New London mayor discusses city activities
By Scott Bellile
Residents have probably noticed that 2017 has been a busy year for projects happening around the city of New London. And the work is not going to slow down anytime soon.
The city planned for an increase in activity four years ago, City Administrator Kent Hager said.
“Since the last recession/depression (2008-2009) we had cut back real hard and now we are catching up—in a lot of respects,” Hager explained in an email on Tuesday, Nov. 28. “Not only capital projects and equipment, but maintenance as well. Yes, we are doing a lot more and preparing to continue on with a higher level of projects and activity.
The recent closure of TIF District 2 in New London’s Northeast Industrial Park helped pay for some projects this year as well, Hager said. The 2017 capital projects budget more than doubled from the average of $300,000 to $675,000.
The city of New London has a 10-year capital projects and equipment plan in place and will continue chipping away at all kinds of projects, Hager said.
“The public will also see more road and sidewalk projects in the future as we catch up on some deferred maintenance and also due to the implementation of the wheel tax.”
Mayor updates public
New London Mayor Gary Henke spent a Thursday morning, Nov. 16, at New London Public Library to update taxpayers on the whirlwind of activity happening within the city.
Given it was a weekday morning, only about 10 people attended the first Morning with the Mayor event.
However, New London Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director April Kopitzke said far more people “attended” virtually. She live streamed the event on Facebook and 52 were watching by the end, showing that people are interested in local matters.
“I obviously see the need for it just by how much it piqued everyone’s interest,” Kopitzke said of the event, adding that a nighttime version is anticipated in the near future to catch a different segment of the population.
The following is a summary of the various public and private business projects discussed at Morning with the Mayor. They vary in scope: Some have been completed, others are happening now, more are planned for the future and some may not happen at all.
Premier Partridge Drive Estates: Three 12-unit sets of apartments are now in development on Partridge Drive north of the city’s shopping center. When completed, the number of residences at Premier Partridge Drive Estates will double to 72.
Henke said the first wave of apartments filled up quickly and the company saw demand for more living options.
“I think the interesting thing is most of the people moving in out there are from out of town and apparently there’s a lack of good, quality apartments in cities near us, so it’s a good thing for us,” Henke said.
City garage: Construction was cheaper than expected for the city of New London’s municipal garage, which opened in 2016 on Wolf River Avenue east of the wastewater treatment plant.
The city budgeted $4 million for the project and ended up spending $3.4 million. The facility stores equipment and vehicles belonging to the city parks, streets and buildings and grounds divisions.
“We’re very happy. It’s worked well,” Henke said. “We can now keep all of our snow plows, trucks, everything indoors, which is really going to save a lot on equipment repairs.”
Beacon Avenue work: Two of the Beacon Avenue Cottages affordable housing complexes are move-in ready while a third 12-unit building is nearing the end of construction, Henke said. That building is set for a final walk-through next month.
Beacon Avenue Cottages will be home to 40 “very, very nice” low- and moderate-income housing units when it is completed, Henke said. He added the private developer, Commonwealth Companies, will retain ownership of the cottages after completion and keep an on-site manager there.
In conjunction with this project, the city hired out its own road work of widening Beacon Avenue and putting in new sanitary sewer, storm sewer and water mains.
Henke described the street work as an “extremely frustrating project.” The weather was not cooperative this fall, plus the contractors frequently left the site to handle other jobs, Henke said.
“We’ve been through a nightmare on Beacon Avenue, I will admit it,” Henke said. “I have been frustrated. I’ve walked in and just about screaming and hollering at city hall, ‘Why can’t we get this done?’”
Pool mechanical upgrades: New London Aquatic and Fitness Center will close for two months next spring for mechanical upgrades, reopening in June.
“The pool is … 30 years old and the air handling equipment needs to be replaced,” Henke said. “The filter system needs to be replaced. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to upgrade the swimming pool so we can keep it running the way it should be done.”
Sidewalk projects: Sidewalks will be constructed or expanded in areas where children walk to school as part of the Safe Routes to School federal grant that the city landed, Henke said.
Consultants are reviewing the proposed sidewalk routes to make sure they make sense, Henke said. Construction is not set to begin until 2020.
Division Street reconstruction: Approximately 1 mile of Division Street will be reconstructed from Wolf River Avenue to Beckert Road in 2018.
The $2.2 million project will be split between the city and Waupaca County. The city will borrow money and pay it off over a number of years, Henke said.
North Water Street reconstruction: The city plans to reconstruct North Water Street from Shawano Street to Pearl Street in 2021, Henke said.
“It’s in bad shape,” he said, adding that he looks forward to having fixed a particular bump at the Pearl Street intersection that has not been gentle to his small car.
Riverfront development: Since the recession, developers have shown no interest in purchasing the 6-acre city-owned lot on Wolf River Avenue that previously belonged to Wolf River Lumber.
This year the city partnered with developer Randy Stadtmueller of Stadtmueller & Associates to create a plan for the property. Ideas considered so far include a combination of a public library and housing developments such as single-family, condominiums or townhouses.
“It may not work. It may work. We don’t know, but we’re looking into it,” Henke said.
Library and museum ramp: The reconstruction of the stairway and accessible ramp to New London Public Library and Museum was completed this fall.
“The old one was deteriorating, basically falling apart, and that ended up being quite the project,” Henke said. “We ended up doing some sewer work along with that and it’s done now. It’s open finally.”
Newton Blackmour State Trail: The city is looking to bring into town the Newton Blackmour Trail, which currently runs from House Road on the east side of New London to Oneida.
Architectural firm Ayres Associates is helping the city to determine how to bring the trail into the heart of the city. Henke said the hope is to route the trail down River Road, build a bridge over the Embarrass River and have it cross into Pfeifer Park.
