grandchildren. The couple has lived in Glenwood City for the past 34 years.

Larson has 30 plus years experience as a small town community banker helping business owners and farmers.

His challenger, Ken Peterson, is a Realty Specialist with the US Army Corp of Engineers in St. Paul, MN.

Peterson and his wife of 16 years, Karen, have three daughters – Morgan, Rebecca, and Samantha – that they are raising at their Walnut Ridge Drive home in Glenwood City.

Peterson said that he enjoys spending time with his family, helping his children with their homework, attending school events and coaching summer softball.

Longtime council member David Graese is co-owner of Glenwood City Machine and Building Supplies, a third-generation family business. Graese is a Glenwood City High School graduate and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Management from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Graese and his wife Nancy live on Pine Street and have three grown children – Jenny Myer, Tom Graese, and Laura Osterberg, and five grandchildren.

Graese was first elected to the city council in 1998 and has served eight terms.

His challenger Chris Schone is also a lifelong resident of Glenwood City, a graduate of its school, and a business man.

Schone is married and raising four children which all attend the Glenwood City Schools.

He is an active member of the Glenwood City United Methodist Church where he serves on both the church’s administrative council and building committee.

Schone is also involved in many Glenwood City school academic and athletic activities as well as a supporter of Clayton, Clear Lake and Amery School Districts and local Lions Clubs. He is also a lifetime member of the Richardson Sportsman’s Club and a Rotary member.

For the past six years, Schone and his wife Deanna have owned and operated the Lake Magnor Store and Lighthouse Restaurant in Richardson. Prior to that, Schone worked for 16 years at the Donaldson Company in Baldwin.

Incumbent council member Nancy Hover is a retired school teacher and building principal. She spent her first three years in the Mosinee District before taking a position in the Barron School District. Hover is currently serving as the Community Education Coordinator for the Glenwood City School District.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, Hover has also lived in the Schofield-Rothschild and Dallas-Ridgeland areas.

She moved to Glenwood City to be closer to her daughter Laura, who is married to Chuck Draxler, and her three grandchildren – Isabel, Henry, and Gretchen. Hover describes her family as her joy.

Lifetime Glenwood City area resident and Hilltopper alumn Barbara Standaert is challenging Hover in the December 17 recall for a seat on the council.

Standaert is a first grade teacher in the Glenwood City School District. Her many interests include reading, researching, learning, teaching, drawing, painting, bird watching playing board games and cards, as well as volunteering and traveling.

1. This recall election came about because of the proposed Sand Mine issue that may involve Glenwood City annexing the land that is now in the Town of Glenwood. Please comment if you are a proponent or an opponent of having a working sand mine in or near the city and why?

Standaert: (I want it to be known that this is the only question I am commenting on at this time because I feel the topic is of grave importance and the reason the recall election is taking place.  If I am elected, then I will serve on the council to the best of my ability to work on other issues now present and in the future by attending all city council meetings, researching information, asking questions, listening and getting input from residents on issues of such magnitude.)

I am OPPOSED to sand mining (of the proposed type) in or near our city even though sand mining has been going on in Wisconsin for hundreds of years. Silica sand, also called quartz sand, is used in glass manufacturing for one. It is in recent years, however that silica sand has become highly sought after for a process known as hydraulic fracturing which is used to extract natural gas or oil located in shale deposits underground.

The size and speed at which these sand mines are occurring is what has me very worried. They are too numerous at the moment to be regulated properly and the long term effects that silica sand mines of this magnitude may cause in the future are not yet well known. I do not want our citizens or our town to be the guinea pig in the boom of this industry no matter how much money it “promises” to bring in. Some things, like environmental issues and quality of life, are just not worth any amount of money…in other words, “priceless.”

I have included an excerpt from the study: The Economic Benefits and Costs of Frac-Sand Mining in West Central Wisconsin Phase One of Study – General Economic & Community Overview By Dr. Thomas Power, Donovan S. Power
Published May 15, 2013: “Frac-sand production, like almost all surface mining and ore processing, involves significant land disturbance and the potential to cause air and water pollution among other environmental problems. That has confronted citizens and local elected officials in west central Wisconsin with a familiar but difficult choice: mining, processing, and transporting the sand promises economic benefits for some parts of the population while imposing business, environmental, and social costs, on other parts of the population. Citizens and elected officials have to evaluate the mix of benefits and costs and their distribution over the short term and long term to make an informed decision as to what is best for their community.”

