While the process to build a new Rolling Hills Nursing Home facility began in 2017, 2018 saw a change of location, legal challenges and approval of a referendum question to put the fate of the nursing home up to the voters. It’s the Tomah Journal’s top news story for 2018.

On Jan. 24 the Monroe County Board of Supervisors voted to move the site of the new facility to the new Tomah Health campus. Originally the board voted to build the facility across the road from the existing facility on Hwy. B in Sparta.

On Feb. 19, supporters of keeping Rolling Hills in Sparta filed a complaint against 10 supervisors, accusing them of holding a meeting in violation of Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law. The meeting in question involves a Rule 5 petition that allows supervisors to initiate resolutions outside the committee process. The petition was circulated Nov. 21, 2017, and the complaint says the collection of signatures constitutes a “walking quorum,” which is prohibited by the Open Meetings Law. It seeks to void the Jan. 24 resolution.

At the Dec. 20 county board meeting, supervisors approved a resolution to authorize the creation of an advisory referendum to determine whether voters support construction of a new county-run senior care facility.

The board approved the resolution by a 10-6 vote, and the referendum will appear on the April 2, 2019, ballot. The question will read: “Should Monroe County, Wisconsin, build a new senior care facility at an estimated construction cost of $20 million with an estimated bond repayment schedule of $1.5 million over a 20-year period?”

County administrator Jim Bialecki said the county intends to hold public hearings to educate county residents on the referendum and its impact on county property owners.

Other major stories in 2018:

Gundersen clinic: While construction did not begin on the nursing home, it did begin for Gundersen Health System’s new Tomah clinic, which will be located at the new Tomah Health campus. Construction of the 77,000-square-foot facility began in early 2018 with completion expected for summer of 2019.

Services at the facility will include dental, family medicine, general surgery, imaging, lab, OB/GYN, orthopedics, podiatry, renal dialysis and vision. It will also include a 5,200-square-foot comprehensive cancer center and Gundersen pharmacy inside the clinic with drive-through service.

At a groundbreaking ceremony on June 13, Gundersen Health System CEO Dr. Scott Rathgaber said the new facility is about “enriching the lives of the people in the region with quality health care.”

New sheriff: Monroe County elected a new sheriff in November. Wes Revels, a Republican, defeated Democrat Jeffrey Schwanz by a vote of 10,514 to 5,985 in the Nov. 6 general election. He will succeed Republican Scott Perkins, who declined to seek a second term after winning in 2014. His first day in office will be Jan. 7, 2019. Revels defeated three other Republican candidates in the Aug. 14 primary election. The other candidates were Tomah Police Department Lt. Ron Waddell, Wilton Police chief Jeremy Likely and retired Army Reserve Maj. Rick Dickenson of Sparta.

It was Revels’ second bid for the post. He was narrowly defeated in the 2014 by Perkins. Revels is a former city of Tomah police chief. He served for 27 years in the Tomah Police Department, the last five as police chief from 2008-13. After losing the sheriff’s race in 2014 Revels worked for First Choice Realty before taking a deputy position in the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, where he served for 20 months.

In June, Revels faced controversy after he was accused of copying parts of a speech from the website of 2014 Frederick County, Maryland sheriff candidate Kevin Grubb. Revels admitted to copying sentences word-for-word and called it a “mistake.” He used the material in his April 5 speech announcing his intent to run for sheriff. He declined to characterize his actions as plagiarism.

Kids in cages: On Aug. 24, Travis Headrick, 47, and Amy Michelle Headrick, 39, of Melvina were arrested after authorities found evidence that children were being kept in “makeshift cages.” Each was charged with nine felony counts — three counts of recklessly endangering safety, four counts of neglecting a child/causing emotional damage and two counts of false imprisonment. The couple faces a maximum of 41 years in prison if convicted of all nine counts.

According to a criminal complaint, five children lived in the residence; four were adopted and one was the Headricks’ biological daughter. A disabled adult also lived in the home. The complaint stated that when police entered the home they found a 10-year-old boy in a horse trough, an 11-year-old boy in a double-stacked cage and a 12-year-old girl in a room which could only be unlocked from the hallway.

The Headricks’ told police the children were caged due to issues with discipline and incontinence and that confining them was the only way to keep them safe.

On Aug. 28 a cash bond was set for $20,000 for each of the Headricks.

Justice Center settlement: In April a settlement was reached between Monroe County and the Washington, D.C.-based architectural firm Louis Berger Group for $750,000. The county blamed the firm for design flaws of the Monroe County Justice Center, which led to cost overruns over $5 million for the new Monroe County Justice Center in Sparta.