Railroad rehabilitation: Granite Valley Forest Products is ready to use a rehabilitated railroad spur that crosses County Trunk S.
The cost was shared between the lumber company and a state railroad grant, but Henke said New London helped with the grant facilitation and coordinating the project.
“[Granite Valley Forest Products] would like to be able to get lumber in from Tennessee, Kentucky, by rail, and also be able to ship by rail, ship from New London possibly down to New Orleans and then for export to China, wherever,” Henke said.
River wall rehabilitation: For the first time in more than three decades, repairs are happening on the retaining wall along the north bank of the Wolf River downtown.
The section of the wall in worst condition has been replaced. Dredging of the peninsula along the wall is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 4, Henke said.
Next spring a 100-foot dock will be installed. It will include boat stations, fishing piers and ADA access, which should all attract more boaters to New London’s downtown restaurants and bars, Henke said.
Boat launch: The city received a state grant this month to rehabilitate the boat ramp in Riverside Park, Henke said.
“We want to extend the concrete down into the river further because what happens now is where the concrete ends, it tends to wash out down below that from power loading boats and so forth,” Henke said. “And when the river gets real low and people back their trailers down in, they drop off the edge of the cement and it doesn’t do much good for boat trailers and boat handling.”
Henke said if construction does not start by winter, it will wait until after walleye season.
Wheel tax: Beginning Jan. 1, 2018, all vehicles weighing less than 8,000 pounds will be taxed $20 annually if registered in city limits.
Revenue from this vehicle registration fee will only be used toward road and sidewalk repairs and will not be put toward purchasing vehicles for the city, which Henke said is legal under state law.
The city expects the wheel tax to generate an additional $180,000 per year.
“We’ve got streets that are absolutely terrible, not unlike most other cities in the state,” Henke explained. “The state for a number of years has cut down highway aids to cities. They’ve cut down shared revenue, and this year they did up highway aids somewhat. I believe that we get about another $20,000 this year than we have previously, but if you’re knowledgeable at all about road repair, $20,000 additional doesn’t go very far.”
Whereas the city normally spends about $100,000 annually on street repairs, Henke said next year spending will jump to $250,000 thanks to an influx of wheel tax revenue.
Public works director vacancy: Following the resignation of former Public Works Director Jeff Bodoh in August, the city is considering combining the position with that of the parks and recreation director.
“I think we’re going to try it on a trial basis to see how it works out, if one person can handle the job to oversee both of them,” Henke said. “It’s going to take some people under him taking on extra responsibilities but we are looking at doing that.”
Some cities the size of New London have a combined position where the person’s title is director of public services, Henke said. They sometimes oversee parks, recreation, public works, streets and cemeteries.
“One nice thing about city council, the city of New London, we’re willing to try new things,” Henke said. “But we’re also willing to admit if we make a mistake, to go back and start on plan B.”
Chad Hoerth currently serves as parks and recreation director and would assume public works duties. He is currently interim public works director.
Zoning Administrator Paul Hanlon and New London Utilities General Manager Steve Thompson have helped take on additional duties as well, Henke said.
Digitally marketing New London: The city of New London is more active on Facebook and YouTube since hiring Clintonville firm My Marketing Director last year. The firm creates online content to draw prospective residents and businesses to New London.
A pair of recent videos highlighted New London High School’s School to Work program. The apprenticeship program allows students to spend parts of the school day working offsite to gain career experience.
Henke said he believes this video has gotten 15,000 hits.
Six videos produced so far that promote New London are found on the New London Wisconsin YouTube channel.
State Highway 15 bypass: Henke said state lawmakers have delayed by another two years the State Highway 15 bypass project to connect New London to Greenville.
The earliest the project could be completed now is 2023, Henke said.
“Many of us hope we live that long,” Henke said. “I’d like to drive on that new road someday.”
He accused the state Senate and Assembly of diverting the highway dollars to enlarge U.S. Highway 94 to make way for Southern Wisconsin’s Foxconn plant.
Culver’s: A Culver’s franchisee opted not to build a fast food restaurant in town earlier this summer, but Henke said he hopes they reconsider.
Whatever the franchisee’s reason was, city hall played no part in the decision, Henke said.
He added the city supported the project to the point that it was willing to abandon a city easement running on the proposed property to make the project work.
He also said the person who was set to manage the restaurant comes from Appleton and decided they did not want to drive on State Highway 15 to get to work.
“Do I hope [Culver’s will] come back? I certainly do,” Henke said. “That would be great. We encourage development, period.”
Home sales: “One nice thing as we’re coming out of the recession is homes are selling quickly in New London,” Henke said. “Realtors can’t get enough houses for sale. They’re also many of them selling for above the asking price which is good, a good thing.”
Businesses: The New London Planning Commission recently gave Dollar Tree the go-ahead to build a store in an empty lot next to Pallet One on North Shawano Street.
Northland Electric outgrew its facility in the Northeast Industrial Park and constructed a new one. Faith Christian Church, which was forced to vacate its building on State Highway 15 in the town of Hortonia due to the proposed bypass project, moved into Northland Electric’s old building.
Steel King doubled the size of its plant and added automation. The company considered two other locations, one in Georgia and another undisclosed, for its expansion. Henke said the city offered incentives to convince Steel King to choose New London and thus remain a staple here for years to come.
Bemis North America is adding on to its building. Henke said the planning commission allowed the company to build 4 feet closer to the street than zoning codes allow to accommodate the expansion.
Tri-County Overhead Door Service is building an addition along Beckert Road. Tri-County will rent out space there to start-ups and small businesses as well.
Hilker Warehousing purchased the former Simmons Juvenile Products property and will convert the existing structures into warehousing. Tom Hilker signed an agreement to clean up all the brush, broken windows and other problems at the property within a year, Henke said.