By LeAnn R. Ralph
ELK MOUND — Youth baseball and softball teams in Elk Mound plan to start practice sessions soon, and while they will not be playing other teams, they are hoping to get in some scrimmages.
Jon Chisholm and McKayla Brunner spoke to the Elk Mound Village Board at the July 6 meeting during the public appearances portion of the agenda about their “return to play” guidelines.
The Elk Mound Village Board met using the Zoom online platform.
Although the village is not renting out the village park and the restrooms are not open as part of the village’s response to COVID-19, people still have access to the parks.
A waiver is part of the return to play guidelines, and before each practice session, parents and players will sign in for attendance so organizers know who was in attendance, Chisholm told the village board.
The restrooms will not be used, and there will be no concessions, he said.
The players will not share equipment, and there will be 50 or fewer players out on the field. Parents will wait in their cars, and the dugouts will not be used. The players will not play other teams, although in addition to the practices, there are plans for scrimmages, Chisholm said.
The intent is to provide “something normal for the kids,” he said.
The practice sessions, which will last about an hour, will be more like clinics, Chisholm noted.
Organizers want to provide the same opportunities for softball, Brunner said, noting that 50 girls had signed up for softball.
Outside is better because the air flow is better, and people can spread out better to maintain social distancing, she said.
Using the village park ball fields “will give us an opportunity to say we tried,” Brunner said.
Later on in the meeting, during the agenda item devoted to refunding park reservations during the COVID-19 pandemic, village board members discussed the use of the park for baseball and softball.
Under the current plan, since the village is not renting out the park, any reservations that have been paid are being refunded, noted Steven Abraham, village president.
Does a wavier protect those who are organizing events, and would a waiver indemnify the village as well? he asked.
An article in the League of Wisconsin Municipalities magazine cited the state’s recreation statute and stated that municipalities generally are not liable when they are providing recreational opportunities, said Mark Levra, director of public works.
Terry Stamm, village trustee, said he had observed a number of people walking up the road to the Mound Hill Park, either by ones or twos, or families for a family outing.
Proving where someone picked up COVID-19 would be difficult, he said.
The restrooms at the village park have been closed all year, and Brunner and Chisholm are not asking to use the restrooms, Levra said.
The decision before the village board is about the use of the ball fields, he said.
Taxpayer money was used to develop the parks, and if people need to use a restroom, what are their alternatives? Abraham asked.
Menomonie has one bathroom open at each of two parks. The facilities are locked at 7 p.m., and they are sanitized six times per day, Levra said.
The village board could set a time limit, but then who would monitor the situation? asked Greg Kipp, village trustee.
If the village is not liable, then the restrooms could be opened, said Cynthia Abraham, village trustee.
The Elk Mound school district plan opened the weight room at the high school for groups of 25 in one-hour increments with 30 minute intervals in between groups for sanitizing, Levra said.
The school district submitted a plan to the Dunn County Department of Health for opening the weight room, he said.
The baseball and softball organizers do not have the money to sanitize the restrooms six times a day, Levra said.
In addition, the article in the League magazine said that immunity is not absolute, and while municipalities are generally immune from liability, there are exceptions, he said.
The park is a public facility, and the restrooms could be opened for the hour or hour and a half that the park is being used and could be locked after the practice sessions are finished, Abraham said.
Sanitizing six times a day is not required, and the restrooms could be sanitized after the use of the park and then locked again, he said.
The question is “how to get back to normal” and “who will want to take risks,” Abraham said.
Stamm wondered how many people have been using the village park.
Abraham said he had observed smaller groups at the park playing basketball or pitching to a batter and chasing balls.
The kids need something like baseball or softball for socializing, noted Jesse Jenson, village trustee.
If the village board approves the use of the ball fields, the village board must be prepared to turn down others who want to use the park for a mass gathering, Stamm said.
There is no specific agenda item related to using the ball fields at the village park. The only item that comes close is specific to the refund policy, Stamm pointed out.
Since the ball fields were not on the agenda, Stamm suggested the village board did not need to take any action and that Chisholm and Brunner could “come and go” at the park just as others have been doing all along.
There is nothing stopping them from using the park right now, said Deb Creaser-Kipp, village trustee.
They can “do their thing,” and the village will not open the restrooms, Stamm said, adding that the village board’s refund policy for the park could stay in place until the next board meeting on July 20.
“We have to be a little careful about being too careful,” Abraham commented.
The Elk Mound Village Board unanimously approved a motion that the COVID-19 park policy regarding not renting out the park for mass gatherings and refunding any reservations that had been paid remain as is until the next meeting July 20.
The village’s policy during the COVID-19 pandemic has been that if people paid a reservation for the park, they can either ask for a refund or can reschedule to another date later this year or next year.
The Elk Mound Village Board also approved maintaining the village’s COVID-19 response plan until the July 20 meeting.
“We should hold the line. Don’t change anything,” said Elk Mound Police Chief Chad Weinberger.
The village should maintain the status quo because the number of COVID-19 cases is currently increasing, and the village does not want to be in the position of opening everything up completely only to have to go back to the current plan later on, he said.
Levra noted that he is originally from Hurley, and that cases of COVID-19 had increased from two to six after the library and the bars had opened again, so now all the public buildings and parks are closed again.
Levra said he understood Police Chief Weinberger’s position of not getting into a “flip flop” situation.
Abraham said he knows several people who contracted COVID-19 but the symptoms were mild and there were no hospitalizations.
“How long do we do this?” he asked.
The village board should “carry forward” to the next meeting as the “best and safest route” and then review the COVID-19 response plan again at the next meeting, Stamm said.
The Elk Mound COVID-19 response plan includes keeping the village hall locked and requiring deliveries to be left in the entryway.
On the motion to continue the COVID-19 response plan until the next village board meeting July 20, Abraham and village trustees Stamm, Kipp, Creaser-Kipp and Jenson voted in favor.
Village Trustees Cynthia Abraham and Paula Turner voted against the motion.
In other business, the Elk Mound Village Board:
• Approved a multiple dog license for Tonya Pagenkopf, 105 Kings Court, based on a recommendation from the Elk Mound Plan Commission. The plan commission recommended the dog license be allowed with stipulations that are consistent with past approvals. The license is for three dogs, said Pat Hahn, village clerk-treasurer.
• Approved a certified survey map submitted by Lyn Harrison for two lots approximately 17 acres each north of University Street across from Mound View Elementary based on a recommendation from the plan commission.
• Approved a final extra-territorial plat application from Mike and Randy Nelson, West Central Nelson Properties LLC, for a development in the Town of Elk Mound known as Elysian Fields.
• Approved bartender operator’s licenses for Bryce Ploeckelman and Brady Hunsucker (The Junction); Nicole Kilboten (The Pourhouse); and Kaitlynn Wente (Elk Mound Travel Stop).