I do not feel that the issue of a huge silica sand mine so close to two communities as well as our school has been thoroughly thought out yet nor has there been enough discussion…especially involving residents from Glenwood City as well as Downing whom this could affect. Why do I feel like this whole process is being rushed? Annexing land into the city in order to operate silica sand mines is, in my opinion, NOT the way to attract people, jobs or small business to our city.

There are those of you who may believe that our city, in order to survive, needs the jobs, business and money that this industry could bring. Sure, the money could help, but at what cost? How many of us choose to live here because it is small, quaint and has no big industry close by? I believe in letting tax-paying residents have a vote on issues of this magnitude and I also think we, as citizens, owe it to future generations to not be short sighted and look at the long term…the big picture of what this industry could do to our town and state.

Questions for thought? Why would we even consider putting a huge silica sand mine so close to our school? Will some parents move out of our district if it goes through? How can our city council even think they are equipped to develop a mining ordinance and enforce it properly when the counties and DNR are having a difficult time keeping up with the rate at which these mines are developing and the citations many are receiving? Why was the original plan of going through the county bypassed in the first place? Is Vista Sands a reputable company with no track record of violations? Who will pay to maintain the roads? Might property values decrease? How may this industry affect tourism in Wisconsin? How might hunting and fishing be affected when Western Wisconsin becomes one big sandbox with possible polluted rivers and streams? It is said that the sand companies reclaim the land when finished mining. How does one reclaim a hill? Is this a Pandora’s box we want opened?

Do some research! Go online to read reports and see photos about frac-sand mining. As far as I could find, the negative articles far out number the positive ones.; Fracking Hell: The Untold Story – YouTube

We need to stop taking a back seat when decisions of this importance arise. PLEASE…be aware, have a voice and take some action!

Vote at the Community Center on December 17th for the future of our town. IN FACT, ATTEND EVERY CITY COUNCIL MEETING BETWEEN NOW AND THEN! Thank You.

Graese: If all of the City’s safeguards are in place and Vista agrees to them, I feel we can have a safe mine. We need to address all concerns that have been brought before the City Council. I myself would not vote for the mine unless I am satisfied that the mine will be run as the best and safest mine.

Peterson: What is most important is not how I feel about the sand mine, but how the majority of the citizens of Glenwood City feel. I am currently an opponent because my family and I drink water from the tap and I am uncomfortable with the fact that a mining operation would be allowed to mine as close as 10 feet above the groundwater table, as stated in Glenwood City’s non-metallic mining ordinance.

Larson: I’m a strong advocate for the sand mine. Glenwood City needs these jobs and the increased tax revenues and per ton royalty payments! An additional $100,000-200,000 revenue each year could completely change the outlook for the city’s finances. We’ll be able to go from cuts and curtailing needed services to being able to plan for future improvements.

Hover: Personally I am both a proponent and opponent. As a proponent I have learned that for the last ten years the annual household income of Glenwood has gone down every year. We need something to help us out. Mining may not be every one’s first choice, but it is a business actually coming to this city, promising to stay 30 years. These are well paying jobs – $43,000 for 8 months of work, plus benefits. No business on Main Street can promise us that. I support American jobs, and America’s energy independence. If one researches mining, the science behind the operation of it supports safety. This is due to air monitoring, monitoring of wells and DNR requirements. Mining is our most regulated industry. The mine would allow a financial windfall for the city estimated from100K to 200K if it is annexed. The annexation issue was tabled to be voted on at a later date to allow council members to research this important issue. The 100K to 200K is just city revenue. As important as this financial stimulus is, so is control of the mine. Annexation would give the city control of the mine. As a council member, I firmly believe city control of the mine is paramount. I believe in progress and understand that all progress has growing pains.

I also have opposition to the mine. I have concerns about the busyness of the roads. This is something I need to do more research on.

