As time crunches down to the 2020 passage of the Vilas County budget, departments are finalizing budgets, issuing requests and preparing for the November meeting with the full board for the ultimate decisions.
For the Vilas County Economic Development, Tourism and UW-Extension Committee, this means making a consorted effort to take a half time administrative position back to full time — after it was reduced not quite a year ago while keeping promotion dollars.
At its September meeting, the committee reviewed the overall department budget and the risk of asking for a majority vote to reclaim a full-time position amid lesser dollars countywide.
“This is not a new position … I can’t argue that it’s not justified,” committee member Marv Anderson said.
The job was taken down to fewer hours in an effort to put more department dollars into marketing. However, in hindsight, the department has not saved as much as it anticipated and it is not as beneficial as hoped, committee chair Holly Tomlanovich said.
“There doesn’t seem to be a recognition of the importance of tourism in this county,” she observed.
At least part of the loss of that full time position has been the inability to apply for grants that bring hundreds of thousands into the county, according to tourism director Cindy Burzinski.
“My office has a great need to extend this back to a full time position,” she indicated.
“Part of what we need to have, is having human resources support of this,” committee member Carolyn Ritter noted. “We cut this to half time for promotion, now we want full time but don’t want to give up the promotion (dollars) … we’re asking for … more … at the same time, other committees are asking to cut back or stay the same … how do we justify asking for a $17,000 increase for this department?”
Tomlanovich noted the committee and department made an effort to cut hours to save those promotion dollars, but weren’t given all the information when they made the decision. It had acted on the thought it would be able to keep the full estimated $33,000 savings for its use, but half of that had to go to the county’s general fund. It was later reduced again due to a “mistake,” she explained.
“I can (justify it),” she said. “I understand Vilas County tourism is the main economy driver. It’s a fact of this county.”
Ritter pointed out the county has 11 chambers working to promote each of their communities, in addition to cities, businesses, organizations, clubs and citizens.
“We are part of this picture. We are not the most important part,” Ritter said.
Committee member Jay Verhulst said the change needed to be made as simple as possible to pass county board approval.
“Or we will go in there and not get it,” he said.
The finance committee must first approve the alteration before it goes to the county board.
“This is gonna get kicked out at finance (committee),” member Steve Doyen said. “We’ll have to take it to the county board floor as an amendment.”
The committee passed a motion to forward the 2020 budget to the human resources department with the additional funds for promotions and the restoration of the full time administrative assistant. County promotion and expenses are currently at $165,780 in that budget.
Egan to retire
The tourism committee heard from Vilas County Economic Development Corporation executive director Bob Egan, who informed the committee he is retiring at the end of the year.
An extensive search has already been underway, with a number of qualified applicants already in the running, Egan said.
“We have 24 applications so far,” Egan relayed.
That pool will be narrowed down to four or five for in-person interviews. The new director is expected to have a higher salary than Egan.
Egan plans to continue serving on the VCEDC Board of Directors.
“I absolutely want to see this organization stay successful,” he observed. “I can honestly say I’m still having fun.”
Egan also reported Land O’ Lakes will be having a tower erected on town land. It will later be decided which providers utilize it to increase cell reception in the area, which is zero in many areas there.
“That’s looking really well,” Egan said.
Following a successful opening of a grocery store in Land O’ Lakes, Egan noted Phelps is now considering how to bring one to their town.
In other business, the committee:
• Approved a program manager lease agreement for a UW-Extension employee who works across Oneida, Vilas and Forest to have office space within Vilas.
The agreement is on auto renewal each year, and can be changed as far as lease amount, it was noted.
• Heard about the $200,000 annual revolving loan fund, approved by the county earlier this year. Egan will be meeting with area bankers in an effort to educate them about it.
“I want to make them aware of the loans so far, and they can use it as one more tool in their toolbox,” Egan observed.
There is a $20,000 cap per applicant, which some feel is limiting its capability.
“These loans have become a factor in economic development in the area … but for all intents and purposes, the Vilas County revolving loan fund is a micro-fund,” Egan said.
Ritter indicated baby steps are the best method for such funds. If one applicant were to be issued $100,000 and that applicant fails, “we’ve lost half our loan,” she explained.
“We set it up so the money stays in the county coffers and that’s where it’s going to be,” Doyen said.
• Learned from Pilch and Barnet that Vilas County is getting more website hits off its new Pinterest platform, according to Lyn Barnet.
“It’s a very effective way of getting website traffic,” she said.
Social media overall has garnered some 1.2 million impressions in the second quarter, including Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, Barnet also reported.
Efforts to expand marketing to Mississippi and Iowa have also fared well.
“It’s exactly what we hoped it would be,” she said. “We are getting (people) introduced to who we are and what we are about.”
• Were told the Vilas County trail app may be updated based on a user survey, currently underway.
“We want to know how people are actually using it, versus how we think they should use it,” said Burzinski. “Then we will determine if changes are needed.”