My Northern Wisconsin

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On Monday, March 13, 2023, the Park Falls City Council held an approximately two-hour long meeting, which was attended by about 50 residents.  There was a presentation about the current challenges the City of Park Falls is facing regarding the current city hall building.  "I am deeply grateful for the community members who showed up and heard the proposal and facts of the matter," Mayor Michael Bablick said.  "I believe there was a general acceptance of the proposal and/or agreement, including several members of the library board."  At the conclusion of the meeting, a few things were decided.

Mayor Bablick, in an 8-question interview with My Price County / My Northern Wisconsin, gave answers to residents' most pressing questions, many of which were discussed at the meeting, as well.

The first decision was that the city offices will move back to their original location, which is the Park Falls library building.  The City of Park Falls will have the offices moved by the start of the 2023/2024 heating season, so Mayor Bablick predicts the move will take place around October 1, 2023.

Residents were concerned that if the city moved to the library, the library may be made smaller, groups may not be able to use the library as they did in the past, and people may not be allowed keys to enter the library after city office hours.

Mayor Bablick stated, "The proposal is to occupy the old city offices, which are currently the location of the library director, audio books, and fiction section.  The majority of the library board and director have stated that while not optimal, they can rearrange the library and have no reduction in services.  The City will have less space, the library will have less space, but the 3rd floor community rooms will not be impacted beyond elections and two scheduled monthly meetings of the council.  It is a compromise but will work.  It's worth remembering that the current library was once the city hall, library, fire, and police department.  The city government has retained ownership of this building since its departure in the '70s-'80s.  Superior communication and planning will make this highly successful and achieve an operational savings to the budget of anywhere between $30-50,000 per year for city taxpayers and avoidance of additional debt spending (increase in taxes).  The library board and City Council have had phenomenal relationships for decades, and no one would want to see a reduction in library services."

As for a better description of where the city offices will be located, Mayor Bablick explained they will be exactly where they were located in the library for over 50 years, which is in the old mayor's office, city clerk's office, and the Council Room, (not the auditorium), all located on the west side of the second floor.  He said, "It was designed in 1923 for these operations, and the library services have greatly expanded since then.  The rest of the library, minus just the city offices, would remain the domain of the library to manage.  The old entrance, on the south side, which is a spectacular and beautiful entranceway, would be reopened to ensure most city hall traffic is totally separate from the library.  ADA access is totally up-to-date, and those that require such access will be able to use the library entrance on the north side.  The layout of the building really is right for this use.  All parties acknowledge that the increased traffic will probably increase library usage, which is a win-win for several reasons."

At a 2021 city meeting, it was noted that there likely would not be enough space to make the library a feasible option for the city offices.  Mayor Bablick admitted there will be a slight reduction of the current city office space, "but it's clear that the city can operate out of those rooms, as it did for over 50 years.  The last proposal was for the 3rd floor, but it became clear that the community highly values those rooms.  In order to have city offices up there and maintain community rooms, it was deemed to be infeasible.  This compromise of re-occupying the old offices was deemed the best option by library staff, some board members, and city officials if this was to proceed.  Our phenomenal library director has my every confidence in accomplishing a reorganization of materials with no service loss.  If there was going to be a disruption in services, I would be hesitant on the proposed plan.  There will be issues that arise during this process, but I am totally confident solutions will arise," Mayor Bablick assured.

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Groups that utilize the third floor will be effected very little or not at all as that space will remain untouched except for the auditorium being used for council meetings twice per month at a maximum and during elections.  "From the last discussion on this, no one wants to intrude on that very important community space," Mayor Bablick stated.

Regarding if other people will be allowed to have keys, Mayor Bablick responded, "Library hours are longer than city hall hours, opening and closing.  The library building is owned by the city, and the staff are city employees.  If the city hall is closed during library hours, the doors to the specific offices would be locked (mayor's office, city clerk, and old Council Room), and the rest of the library would function as it is now.  There is no issue."

The second thing decided at the end of the council meeting was that the YMCA's proposal to purchase the current city hall would be approved.  Some residents wanted to know why the building was good enough for the YMCA to renovate and use but not for the city to renovate and use.  Mayor Bablick explained, "Essentially, to renovate the existing facility to what it really needs to be, per MSA, it would cost around $3 million 'as is.'  In order to raise enough funds and continue with the normal capital improvement plan (streets, police vehicles, other building maintenance, fire department, matching funds for future grant opportunities, etc.), it would require a referendum to exceed the state statutory maximum for revenue collection.  This would result in a significant increase in taxes, and I firmly believe the residents of Park Falls would not pass that proposal.  We received the final plans from MSA in November of 2022.  This is also after we have searched and solicited for several grants to accomplish this without a burden on local residents.  Based on the feedback [from the March 13th meeting], it certainly seemed apparent that it would not be a successful referendum.  City staff and I have spent a significant amount of time trying to find grants, talking with legislators (going so far to write a complete proposal for the federal budget), and to find alternatives.  We were unsuccessful in our efforts."