Schone: Throughout my two plus years of research on the subject of silica sand mining and talking with officials, mine employees, and people residing around silica sand mines, I am opposed to this specific mine location. Although there is a potential for some jobs, and a possible influx of money to our area, I feel those gains are far off set by the complications that this mine brings along with it. Some examples would be noise, excessive truck traffic, blasting, potential water contamination, reduced property value, (to those near the mine and along the trucking routes), not to mention the potential health hazards that are created by the chemical use from a wash plant, and exposure to silica dust that is created throughout the process. Also with an annexation our city would then become the governing body that would monitor the mine, set guidelines, enforce those guidelines, and remove a majority of outside control by county and state officials. All this comes at a cost to our city.

2. Other than the Sand Mine, what issues face the city government and as a member of the city council, how would you address these?

Hover: We have not had a new house built in this city since 2007. I believe our greatest challenge is to not let this city die.

We need to make our city more attractive so our youth will stay. We spend money to educate our youth only to have them leave. We need something which will promote people moving in which will promote businesses on our Main Street. This again is our greatest challenge. We do have an industrial park, which never expanded as the planners had hoped. One has to ask why? How often do we get an industry knocking at our city’s door? This sand mine is an opportunity we must not simply dismiss. Again there are pros and cons. Let’s research and learn instead of pushing it aside.

Larson: Balancing the budget is the biggest concern. As costs continue to increase the city will continually be faced with making additional cuts to needed services. We’ve tried eliminating employee overtime during snow removal, and discovered that simply wasn’t feasible. Without the sand mine this city will literally be looking at choosing whether to cut the community center or the library, cut spending for Rustic Lore or maintaining our streets, cut the ambulance or the fire department, cut the police department or public works department. Another issue that will surface again is whether or not to keep the municipal court. Completing an overhaul of the city’s employee handbook needs to be done. Another challenge is balancing the need for being kept safe without becoming a police state. These issues will require a mayor and city council willing to take a stance and make the difficult decisions rather than riding the fence.

Graese: The number one issue that I feel the City faces is the Budget. Every meeting I need to look at every part of the budget. We need to watch every department and be sure to control spending.

Finding Businesses to bring jobs into the City. If more people work in the City it keeps spending local. This will benefit all the other business that we have.

Maintaining the services that the City offers citizens of Glenwood City. This has become very difficult over the last 3 years, because of the amount we can tax property. The State sets our Levy Limit and this has not increased over the last 3 years.

Schone: Talking with many residents over the last couple of years one issue that has come up time and time again is the quality of water that comes out of their faucets. I live in city limits but have a private well and very good water quality. I have experienced the cities poor water quality at my parents home. Although the standards are being met, the quality and taste are not. Many homeowners in the city have purchased filtering equipment so they can tolerate the taste and smell. Obviously there would be a cost to obtain good quality water, researching and budgeting for a different option needs to be addressed.

Standaert: (No comment given).

Peterson: As of a month ago the city had an aging police car, a defective ambulance, and were in need of a replacement utility tractor for snow removal and lawn maintenance. It was not cheap, but replacements were needed and the city now has reliable equipment for the foreseeable future. Current city employees, and members of the council carry with them knowledge that can help guide conversation and contribute to well informed impartial decisions that are in the best interest of the majority of city residents.

3. A number of years ago the city overspent its budget and consumed most of its reserves and was almost broke. Now the City Council, under the mayor’s direction has been able to keep a balanced budget and has a surplus. This was accomplished by cutting expenditures and jobs. Would this approach to a balanced budget be in line with your thinking?

Larson: There simply is no other choice without receiving additional sources of revenue. The sand mine offers us a terrific opportunity to expand services rather than continued cuts.

Schone: Our city is no different thane most small towns throughout Wisconsin. In past years the city has had to diligently budget to maintain the cities needs. The current council and mayor have done a good job getting our city back on track. Responsibly handling the city finances and budgeting for future needs is a basic expectation of a city council position and should continue.

Peterson: The current City Council and Mayor have definitely set the standard for fiscal responsibility over the past few years. Looking at the proposed budget for next year, I don’t really see a surplus as money will need to be borrowed to finish paying for street work and the new ambulance, but the money needed to do this is justified and I would classify the budget as balanced. Operating under a balanced budget would be my number one priority.

