Friday, December 19, 2008

Happy Holidays

First of all, I want to wish everyone a very joyous Christmas. We will be traveling to Illinois to get together with our family. I’m very excited!! Our oldest son recently moved to Illinois from Colorado and this is the first Christmas in a very long time that we will all be together. We can begin some new family traditions that include the whole gang. I hope that you are able to connect with your family and spend some quality time together.

The After Action Report is completed for the flooding this spring and was presented at the Council Meeting this week. We learned many lessons about handling an emergency. The key learning is that we need to make sure that everyone is trained and we need to take time to practice handling a large scale disaster. Command and communication are the key factors to saving lives and property during a disaster. We need to practice establishing command, activating the Emergency Operations Center and filling the roles that perform important duties during a disaster. FEMA provides free training and practice exercises. I will bring proposals back to the Council to implement a much expanded training and practice program for our city. It is important that we are better prepared in the future to face any emergency.

Enjoy the holidays. Be safe when you travel as the weather doesn’t seem to want to cooperate with our travel plans.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Saving Money, Preserving & Repairing

There are lots of ways we can save energy in Columbus and our Water & Light department has made some changes that will lower electric costs for the holidays. This year the holiday decorations downtown will be lit with LED lights. In the past the wreaths above the streetlights had 14 high energy light bulbs. These have been replaced with 140 small LED lights. The electricity cost will go from about $20 per streetlight to $2. So when you drive through the downtown you can check out the LED Holiday lights and see if they would work for you. They are available at the local hardware store. This one simple change makes the city more energy efficient and saves taxpayers money.

Something small can make a difference. A couple of weeks ago we dedicated four bikes at the Amtrak station. These are recovered bikes that the police had so they were free of charge to the city. They were painted crazy colors to be easily identified, and put at the Amtrak station for folks to borrow while they were waiting for a train. Well, I had a call last week from a couple who love to take vacations that do not involve a car. They were excited to hear that they could borrow bikes and explore our city. So they’ve planned a trip to Columbus on the train, then they’ll be borrowing bikes, eating in the local restaurants, staying locally and shopping. This one small thing has already had a positive economic impact on our community! And there was no cost to the city or taxpayers… just some imagination and a sense of fun!

We learned last week that DNR will not be fining us for the discharging that happened during the flood this spring. Prior to all the sewer work in the Main Street basin area, Columbus was considered a problem community and we were being closely monitored for any violations. We acted responsibly and upgraded badly deteriorating pipes. We’ve met with the DNR and made every attempt to meet requirements. The flood overwhelmed our system, but the DNR recognized that this was beyond our control. Again, good planning and management saves our citizens money, and provides better services.

I understand there has been some confusion over the need to repair the “roof” on City Hall. I think that we’re all talking about the same thing, but sometimes the vocabulary gets in the way. The repair the City Council is considering is a repair to the braces and joists that support the actual roofing materials. Of course when the braces are repaired new roofing materials will be required. The joists and braces have exceeded their expected life and are in desperate need of repair. City Hall has been the cornerstone of Columbus since 1892… over 116 years! When we repair and preserve it saves money while preserving our history. A new City Hall to house the Administration, Police Department and City Council Chambers would cost millions, while repairing the roof is much less expensive.

And talk about preserving and repairing. This summer I decided to paint the front porch of our B&B and wanted to strip off the layers of old paint before I put on new. I thought that it would take me a few weeks to strip down the wood… well I was wrong. After almost 10 weeks of scraping, stripping, sanding and using a heat gun I finally finished one HALF of the porch. It looks great, but I know what I’ll be working on as soon as the weather gets warm in the spring!

Did you notice the maple trees this week? The bright yellow leaves against the black trunks branches were spectacular and gave us a last look at their beauty before they fell to the ground preparing for winter. We live in a beautiful place! Enjoy your weekend.

Nancy Osterhaus – Mayor
920 623.4925

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Projects, Assessments & New Businesses

As the weather begins to cool off, let’s take stock of some of the work that was accomplished this summer. We continue to make street improvements to Dix Street and Charles Street and the new parking lot by City Hall should be completed before winter. We have made it a priority to get back on track with street and sewer repairs. For years the City neglected street and as a result there are many streets in need of repair. Next year the long-overdue Williams Street project will begin, and sewer is scheduled to be run out Lewis Street. Planning and organizing these repairs has allowed us to make the needed repairs with minimum impact to taxes. Cured-in-place sewer lines have been put in place. These are less expensive repairs that are possible when problems are detected and corrected early. The pavilion got a coat of primer to protect it from the elements. It will need further painting next year, but this first coat is a great start and it looks wonderful. Again, getting the primer on this year prevents further deterioration and keeps costs down.

Some of you may have noticed discrepancies between the printed assessments that you received in the mail and the on-line listing. I talked to the assessors about this problem and they are working to correct it. In my case, the number of bathrooms on my printed copy shows 3 while the number on-line indicates only 1. The assessor assures me that the correct number was used to determine the assessment value. You may have noticed these kinds of errors on your own assessment. They are working to correct them, and provide accurate information to everyone who asks.

We recently learned that there are several new businesses that plan to expand or locate in Columbus. This is a wonderful boost for our economy and a credit to all of us. Our friendly, safe city is a good place to run a business and raise a family. It gives us a competitive edge in attracting businesses. We have a lot of great things to showcase in Columbus… great schools, a beautiful historic city, the aquatic center, golf courses, parks, a full-service hospital and emergency room, and of course great people who have a lot of pride and involvement in their community. Thanks to everyone who is helping keep us moving in a positive direction. Our responsive city government is making a difference. Businesses see a mayor and council who are planning for the future and working to provide good services that business can build upon. It all helps us continue to move forward.

My husband and I plan to go canoeing this weekend. It will be the first time that we’ve taken the canoe out this year. Always fun to spend some time on the water relaxing. I hope that you take some time for yourself.

