The Onalaska Cemetery Committee won a major victory Tuesday night after members of the city’s board of public works voted to include up to $60,000 to complete fencing along 12th Avenue and Hickory Street.

For the last month, more than a dozen members of the public spoke out in support of the cemetery project and pleaded with the board and common council to set aside funds to complete the fencing project that began in 2015.

Lois Riniker, who is heavily involved with the cemetery project asked the board to reconsider its decision not to fund phase two of the project during the public hearing.

She said bids she’d received placed the cost at nearly $40,000 less than the $90,000 projected by the city.

“With that new figure, we hope we can be added into the 2018 budget,” Riniker said, adding that there’s a possibility of obtaining an additional $20,000 in grant funding to offset the cost.

City Engineer Jarrod Holter reminded the board the city’s bidding process is different from a private entity and the bids may not have included bonding insurance or a contingency fund.

In a 3-2 vote, the board narrowly approved a motion to postpone city forestry projects and the purchase of a police vehicle. Holter and Finance Director Fred Buehler, who both serve on the board, voted against the motion pushed by Board Member Ron Gjertsen. Gjertsen argued the city needed to focus on finishing old projects before it starts new ones.

“I think what we should do is look at old jobs versus new jobs,” he said.

He proposed cutting $50,000 from city forestry funds intended to replace trees devastated by Emerald Ash Borer beetles and $45,497 for the purchase of an unmarked squad car.

Police Chief Jeffery Trotnic said the department could get by without the unmarked squad for another year, but asked the board to keep the two marked squad cars in the budget.

“You talk about need versus want,” he said. “The marked squares are the greater priority.”

In addition to the cemetery project, the board unanimously voted to approve the addition of $50,000 to the capital improvements budget for additional seating at the Great River Landing overlooking Lake Onalaska.

Board member Harvey Bertrand argued the seating at the park was inadequate. He distributed photographs to the board showing the lack of seating.

“We have two swings under the pavilion, only two swings, and if you go down the way, there are only a couple of benches,” he said. “The seating is paltry.”

The board will attempt to use tourism funds intended for the Omni Center to finance these improvements. Before this can happen, the city will need to get approval from the Room Tax Committee before moving forward.

The board voted unanimously to approve the 2018 capital improvements budget and recommend for its approval by the Common Council on Dec. 12. The city is expected to borrow roughly $4 million for capital improvement projects in 2018.

An additional $5.8 million worth of water, sewer and storm water projects is also proposed. These projects would be financed through mortgage revenue bonds backed by utility revenues.

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Winona Daily News Crime & Government Reporter

Tobias Mann covers crime and local government for the Winona Daily News. He can be reached at or at 507-271-3271.

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