Graese: Mayor John Larson has done a outstanding job at working with the budget. He has spent a great amount of time controlling the spending . I agree with what the Council has done. The less money you have the less money you can spend.

Hover: That is the only choice a responsible council member has. There is only so much money – and we owe it to the tax payers to use THEIR money wisely. The toughest job we have is eliminating programs/jobs. Anyone who has managed their own personal budget understands when money is short, cuts are made.

Standaert: (No comment given).

4. At a recent meeting of the City Council, several people addressed the council about the Library after the council proposed to fund the local library with reduced funding for next year. Could you discuss the funding of the Library and other city services and if they can survive with less money or how more money can be secured to increase funding for needed city services?

Peterson: The City’s financial situation is not unique for a community of this size. Communities of all sizes are always looking for more funding sources. As far as the library, I think they may have to take an active role in seeking out extra financial backing as they cannot rely solely on the city for funding. Critical city services like water/sewer, snow removal will have to be funded before other services.

Hover: Prior to 2011, the library was legally guaranteed money from the city which was the average of the past three years of the library’s own budget. This was called Maintenance of Effort. Mathematically this means the library budget would stay the same or increase. Also you need to know the city has no legal right to tell the library how to manage their money. The Maintenance of Effort no longer exists alleviating the city of that compliance. The city must comply, however, with the county’s requirement to pay a given amount to the library. So, understand money budgeted for the library depends on the county’s requirement and our revenue. Again remember our revenues are down.

Circulation is another means for our library to acquire money. How this works is if a non-city resident checks out material from our library, the library gets paid for that service. For example, let’s say someone from Downing checks out a book Their Township pays our library for that service. These payments are an additional income to the already budgeted city money, for our library. The problem is circulation is getting less and less every year. The reason for this is books are simply not being taken out of the library as they used to be and research is not being done there as it was in the past. Why? Technology is changing libraries. People have their own computers, IPads, etc. allowing them to download unlimited information including books. All libraries are facing circulation issues.

Our library has been able to accrue 85K in their savings. Please understand that even though this is the library’s money, it originated from you, the taxpayer.

Couple all this information with the city having to reduce its budget by 50K because of lower revenue.

We knew the library was in good shape financially, having enough saved taxpayer money to get through this year, regardless of the amount of money they received.

The council does not want to lose our library. It is a cultural part of our city.

But, yes, the library took a 17K cut from us.

If, city revenues increase, there will be no need for the library to depend on their taxpayer savings ever again, as the council will be able to budget more money for the library. But as stated in question, 3, the council had no choice but to make these cuts. If the council hadn’t, it would have been irresponsible to the Glenwood City taxpayer.

Larson: The library has been targeted for cuts the past 2-3 years. This is because prior to that time State Law prohibited municipalities from making any cuts to their library budgets. So, 4-5 years ago, when the police department, parks and recreation, public works, etc. were receiving their cuts, the library’s budget went untouched during that time period. For 2014, on a per capita basis, the city has budgeted $20.13 for the library, $15.67 for fire protection and $17.05 for ambulance protection. Even with the recent cuts the city is still spending more to maintain a library for its residents than it does for either fire or ambulance protection.

Standaert: (No comment given).

Schone: (in response to Questions 4 and 5) I would like to answer these questions together. I will not pretend to have extensive knowledge of our library or emergency services, but what I do know is that we are a better community for being able to provide them. There are times that changes to our city services need to be made so that we are able to meet budget concerns, and hopefully that can be accomplished without disruption to those services. Our library and emergency services are also used by members of nearby towns which make those services all the more vital. In the case of our emergency services, one step I would take is to enlist the help of current members/volunteers in developing a plan for recruitment. I would find out what they see as obstacles in gaining more members and what they would do to entice more volunteer membership.

Graese: The Library funding was the hardest part of this year’s budget, but remember not that long ago the Council had to reduce the number of Police Officers. I feel the Library will survive. The Library Board will find ways to keep the Library running until the City can find the money to increase their part of the budget. As to other services provided by the City we have tried to save money. Some have worked while others have not. One of the service changes we tried was snow plowing that did not work. We have told our engineer to cut overtime with the snow plowing. It now takes more days to get all the plowing done with no overtime.