Nancy Osterhaus – Mayor

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

End of Summer

On Labor Day we will be holding the 2nd annual City Wide Picnic in Fireman’s Park. Come on down and enjoy music, games and food. It is a good time to get together with friends and celebrate the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. Mark Croft will be performing, there will be burgers and brats for sale, games and a jump house for the children. I hope to see you there!

As summer comes to an end Public Works is working to complete the road projects scheduled for this year. The parking lot by City Hall will be regraded and surfaced. Last winter there were several mishaps on the ice in the parking lot. The new design is much safer and provides parking for Library patrons as well as folks visiting City Hall. A part of Dix Street near 16/60 has been resurfaced. There will be some paving work done on Charles Street and cured-in-place sewer piping is being constructed. These are all much needed repairs that are essential to keeping the infrastructure of the city in good repair. Next year will see the Williams Street project and Lewis Street sewer project. We have experienced many years of not maintaining our infrastructure, and without annual maintenance the costs to replace are extremely high. This is a wise use of our tax money.

The City Administrator has been working with the department heads to prepare the 2009 budget. We anticipate an overall city tax increase of 2% which actually represents a decrease in money available for city services. We have a commitment for over 3% salary increases for union employees and approxmately11% increase in health insurance. Gas, oil, asphalt and many supplies have gone up in cost dramatically. In addition we experience record snows last winter and used up the entire snow removal budget for 2008 before this winter season has even arrived. The 2% overall budget increase will need to cover these expenses. Our mill rate will decrease in 2009 as a result of the revaluation. The state mandates the revaluation whenever assessed property values fall below 90% of fair market value. That threshold was met two years ago, so we had to reassess.

The Fire Department met to discuss incorporating EMS into fire services. They voted, and overwhelmingly approved moving forward to propose a plan that will provide EMS services integrated into the Fire Department. The fire department will be putting together a proposal that is fiscally responsible while providing superior EMS services. The goal is to save money, provide better service, and preserve as many EMT jobs locally as possible. They believe that this can be accomplished without any increase in taxes. You will be hearing more about this as the proposal is developed.

Happy Labor Day and drive safely as the children return to schools. They are precious treasurers… our future.

Nancy Osterhaus

Friday, August 15, 2008

Revaluation and Budget

This week you probably received your revaluation letter from the appraisers. The City of Columbus was required by law to perform this revaluation to bring the fair market value assessment of the city to 100%. It has been 8 years since the last revaluation and the residential assessments had slipped to 64% of fair market value. Since we’re going from 66% to 100%, on average the change will be around 36% increase. This does not mean that taxes will go up by 36%!!!! The City Council has set a goal of 2% increase in spending for 2009. The revaluation distributes the cost more equitably across the city. On average every 5-6 years the city must do a revaluation. This one was big for because the last full assessment was in 2000 and most houses did not get a walk through at that time.

If you feel that your current assessed value is not fair, please schedule an appointment with the assessors. Call them at 800-770-3927 for an appointment or send your questions to them. They will be in City Hall on August 27th and 28th, and you can make an appointment to visit with them to understand your situation.

We have begun the 2009 budget process, and as I mentioned the goal is about 2% increase. The city faces significantly higher increases in union salaries, utilities, health insurance, etc. That means that we will continue to find ways to cut costs while funding new initiatives. It is always a challenge to fund very important programs and reduce funding in other areas. You will continue to see us focusing on efficiencies in the city

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Efficient, Safe City Operations

City Government has accomplished a lot of good work this year. We’ve taken a look at ways to save taxpayer’s money and perform city work more efficiently. This work continues. This week at the Committee of the Whole meeting we will be discussing hiring George Sheets, former Beaver Dam Fire Chief, to help take a look at reorganizing the Fire Department to include EMS services. The Fire Department has asked for this reorganization and they have asked for a full-time, professional chief to lead the combined Fire Department / Emergency Management Services. The goal is to also do this more efficiently and save taxpayer’s money. We currently spend over $210,000 annually on EMS services, and this money can be reallocated to provide EMS service in-house. George is educated and experienced in Fire Department / EMS operations. In addition to being a chief in several large communities, he has a masters degree in Organizational Management. We have the opportunity to use his skills and experience to help our Fire Department become more efficient and improve the quality of both fire service and EMS. George is not interested in being hired into this position, but will act solely as a consultant.

I am in the process of setting up a committee to review the options and develop a Fire Chief Job description that encompasses the expertise needed to lead the department forward. George will act as a consultant to this committee helping them set the standards for Fire and EMS services. Bill Breunig will chair this committee. Bill is a Captain in the Fire Department and the Eastern Columbia County Judge. He has been on the Columbus Fire Department since 1984 and is respected by the firefighters and community. His leadership will ensure the Fire Department’s voice and Community’s needs are kept front and center. The committee will include representatives from the Community, Hospital, School, Rural Group, Fire Department, Police & Fire Commission, and City Council. Throughout this entire process we will ensure the safety of our citizens is enhanced by this reorganization, never compromised.

The Council is also reviewing studies of the City Hall roof. Several weeks ago we went upstairs and took a look at the roofing structure and learned that the beams that hold the roof in place are failing and need to be replaced. We have earmarked $300,000 in the Capital Improvement Plan to perform this work. City Hall is a grand old building, the cornerstone of our City. This building has served as the center of our government since 1892 and there is no reason that it cannot continue in this function for many more years to come. It needs a new roof… it’s that simple. We will talk about options available and begin the project to maintain this landmark property. It is much less expensive to do the maintenance now rather than be put in a position of having to fund repairs when the roof fails.