Mayor Bablick continued, "The YMCA can renovate it to their needs, and complete the broader project, because it has a $5.675 million grant. Large benefactors have signaled additional support to ensure that it will be successful for the full facility build out (child care, community center, fitness center, gymnasium).  In short, the current city hall would be fully remodeled for childcare, a community center, and add-ons with the other grant funds for the rest."

Residents also questioned why a new city hall was not built.  Mayor Bablick explained, "The cost of a new city hall is at least $10 million per MSA, and total renovation is at around $3 million.  The final numbers were received in November of 2022.  A discussion of the next steps was not going to take place until a new mayor was elected; however, the proposal from the YMCA accelerated the discussion.  With the offer made from the YMCA to the city, the discussion suddenly became ripe for discussion."

To summarize, Mayor Bablick added, "This issue has been very well thought out."  He stated community feedback was solicited over the years, there was much planning, and there were attempts to find alternatives.  He continued, "In the end, after all the analysis, this remains the best decision for all entities involved.  I totally believe this decision, in complement with the YMCA, produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people in the community.  The annual budget savings of $30,000-$50,000 will help for future budgets as wages increase in the area, off-setting inflation, and increased costs for emergency services.  In my eyes, this is the best possible solution considering the situation."

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Beyond our interview, the City of Park Falls also issued the following press release regarding the plans:


At the City of Park Falls Common Council meeting on March 13, 2023, with around 50 citizens in attendance, the Mayor facilitated a comprehensive presentation on a proposal to move the current City Offices back to the Park Falls Public Library (former City Hall). The current Library Building was constructed in 1923 as a City Hall which included City Offices, Library, Fire and Police Department. The City Council voted unanimously to execute that proposal later in the meeting. The Fire and Police Department will remain in their current location. City Offices will relocate to its former location known as the “old” Mayor’s, City Clerk, and Council Chamber (2nd floor, west side) offices.

At the public meeting, the Library Director and some members of the Library Board who were present voiced their support for this proposal, as it will not affect library services. This move would not affect the layout of the 3rd floor of the library. After public input in 2021, community members made it clear that the activities, meetings, and programming held on this floor were very important. These spaces will remain for community use.

This proposal will also save the city up to $50,000 a year in operations of the current City Hall and millions of dollars in needed capital improvement. “This action is a win-win for the Park Falls community,” said Mayor Michael Bablick. “While it is a compromise for both entities, it saves millions of taxpayer dollars, avoids a possible referendum, does not reduce service at the library, and ensures that the city can continue investing in its other major projects without an increase in taxes.”

Also at this meeting, a proposal submitted to the Council from the YMCA of the Northwoods was discussed regarding the sale of the current City Hall property, minus the Fire and Police Department. The Council also approved this proposal after public Q & A, as it seemed evident that a majority of those present preferred that the city sell the property to an entity like the YMCA if a decision to move was approved. The YMCA had requested consideration of this proposal as the site provides more visibility, less site prep work, and the $5.675 million grant (received last year from the State of Wisconsin), would be enough to rehabilitate the facility with add-ons. The sale of the property is contingent upon final approval by the YMCA board. 

“This site makes it possible for us to include extra amenities that may not have been included if we started with a blank slate,” said Allie Plessner, Co-Chair for the YMCA Northwoods - Park Falls.

Lastly, the “Old Abe'' monument located on City Hall property will be moved and rededicated into the City’s new downtown center. This will allow the symbol of the city and memorial to be honored and rededicated which is more interactive with the public, making it a cornerstone of the downtown. A local veterans group has indicated this is their preferred location.

“City offices will be relocated into its former space before the next heating season starts, the YMCA of the Northwoods will completely rehabilitate the current City Hall and add on additional amenities, and complete their project by December 31, 2024,” said Mayor Michael Bablick. “I believe this decision provides the greatest good for the greatest number of people in the community. I would especially like to thank our Library Director and the majority of the Library Board for their feedback and support.”

The meeting's presentation slides can be viewed at this link

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