5. The City’s volunteer emergency services (ambulance and fire departments) are having trouble getting people to become members of the service to answer fire and ambulance calls. The council recently started paying ambulance personnel a small sum (on call fee) so personnel would be available to answer the call during the week. What policy or program could be established to encourage more people to get involved with the fire and ambulance?

Graese: I spent 22 years on the Fire Department and 15 years as a Driver with the ambulance and I have not been able to come up with an answer to this one. Both Departments have been trying to increase their numbers for many years. Both Departments take many of hours of commitment and it is hard to find people willing and able to give this. Most of the Departments around us are having the same problem.

Standaert: (No comment given).

Larson: I’d suggest also implementing on-call pay for the fire personnel. But, this will require increasing the fire department budget. Where will those dollars come from? Again, the sand mine could provide the answer.

Schone: (see Schone’s answer in Question 4)

Peterson: Many people may not know what the process is to become a volunteer first responder. Or if they are like me, they just don’t have the stomach for this type of community service. The first step is to make sure people are aware of the process and then recruitment can take place.

Hover: Excellent question. I don’t believe this has an easy answer. Since this a volunteer program, not many people can have a full time job and leave their job whenever there is an emergency. This creates a shortage of help. I think one solution is to merge with surrounding communities to accrue enough money to hire part or full time employees. But, this brings up a whole new set of problems such as timeliness. I think what we are doing now, paying the call fee, is a small but needed incentive to keep people available to be on call.

6. Glenwood City no longer has many small businesses that once lined its main street. Gone are those businesses and the jobs they offered. The proposed Sand Mine will bring new jobs to the community. If the sand mine is turned away, so are the jobs they offer. What could the city council do to entice new business that does not depend on the local economy to the community and create jobs for our local citizens?

Schone: Glenwood City offers a high quality of life and a strong sense of pride within every resident. But because we are small it is very difficult to support a broad range of businesses that would provide ALL the goods and services our residents need. We need to examine what our towns strengths are and capitalize on those. We need to enlist our community as a whole and develop goals by deciding what type of businesses we want to support and see grow here. Residents, teachers, school administration, current business owners, clergy and community leaders from a broad range of backgrounds, should make up this group and devise a plan for our city. Our council and mayor then need to keep this planning going through a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy. Is there federal or state funding programs that can help us? Can we offer tax breaks to new businesses? Are we using social media to market our city as a thriving community open for business? All these things should be considered. This type of planning takes a lot of diligent time consuming work, but that is what I feel it will take for our community to grow. I am very proud of our small town and all it has to offer. I am willing to do the hard work it will take to see it prosper in the future.

Hover: Most people migrate where the jobs are. A mine could bring more people into our city which would start an interest in more restaurants, lodging, clothing stores, etc. Mining is an industry wanting to be here I think we need to consider it.

Standaert: (No comment given).

Graese: This is something the City Council has been working on for more than 40 years. I remember my father as a City Council member going in to the Twin Cities to check out business that wanted to move or start up in Glenwood City. Location and work force make it hard to find a business that will move here, but the Council is always looking for new business for the City. That is why the Council has tried to get all the information out to residents about the sand mine before we held a vote on the mine. At this time the Council and residents do not know the full benefits of the sand mine. This will take time. The Council and residents need to know what Vista wants and will do for the City. Also we have not told Vista what we will demand of them to insure that if Vista does mine in Glenwood City it is done the right way.

Peterson: As I walk along Main Street I see small businesses. I see a clinic, bank, hardware store, eye doctor, dentist, etc. Also, it appears as though the Havenwood expansion project is coming along nicely. I have to believe that they will need to increase their workforce to run a facility of that size. There is no guarantee that a sand mine would hire people from Glenwood City or Downing. Also the vast majority of the sand mine jobs would be seasonal jobs, work 8 months, laid off for 4 months. I don’t really think this is the kind of work the majority of people are looking for.

Larson: Once again, the answers require a monetary investment that the city simply cannot afford without the sand mine. I don’t envision the city being able to attract much in the way of additional retail business without first having more residents and/or some type of industrial base. Developing a new industrial park will be very expensive.