Last week I attended the Mayor’s Innovation Projected hosted by Madison Mayor, Dave Cieslewicz and the University of Wisconsin. It was wonderful. About 60 people attended this conference, mostly mayors from across the county and the state. We talked about issues that affect every city large and small. Issues boil down to discussion of money and people… how do we provide the best services that we can for our citizens, while watching the budget and keeping taxes affordable. What decisions can we make that will enhance quality of life for the citizens. Great conversations, great information on how other cities have solved their problems. We all learn from each other’s experiences and ideas.

Have a great weekend… summer is certainly in full force. The flower gardens around the city are spectacular with the purple cone flowers and roses in full bloom. It is a great time to take a walk and enjoy this wonderful city.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Home Improvements

I talked to a number of people who are working on their home improvement projects after the flood. There are many projects underway all over the city… new furnaces and air conditioners, new dry walling and carpets. FEMA continues to warn us that there are scam artists out there who would love to take your money and run. Be careful of anyone who comes to your home offering to do home improvement projects. They often request a down payment, and after you give them your money they are gone. Many of the reputable contractors have 4+ months wait to begin the project, so I can understand folks getting impatient… but, be careful.

We are getting much closer to beginning the hiring process for the Columbus Fire Chief. The fire department came to the City Council Planning session on Tuesday and asked the council to consider combining Emergency Services (Ambulance) into the Fire Department and hiring a full time Fire Chief. We will be developing some cost : benefit numbers to understand the costs behind this. I completely support the Fire Department’s request to go to a full time chief and combine emergency services. Once we have some good data on costs and transition plans, you will hear a lot more about this.

I’m in Madison this week at the Mayor’s Innovation Project where 60 mayors from around the country get together to discuss best practices and topics of importance. We will be discussing transportation options and making our community pedestrian and bike friendly… it should be very interesting.

My son and his family moved to Illinois from Colorado. We’re so excited. This means that the grandchildren are much closer and we will be able to get together much more often… yippee!!!

Nancy Osterhaus

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Steady Pace of Improvements

It is really hot this weekend!! I hope everyone has found a place to keep cool during this hot spell. The trees and flowers love it after all this rain, but I’m trying to stay some place that is air conditioned. That is Wisconsin for you… hot in the summer and cold in the winter. We are sturdy folks!

On Tuesday evening, Dodge County Sheriff Todd Nehls led a discussion at the Fire Station to identify what the fire department feels is important to the future of their department. Todd reported that the meeting was extremely well received by the fire fighters. They identified their primary requirements of a Fire Chief, what they would like to see improved in the fire department and how those improvements could be implemented. They talked about their role as a fire department, and considered the roles of Emergency Management and Emergency Medical Services and if they should be integrated into the fire department or affect the way the fire department does business. This information is the beginning of a discussion to determine the position of Fire Chief. The next step is for the City Council to begin discussions on options for salary, hours, duties, etc. The process of hiring a chief is outlined in City of Columbus Resolutions 04-08 and 05-08.

Late last week City Staff met with Melissa Destree from Destree Designs to review a plan to more efficiently use the space in City Hall. Her proposal was amazing. Staff identified a number of problems with space, the biggest issue, of course is with the police area. Melissa developed a plan that reworked the police space, reusing wasted space to create a police area that is efficient. Right now her proposal is being reviewed by the department heads. They will make any changes based on their need and then it will be presented to the City Council. I’m totally amazed with what she has been able to squeeze out of the existing space in City Hall. The plan includes 4 conference/meeting rooms, evidence processing, a waiting area for police, two interrogation rooms, an office for the Economic Development Director, and much more. Do I have your interest? She proposes moving the council meetings to the Senior Center where there is more room for folks to sit, and it frees up a substantial area in City Hall for office space.

The City Administrator has been working hard on ways to meet our 2009 budget limitations. We will be holding a planning meeting on July 29th, where the City Council gives direction to the departments for their 2009 budget. Meanwhile there’s lots of work going on to try to find ways to work more efficiently without substantially reducing services.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Clarity & Clean up

I think that I may have been confusing at the Council meeting about the status of Bill Kluetzman, Doug Landphier and Bob Zapotocny. Let me try to provide you with more clarity. Allegations of wrong doing were brought to my attention, and I had no choice but to place them on administrative leave pending an investigation. Administrative leave is not discipline. An investigation is underway. Based on the results of that investigation, there are several things that can happen… they can be reinstated to their previous positions, they could receive formal reprimands, or if discipline is necessary, charges could be referred to the Police & Fire Commission. Fire fighters and police officer discipline is always handled by the Police & Fire Commission… not the mayor or City Council. We need to step back and let the investigation proceed and allow this to run its true course.

The 4th of July was a very uneventful celebration in the park, but as Interim Police Chief, Dennis Weiner reported, it was quite a different story downtown. Patrons exited taverns with beer bottles in hand and then smashed them in alleys and streets. Fireworks were set off inside one bar, and very close to the back of another building. The police cracked down, and will continue to monitor and ticket bars and patrons to make sure they are complying with the law. When police officers ticketed folks for open intoxicants, they responded that this was a “tradition in Columbus”. I certainly don’t support that tradition. On Monday the 7th of July I walked around the downtown area, and I was appalled to see a very large number of broken beer bottles and empty beer cans littering the alleys and streets. Columbus is a clean, tidy town where almost everyone has neatly cut lawns and well maintained gardens. Downtown businesses must be appalled to have to deal with this trash and illegal activity in their midst. The police have been instructed to uphold the law, and you will notice a much stronger police presence and more ticketing in the downtown area. I believe that the citizens of Columbus support a law abiding community where it is safe to walk and conduct business.