The county was involved in mediation with Louis Berger for over a year. Construction of the facility concluded in September 2017 and included a new jail and courtrooms.

WEDC grant: The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation awarded a $250,000 Community Development Investment grant to the city of Tomah to assist in the construction of the 3rd Gen. LLC mixed-use commercial building at the site of the former Tee Pee Supper Club site. The building will contain a restaurant/banquet facility, office space and 11 residential units. Work at the site began in February.

Tomah City administrator Roger Gorius said the grant will be applied to Tax Incremental Finance District 8 and will accelerate the process of putting the facility on the city’s tax roll, “that money ... will lower the amount that the TID has to invest in the project.”

1,000th point: Tomah High School girls basketball player Madison Lindauer scored her 1,000th career point late in the Timberwolves’ final game of the season Feb. 23 at Holmen.

Wetlands dispute: In May, administrative law judge Eric Defort rescinded a Department of Natural Resources permit allowing Georgia timber company Meteor Timber to construct a frac sand processing and loading plant in Monroe County, filling 16.25 acres of wetlands near Millston. The permit was challenged by the Ho-Chunk Nation and Clean Wisconsin. Defort claimed the DNR didn’t have the information required to issue the permit.

By June, Clean Wisconsin and the Ho-Chunk Nation filed lawsuits in Monroe and Dane counties after DNR Secretary Dan Meyer, on behalf of Meteor Timber, appointed staff attorney Mark Harmon to review Defort’s ruling.

Floods: Tomah escaped serious damage from late August flooding that ravaged Western Wisconsin. Tomah received 4.3 inches of rain on Aug. 27 and .75 inches Aug. 28. Several city parks were under water, including the dog park at Glendale Avenue and Firemen’s Park. Kendall received 8 ½ inches of rain and sustained serious flooding. North of Tomah rainfall totals dramatically trailed off with Warrens getting 3.02 inches, Black River Falls receiving 1.12 inches and Hatfield getting .6 inches.

In southern Monroe County nearly 50 roads were closed or seriously compromised due to the rainfall.

New mayor: Mike Murray was elected as the new mayor of Tomah in the April 3 general election. Murray defeated incumbent Nellie Pater by a 780-350 vote margin.

Warrens celebrates: The Monroe County village of Warrens celebrated 150 years. On July 3-4 Warrens held the majority of its sesquicentennial celebration activities; some of the event’s activities were held during the annual Warrens Cranberry Festival.

School referendum: The Tomah School Board approved a referendum to extend the district’s authority to exceed state-imposed revenue caps by $1.5 million for each of the next four years to go on the April 2, 2019, ballot. In April 2016, voters passed a referendum to exceed the revenue caps for three years, which will end with the 2019-20 school year. If the referendum is passed, the district’s tax rate is expected to remain steady.

Running to state: Tomah High School’s Hannah Wilcox-Borg made history by qualifying for the WIAA state cross country meet. She was the first Tomah girl to compete at state since Suzy Neas in 1987. She qualified by finishing fourth during a heavy snowstorm at the sectional race in Madison.

Toro expansion: The Toro plant in Tomah began a two-part expansion project in 2018. It is the company’s “single biggest capital improvement,” said plant financial manager Dennis Coffey. He said it will double the size of the existing structure. The expansion will be done in two parts, expected to be complete in October 2019 and February 2020. The first part is the expansion of the painting system and the second part is turning the warehouse storage space into two new assembly lines, which will create 75 new jobs.

Ambulance site: The location for the new Tomah Area Ambulance Service ambulance barn remains still up in the air. Originally planned to be located on the new Tomah Health campus on Gopher Avenue, the Tomah City Council’s June decision was vetoed by mayor Mike Murray, who was concerned by the addition of four minutes to response time to the north end of town because of the site location. TAAS director Randy Dunford is searching for alternate locations.

Museum celebrates: The Tomah Area Historical Society & Museum opened for its 20th season on May 1. In honor of the milestone, the museum held a 20th anniversary celebration, which included a medallion hunt where the prize was a Tomah Trivia board game, and actors from the Area Community Theatre portrayed Frosty and Joyce Mades, who donated the building to start the museum in 1997.

Tractor pull: The Sunday shows for the Budweiser Dairyland Super National Truck and Tractor Pull were removed for the 2018 event. Monroe County Agricultural Society marketing director Julie Zebro said the show was removed mainly to give pullers and fans a travel day and said the schedule change is permanent.

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Meghan Flynn can be reached at meghan.flynn@lee.net.

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