And one more cleanup topic… as of today, almost everyone has power restored and is back in their homes after the flood. FEMA continues to get inquiries and applications for assistance. The City is putting together our damage estimates and will be turning them into FEMA later this month. I’d like to report that Columbus did a phenomenal job with sandbags. We filled, delivered and later removed sandbags. We provided about 2,000 filled sandbags to Beaver Dam when they encountered an emergency with their dam. I have not heard of another community that provided this service to their citizens. Many communities either had nothing, or residents could come to a site and pick up sand and sandbags that they would need to fill and haul home. Almost every community has required residents to pay for sandbag disposal after the flood. We found a way to serve the citizens at low cost. Most of our sandbags were delivered by the National Guard and filled using inmates from the Department of Corrections. The inmates treasured this opportunity and were on the best of behavior in our city. This benefited Columbus by providing a labor force to do heavy work, and gave the inmates an opportunity to give back to society. This is one lesson great lesson learned from the flood.

It looks like we have a wonderful summer weekend coming up. I hope that you have the chance to get out and enjoy the warm weather!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Happy 4th of July

We had help last weekend putting everything back together and getting our lives on track. Volunteers from several churches around the state came to Columbus to help folks clean up their property after the flood. They hauled out flood damaged goods, mopped basements, sprayed bleach and helped us get back to normal again. There are angels amongst us. Folks who are willing to give up their weekends to help a stranger in need. This is the values of a small town in Wisconsin and I love it. We help each other without regard for personal gain. There is no motive except to help a friend get through a difficult time. Thank you to everyone who stepped forward. We are a community that takes pride in our homes and businesses and just 3 weeks after a devastating natural disaster, we are returning to normal.

I need to remind you to go to FEMA to register if you have flood damage. They urge everyone with damage to come and register. They will be at the High School from 10:00 am – 7:00 pm every day, including July 4th. They can answer questions and provide information on preventing damage in future floods. FEMA also reminded me that there are folks who will try to take advantage of us, unscrupulous contractors and scam artists. Be smart when you are looking for someone to help with the cleanup. Do not sign a contract with someone that you don’t know, or make a down payment on work without checking out the references. I am concerned about anyone who solicits your business. Most of the reputable contractors are already very busy, and don’t need to go around looking for additional business. Make calls yourself to people you know to avoid being scammed.

Remember that if you have questions about any topic, call or email. There is a blog on the city website that includes a questions and answer section, and I will try to get you up to date information on important topics as quickly as possible. I am also more than willing to come to any group to talk about issues facing the city. Give a call.

The teen center committee met this week to begin working on establishing a place where young folks can go for activities. They are enthusiastic, fun and ready to help establish safe place for our youth. You will hear more about this effort going forward. Thanks to everyone who works on committees to resolve problems facing our city.

And Happy 4th of July. See you at the parade!!! We will be walking and handing out candy along the parade route, and you can find me at the park and in the streets during the festivities. Please stop by and chat.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The First 13 Days of the Flood of 2008

Flood of 2008 through the eyes of the Columbus Emergency Operations Center

This week I thought I would dedicate my column to giving you an idea of what went on here in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) during the Columbus flood of 2008. The center was set up on the second floor of the fire station and was the command center for the flood disaster. The EOC team is made up of representatives from the Police Department, Fire Department, Library, Red Cross, Department of Pubic Works, County EOC, Health & Human Services, City Administration and Water & Light. Decisions were made based on safety and minimizing risk to human life… and we were successful. No one died in the flood of 2008, and there were no major injuries. Our secondary concern of course was to minimize loss of property.

So here’s how the emergency played out from the eyes of the EOC…

Day 1- Saturday, June 7th, 2008
The rains came. Flash flooding occurred in the Parkview area where the small creek ran over the banks and flooded the streets and people’s homes. Fire crews were dispatched to the flooded area and each home was checked to make sure that occupants were in a safe place. The fire trucks were used to transport people out of harms way. The deer pen flooded and the deer were rescued and moved to higher ground. The flooding at this time was mainly in the small streams that run through Columbus. At 3:00 pm I declared the City of Columbus a disaster area. We met with Dodge County Emergency Management Services and Dodge County Sheriff Todd Nehls and received information on emergency services available. Sheriff Nehls helped us get about 37,000 sandbags delivered to our city.

Day 2 – Sunday, June 8th, 2008
Today began with a success. During the initial EOC assessment we found the doe who had been separated from her fawn, and herded her into the pen where her fawn had been rescued. The Crawfish River was rising and we consulted with the owners of the Larsen House and decided that it would be best to move the residents to higher ground. This turned out to be a very good decision as things got more complicated late on Sunday night as the Crawfish River continued to rise. Sand bagging operations were in full force at the City Garage and Meister Park. These sites were later under water and needed to be moved to the fire station. Water & Light began cutting power and gas was turned off in residents that were under water to prevent injuries. The EOC began operations 24 x 7. The 16/60 bridge was closed. Initially the DNR asked us to park a fire truck on the bridge to give it extra weight, but after the water continued to rise we decided to take the truck off for safety.

Day 3 – Monday, June 9th, 2008
The EOC was in full alert mode at about 3:30 in the morning when we realized that there were a number of residents on River Road who were trapped by the flood waters. Calls were made to Beaver Dam to coordinate a water rescue and over 100 residents were taken to safety by air boat and hovercraft. Apartments at Fuller Street and Dickason Blvd were also evacuated. The Parkview area water had receded, but the Crawfish River was rising significantly and the 16/60 bridge remained closed. DPW decided to reinforce a section of the dam with breaker rock. The Red Cross set up a shelter to provide assistance and we began using inmate labor to help fill and distribute sandbags.

Day 4 – Tuesday, June 10th, 2008
Hwy 151 and Hwy 73 bridges were closed in Columbus making travel very difficult. 16/60 remained closed along with many city streets. The sand bag operations continued at the fire station using inmate labor and many volunteers. The Crawfish River continued to rise and crested at over 2 feet above the record for the Crawfish. The National Guard took me on a fly over of our city in a Blackhawk helicopter. It was really unbelievable to see the extent of the devastation to our community. E-Coli infections were reported in people who were in contact with the water. We continue to provide education on handling flood water. As residents began to clean up their homes we had requests for dumpsters and contacted Badger Disposal. It was decided that garbage would be handled under our existing policy. There are very few dumpsters available in the city at this time.

Day 5 – Wednesday, June 11th, 2008
Today began with a reorganization of the EOC center establishing clear roles and responsibilities and a chain of command. The weather forecast for Thursday indicates a high potential of heavy rain, high winds and possible tornados. A pet rescue was made to the River Road area. We mapped the flood levels and reopened the hwy 73 bridge. DNR Secretary Matt Frank inspected our city and offered assistance. We began stockpiling sandbags. The river was dropping at about 1” per hour, but heavy rains were in the forecast. The library set up a website to provide information on the disaster.

Day 6 – Thursday, June 12th, 2008
FEMA arrived in Columbus today and began an initial assessment of the damage to our city. The rains came and a tornado was site just south of town by the hospital. Concrete blocks were placed on the 16/60 bridge as people continued to drive past the barricades and onto the flooded bridge. The park reflooded today. There were looters reported on River Road. We provided over 1500 sandbags to the operation to save the downtown in Beaver Dam. The head librarian, Peggy, was named Public Information Officer. We were contacted by Senator Feingold, Congresswoman Baldwin, Representative Fitzgerald, DNR Secretary, State FEMA, Kleefish, SBA representatives, and USDA representatives.

Day 7 – Friday, June 13th, 2008
FEMA continued their initial assessment of the damages to Columbus today visiting many homes and businesses in the affected area. River Road continues to be closed and the Crawfish River is rising. Residents are anxious to get back to their homes to do an initial assessment and pick up belongings. The road is too flooded to reopen, but we decided to run school bus shuttles into the affected area. After about 4 hours the buses shuttles had to be halted because the water had risen to dangerous levels It is below the crest achieved on Tuesday evening but well above flood stage. A tetanus clinic was set up at the Senior Center and workers who had been in contact with the water were encouraged to get a tetanus shot. Tammy Baldwin walked around and visited home owners in some of the flooded areas and promised support and help getting aid to our community.

Day 8 – Saturday, June 14th, 2008
I was contacted early in the morning letting me know that we would be having a 10:00 visit from the Governor Jim Doyle, Adjacent General of the Wisconsin Guard Dunbar, the head of FEMA, the head of SBA, and many other VIP’s. They arrived in 3 Blackhawk helicopters and landed at the Columbus Middle School to meet with folks affected by the flood and the workers who were helping. A.G. Dunbar approached me and offered National Guard high water vehicles to transport residents into the River Road area. They had now been out of their house for 5 days and were very anxious to return. People were cutting across the back way to their homes putting themselves at risk, and we wanted to help them with a safe way in as soon as possible. The National Guard arrived in the afternoon and the shuttles began. Columbia County was declared a federal disaster site, and this laid the groundwork for receiving FEMA money. We also began focusing on mental health issues. People were very stressed and workers at the EOC were so busy they were unable to provide the time folks needed to express their frustration. The local pastors began providing counseling and visits were made to some folks homes.

Day 9 – Sunday, June 15th, 2008 – Father’s Day
National Guard high water vehicles continue to run to shuttle people into River Road. An early morning inspection of River Road showed one area where there was 6” of water and another with 11”. DPW director Dan Jensen and I believed that with sandbagging and pumping we would be able to pump the water down to a level where the road could be opened. Sandbagging and pumping began and by late afternoon River Road was opened to residents… 7 days after the flooding began. National Guard security was called to establish a check point at the top of River Road to ensure that everyone in the area was a resident. They kept the check point in place through Monday evening.

Day 10 – Monday, June 16th, 2008
DPW is looking into spraying some of the flooded areas for mosquitoes as this is a public health concern. A sandbag removal plan was discussed and we decided to have the inmates return to Columbus on Wednesday – Friday next week to take the sandbags away and properly dispose of the sand and the bags. We will be hiring a private contractor to inspect the 16/60 bridge to speed up the process of reopening that road. National Guard security remains on River Road.

Day 11 – Tuesday, June 17th, 2008
The 16/60 bridge was inspected and opened!! FEMA will be asking for public sector cost estimates, and every department in the city has been asked to pull together their flood related expenses and get those costs to City Clerk, Anne Donahue. There has been equipment damaged from flood water, gear ruined, trucks that need to have brakes and wheel bearings checked in addition to physical damage to roads, buildings, etc.

Day 12 – Wednesday, June 18th, 2008
60 inmates came to Columbus today to work on removing the sand bags and disposing of them according to DNR standards. The Red Cross has set up a feeding area and will deliver water to the workers on site. Clean up of sandbags began at Meister Park and will continue in the Avalon Area and River Road. There are still about 32 people without electricity in their homes. We are out of well test kits and more have been ordered. There is a big effort underway to identify homeowners who need assistance and partner them with volunteers who can go in and clean basements. Please call the Library if you need assistance or would like to volunteer

Day 13 – Thursday, June 19th, 2008 and beyond
As I send this to the newspaper we are beginning to plan for the 13th day of this disaster. The EOC will continue to operate as long as there is a need. We meet every morning to discuss areas of concern and coordinate activities. The police reported that with the opening of hwy 16/60 bridge they are “back to normal”. Our main activities now are clean up, cost estimates and communication to residents. I’m really looking forward to the time when we can close the center knowing that the emergency is behind us and the citizens of Columbus are safe once again. We are taking some time to thank the many municipalities and government agencies that helped us in this disaster. Volunteers stepped forward and helped save our community and keep us safe. We will be celebrating some of our heroes this summer at the city picnic.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Police Department Improvements

Have you noticed the recent changes in our Police Department? There are a lot of things happening. Dennis Weiner was named the interim Police Chief on March 1st, and he has been moving and shaking to reorganize and implement improvements to service and utilize police staff more efficiently. The first thing you may notice is an increased police presence on the street. Officers have been directed to spend more time out of the office and on the street patrolling. They must be present at the schools in the morning and when schools let out in the afternoon, helping keep our children safe.

Interim Chief Weiner requires more follow up on complaints. He has set up a program to review all open calls. Each incident is actively investigated and a solution found whenever possible. It is annoying when citizens call the Police Department with an issue, and then nothing seems to happen. This is a policy change that keeps the police on top of criminal activities in our town. The “bad guys” realize when we’re not following up on petty crimes, and it makes us a target for illegal activities. In the future, Interim Chief Weiner plans to fill one of the vacant positions in the Police Department with an experienced investigator. This will increase efficiency even more. Earlier this week Madison police reported that they do not have the staff to investigate drive offs at gas stations. They only deal with property and personal damage crimes. Our Columbus Police Department provides these services. We take complaints and follow up on minor issues, keeping the small problems small and preventing crime. This is a quality of life decision for Columbus. I like the fact that the police are there when I need them. It makes me feel safe in my community and provides a level of service that cannot be found in many large cities.

Interim Chief Weiner is out on the streets doing some of the patrols. I rode with him on the graveyard shift last week. We checked out a number of businesses, pulled over some suspicious folks, ran plates on cars parked in unusual places, and had some routine traffic stops. Dennis and his family have lived in the Columbus area all of his life, and he knows and loves our community and his passion is to keep us safe. It is wonderful to see the increased police presence and a renewed sense of community in the Police Department.

And you know dispatch is completely transitioned to Columbia County. There have been virtually no problems. All calls are accurately dispatched and the Police Department has administrative staff dedicated to transcribing reports and providing customer service. We receive excellent reports from County that provide information on calls and activities within our department. When officers come on duty they log onto the dispatch center computer system, and each time they are sent to a call their whereabouts is tracked. This creates a record of all officers’ activities for the day… providing management with data that can lead to process improvements and increased productivity. Columbia County provides reports showing peak call times, and officers’ schedules have been adjusted to balance the number of officers on duty with community need, making the entire department run more efficiently.

In the summer there is an increased need for police presence in our community. Thank you to Interim Chief Weiner and the entire Columbus Police Department for finding innovative ways to serve Columbus with minimal staff and maximum efficiency. We currently have 9 officers, 2 vacancies and 2.5 administrative folks. Filling one of the vacancies with an investigator will increase skills and keeps the department below budget… building a lean, efficient Columbus Police Department.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend

This weekend is a time to think about the folks who have served our country, risking their lives to keep us safe and free. Thank you. Those words aren’t big enough to express the gratitude that we have for your service. Thank you. My father and mother served in World War II. My father in England working in a hospital unit, and my mother was an air force control tower operator. They met during the war and married shortly afterwards, and like many other service folks, they settled down and raised a family in the land that they had defended. My husband served in Vietnam… an angry, wasteful war. Today we are fighting in Iraq where Councilman Augustine’s son is serving. Thank you. You have given us freedom and there is no more precious gift.

The council approved bonding for $1.72 million to address a number of infrastructure city projects. More streets will be repaired, more sewers will be maintained and upgraded, an engineering study on the dam will begin, there will be a new roof structure on city hall, the library can begin designing an addition. 2008 taxes include $2.44 / $1,000 for debt service. With this borrowing next year it will be $2.43 / $1,000. After that the rate declines slightly each year. This is planned, efficient bonding. Moody’s Investment Service rated the City of Columbus an A3… that is a good rating for a city our size. They congratulated us on our planning, building stability in government, steady growth and leadership. They told us to keep an eye on general funds spending.

Enjoy this weekend. The weather is beautiful, summer is just around the corner. The spring flowers are spectacular.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Public Enemies Filming Monday and Tuesday

I give Johnny Depp a key to the city after filming was completed early Wednesday morning. Johnny thanked the city for our hospitality and complemented Columbus on our beautiful architecture and polite, respectful citizens.

Movie Stars, props and lots of energy and excitement in Columbus this week as Universal Studios finished up the Columbus portion of filming for the Michael Mann / Johnny Depp movie “Pubic Enemies”. On Monday the crew worked on several scenes at a private house and Tuesday night they were in the downtown. What fun, and what an experience to have hundreds of people descend on our city with cameras, props, sound and lighting. They brought in a huge spotlight and put it in the alleyway behind F&M bank to light up the sky and give the appearance of the moon rising. The cobblestone road was laid, and just as quickly removed and packed off to go back down outside a theatre in Chicago.

Headlines in the Portage Daily Register Souvenir Edition on Monday read “Wanted in Columbus.. Public Enemies Wraps up Shooting in Columbus”. Priceless positive publicity for our city. We had visitors from all over the county on Monday and Tuesday who came to Columbus to see the filming and found a friendly, helpful town. Here’s what I heard from visitors, actors and crew. “This is a beautiful city”, “I’ll be coming back this summer to spend more time”, “this city is real”, “everyone is so friendly”, “everyone has been so wonderful” And from Johnny Depp …“Thank you. The people in your town are very respectful and polite. I have enjoyed filming in your beautiful city.” Thank you to everyone who helped make this a success. Thanks to the police officers who worked extra shifts, Water and Light who removed and then replaced streetlights, Public Works who were everywhere helping out, the senior center for sharing their space with extras, the downtown businesses who were right in the midst of it all, restaurants and gas stations that worked extra hours to accommodate all the folks who were hungry, and everyone who helped show the world what a wonderful city we have here in Columbus. Thanks.

This has been a huge economic boom to our town. Universal paid for all the city services that they used and had individual contracts with each of the downtown businesses. In addition they spent a lot of money in our city on supplies, food and additional services… things that I wouldn’t even think of like a hair cut, a visit to our local dentist, and emergency room visits for minor injuries just to name a few. As with any big event, there are always some folks who are inconvenienced and perhaps didn’t directly benefit. Sorry for the inconvenience you experienced.

Detours should be down by the time this is printed, and the city will be pretty well back to “normal” again. For a few days in March and again in May we were truly Hollywood, Wisconsin. Famous people walked our streets and experienced our hospitality. This is a time that we will remember and talk about for years to come, and an event that has given Columbus a positive image in our state and around the country. Thank you to everyone… and goodbye and good luck Adam Boor – locations, Steve Helms – construction, Michael Mann – Director, and Johnny Depp – superstar and really nice person. See at in the movies!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Streets / Economic Development

Tuesday evening was the council’s spring “Common Purpose” retreat. The Council reviewed our goals and objectives and revised our focus for 2008-9. Everyone agrees that economic development is the key to providing quality services while keeping taxes as low as possible. We are in the process of hiring an Economic Development Director who can help us market our city to businesses. These are tough economic times, and many businesses are closing all around us. At this time, we have a healthy industrial base in Columbus, and it is important to help each business continue to be successful and grow. Boyd Kraemer and I meet with our local industry leaders to understand their concerns and provide city services when we are able. It is helpful to build strong relationships between city government and our local industries.

Bonding for the capital improvement plan will happen later in May. The Capital improvement plan was presented to the council in January and discussed at several meetings. We have made a commitment to you the citizens to focus on improving the infrastructure of our city. I told you about the dam engineering, the library expansion study and the city hall roof project last week. There is also about $800,000 dedicated to street repairs. After many years of neglect, it is time to put in place a plan that will maintain and upgrade our streets. There are houses on Lewis Street that do not have city sewer, and we plan to extend the sewer line out Lewis Street. Williams Street has been promised an upgrade for years. Last year a number of streets were upgraded during the Main Street sewer project. We need to continue to maintain and improve our city infrastructure.

I’ve set up a Question and Answer blog on the Mayor’s Page of the City Website. You can find this at Please email me questions that you would like answered, and I’ll post them with my response. Have a great weekend!

Nancy Osterhaus – Mayor

Monday, May 5, 2008

Filming Schedule Change - May 12 & 13

Filming date has changed again. It is now scheduled for NEXT Monday and Tuesday in Columbus, May 12th & 13th. Please keep checking for any updates. I don't know yet which day will be in the downtown area, but will post as soon as I know anything more.

Photo courtesy of Michelle Martin

Public Enemies Filming Schedule

What I know right now is that Johnny Depp will be back in Columbus for filming on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Wednesday will be in the downtown area in the afternoon / early evening, and will be the best place for "Johnny" sightings.

Photo courtesy of Michelle Martin.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


I planned to have a listening session at the library today, but they will be cleaning carpets and doing crafts in the meeting room. So instead, I’ll be on Dickason Boulevard by City Hall. Please stop by and chat if you have a few minutes.

The movie will be back filming in Columbus this week. The new date is Thursday afternoon in the downtown area. Universal Studios encountered a number of problems that caused delays last week, but it seems that weather and actor’s schedules are cooperating again so that they can complete the filming in Columbus. They will be returning to town by the weekend to prepare. Welcome back Johnny Depp!! We received a lot of positive publicity for our city during their time here in March and a tremendous economic boom. It should be fun to see it all happen again.

This week the City Council discussed the 2008 – 10 capital expenditure plan and established funding for several very important projects in our city. We plan to put a new roof on City Hall. This grand old building needs a new roof. It is long overdue and needs our attention. This building has stood as the cornerstone of our downtown area since 1892. It is still a very viable structure and with a new roof will likely stand another 100 years serving the citizens of Columbus. Several years ago the roof was tested and determined to be over stressed, and in need of repairs. This is tricky to fix a roof when business is going on downstairs. City hall offices, the police department, council chambers and the Eastern Columbia County Court use the building. It will be interesting to see how they seal off the upstairs during construction. I’m sure that we’ll get rain as soon as the old roof is removed. It always seems to go that way.

We also put aside money to begin the engineering studies to repair the dam. Some folks may think that those studies were completed years ago, but in actually the studies completed to date just document the damage to the dam. We need to find out how to fix it. The city council approved moving forward with the repair of the dam structure up to a maximum amount of $500,000. This repair will not include dredging or stream bank restoration, but just the restoration of the concrete and gates. We continue to work with FEMA and other government agencies to try to get financial assistance to offset the city’s cost. Work will not commence until we have exhausted all possible funding options.

There is money in the capital improvement plan for streets including Williams street which is long overdue. The City Council has worked hard to prioritize projects, understanding funding options and set an affordable bonding level so that we can accomplish good work without raising taxes. Lots of hours and work have gone into prioritizing projects and determining priorities. Thank you to everyone on the City Council and City administration who helped pull this all together.

Have a wonderful weekend, and see you on the boulevard!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

New Filming Date - May 5 or 6

There's a change in the filming date for Public Enemies. We can now look forward to another round of filming on May 5th and / or May 6th. It was originally scheduled for this week, but this is a summer scene, and you may have noticed the weather this week... not exactly summer weather.

Cobblestone streets went down on East James Street on Friday and came back up on Saturday as the schedule changed. The cobblestone should return later this week. This gives the construction crew more time to take a deep breath and get things prepared for the filming.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Martin

Universal Studios Returns

Have you noticed the barricades downtown? Universal Studios is preparing for the final movie shots in Columbus. East James Street will be used for a scene involving a bank robbery that has gone badly, and one of the Dillinger gang members is injured. Johnny Depp and Michael Mann will be back in town to do this filming. The shooting for this scene will take about ½ day. The downtown will remain open for pedestrian traffic, and mostly open for cars. Semis and large trucks should be following the detours. On the day of the shoot, the whole downtown area will be closed off as it was last time.

There are lots of rumors around town of extravagant amounts of money being paid by Universal Studios to businesses and individuals. Be assured that these are just rumors, and there isn’t a thread of truth to them. The highest payment that I have heard is $1,500 for the rental of the building used to feed the crew the last time they were here. Most businesses and individuals received much less. It’s funny how rumors start and gain a life of their own. Remember that each individual business negotiated a contract with Universal Studios for compensation based on lost store traffic during the filming. The City was not involved in those negotiations.

I plan to hold a listening session next Saturday at the Columbus Library from 11:00 to 1:00. Please stop by to chat if you have a few minutes.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Movies and City Council Work

Universal Studios is returning to Columbus in about 10 days for the next round of filming Public Enemies with Johnny Depp. The filming will be focused on East James street, although we all know that things can change once they are here in town. In addition, there will be more filming in Columbus in May, but not in the downtown area. It will be wonderful to see everyone again. Julie is having a “Universal Day” at Julie’s Java today from 1:00 – 4:00 to welcome back the folks from Universal Studios. Stop by. The excitement continues!! Get your camera and autograph book ready for the next round of Johnny Depp sightings.

We have been operating under the Committee of the Whole structure for almost a year now, and I’d like to report that this new model has made a significant impact on the way that we do business, and on the amount of work and quality of work that we are able to accomplish. The Committee of the Whole meets twice a month to consider agenda items that are important to the council and the citizens that they represent. We have ‘experts’ provide information to the council, and discuss each topic. When the City Council feels that they have enough information to make a decision, that item is moved forward to the regular business meeting for voting. This has streamlined the way we do business, and moved us out of a structure put in place in the 1800’s to a modern, efficient way of doing business.

The power of the City Council lies in their vote. They also have complete freedom to place any item on the agenda for discussion. My role as mayor is to make sure that each person is given a fair chance to state their opinion in an open, respectful climate. I may participate in a limited way in the discussion at the Committee of a Whole meeting, but not at a council meeting when the vote is taken. This keeps the power of decisions with the City Council. We have tacked some tough topics under the Committee of a Whole structure, and we are making wise decisions fairly quickly. No one council person has more power or control over another, and that provides you the citizens with equal representation. Our record speaks for itself. We are accomplishing a lot of good work for the City of Columbus.

A special thank you to all of the folks who stepped forward to serve on committees this year. Much of the work of the city goes on through our committees. Thank you for taking your precious time and energy to serve the people of Columbus.

My grandson received his bone marrow transplant today. He now needs to stay healthy until the cells are able to regenerate bone marrow and his immune system is functioning again. He has about 4 weeks of hospitalization ahead of him, and most of that in isolation. He has remained remarkably bright and cheerful through all of this.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


This hasn’t been a very good week for Columbus. Two of our police officers have been put on administrative leave while an investigation is conducted into their activities on Thursday night. I am disappointed. The police department has undergone significant change in the past few months. I had hoped that we could build on the positive work and leadership. You can be assured that the investigation will be thorough and fair. No one will be harassed for speaking the truth. We will learn and grow from this experience. Our police officers work hard to build trust and relationships within the community. It is so easily broken.

And Ed Schellin has decided to create issues between the PFC and City Council. Issues that will likely cost the city legal fees and take up time and energy to resolve. What a shame. After the Council found that Ed had overstepped his authority and conducted himself improperly, they gave him a second chance to build a positive relationship with the City Council. It appears that he is unwilling or unable to work with the Council. Again disappointing.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Mayor's report 2008 04 02


Welcome spring, and welcome Tyler Walker and Jenny Perkins to the City Council. Tyler and Jenny won the election this week and will be seated on the council on the 22nd. It is exciting to have them part of our team! Tyler represents young families in our city, bringing their voice and energy to the City Council. Jenny’s husband Glen was very involved in politics and the school system. Welcome.

A City “scorecard” was posted on the website. This scorecard emerged from our planning meeting in February. We set goals for ourselves last year, and then measured our success in achieving those goals, and set new success measures for 2008. In some areas we did very well. In other areas we need to continue to focus on important issues to ensure success. The goals are high, the measures were tough. In the category of Industrial Economic Development we gave ourselves a green light for expanding industrial land and having profitable TIF districts for the first time. Under Downtown Revitalization we scored a yellow light because although some downtown properties were renovated there were a number of businesses closed without new ones replacing them. Overhauling the recreation department was a green light. Repairing the streets was green. Communication and tourism were yellow lights. You can see the whole scorecard on the website.

Universal Studios is returning to Columbus for filming on April 29th. The filming will be concentrated on East James Street, where one of the Dillinger gang members dies after a bank robbery gone wrong. There will be renovations and street closings in our downtown. I should have the dates of the closing shortly. At this point they are estimating the road closures beginning on April 25th. Our Universal Studios contact, Adam is working hard to keep Ludington and West James open through most of the work and filming. You may have noticed that East James was left pretty well in character after the first round of filming so that there should be much less construction work this time. We had such a great economic impact on our city from the first round of filming. It will be wonderful to have all those folks eating and purchasing things in our city again. Thank you to Universal Studios for choosing Columbus and for helping our economy. Welcome back.

In early April there will be a joint meeting with Chamber of Commerce, Main Street, Historic Preservation, Council and Auditorium Corporation to talk about how the movie could be used as a tourism draw for our city. there have been lots of great ideas thrown around. Now is the time to take this forward and continue the excitement.

And on a personal note. My grandson should be going in for his bone marrow transplant next week. it has been delayed a couple of times because he’s had a cold, but we have our fingers crossed that it can begin soon. And Sam should be welcoming a new little brother by the time this is in the paper. What a lot of things happening to one family. Sam will be in the hospital for at least 6 weeks with the transplant. We are experiencing so many emotions… fear, joy, anticipation, dread. It is love that holds it all together. Hug someone close to you this week and let them know that you love them. It will be good for all of us.

Nancy Osterhaus - Mayor