RHINELANDER - Most city council meetings are fairly quiet.
But what brought Rhinelander residents out tonight was a battle that’s become a common one in Wisconsin.
"Equal pay for equal work,"
That’s what Union workers wanted to maintain at tonight’s city council meeting in Rhinelander.
"We are going to be advocating that this is not how we entered this agreement in good faith," AFSCME staff representative, John Spiegelhoff said.
"Therefore we’re advocating for the city to not go through with this ordinance change and to vote it down."
The city is looking for ways to save money.
One way is to lower the wage rate on new department of public works hires by four dollars an hour.
"Before you make the move to reduce four dollars an hour from the wages of people who do the type of work that are covered in the contract which is a tremendous cut in pay," said Rhinelander resident, Dennis O'Brien.
"It really would be fare and prudent at your part to review this more carefully."
A union rep says doing so won’t just affect the department of public works.
"This is going to adversely affect labor relations within the city if it goes through," Spiegelhoff said.
"As well as the businesses that are going to be adversely affected."
But the city says it doesn’t have more money to give.
"The words that I heard were we want more not less. There is no more." Rhinelander Alderman, Mark Pelletier said.
"If you look at the tax increase that the city has done in the past few years, there’s not much capacity to raise taxes on our residents going forward, said Rhinelander Alderman, Alex Young.
"There just isn’t money in the piggy bank to keep going the way we’re going."
The council voted unanimously in favor of the decrease.
"All those in favor signify by saying “I” “EYE” votes opposed. Motion carried. Ordinance stands."
Young thinks the new wage rate is still a competitive rate.
This new proposal will not affect the current workers, only the new hires.
ROTHSCHILD - Wisconsin farms play a key role in our economy, but today's farm owners aren't getting any younger.
One apprentice program hopes to change that.
The Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship program is building and preparing the next generation of farmers. It gives young farmers hands-on training and a path to a career in dairy farming.
"There's a lot of farms that are going to be transitioned and transferred in the next decade or so, and what we really need is somebody to be able to take these farms over," says program director Joe Tomandl. "We don't have that training program in place, and that's what the dairy grazing apprenticeship is about."
A recent government census of American agriculture found the average age of a farmer is 58 years old. Leaders believe the apprentice program has already seen success with new farmers over the past few years.
"We have a number of new producers just in the last four years in Marathon and Lincoln counties now running their own dairy farms using managed grazing techniques," says Paul Daigle of the Marathon County Conservation, Planning, & Zoning Department. "It's still a struggle no matter what, but it offers a profitable way to get into farming today."
Cattle farmers met at the 20th Annual Winter Grazing Conference today in Rothschild.
ACROSS THE NORTHWOODS - Senate and House Representatives hope a wildfire disaster bill will help the U.S. Forest Service battle forest fires and still have funding to do its job.
The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2013, SB 1875, would treat extreme forest fires like a natural disaster. That would trigger access to separate pool of funding that would help some lawmakers believe would substantially help the Forest Service.
President Obama included the reforms in his proposed 2015 budget released earlier this week. The reforms would change how the government pays to fight wildfires.
Since 2002, The Forest Service has spent nearly $3 billions dollars of its funding to fight forest fires.
According to the department, Congress paid back the majority of that money, but that still delayed services from the department because payments were done after the fact.
That meant the Forest Service had to pull money away from programs like timber management and fire prevention programs to pay for fire suppression.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin-(D) Wisc. believes that is hurting the department and ultimately businesses and workers that rely on timber harvests in the national forests.
"Because we have had so much severe wildfires, it has left the rest of the forest service with insufficient resources to do their job," Baldwin said.
The Forest Service says funding is one of their key obstacles to increasing timber harvests.
The Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest(CNNF) stretches across parts of Northern Wisconsin. The forest's land management plan allows more than 130 million board feet of timber to be harvested every year, but only half of that allowable level has been harvested each of the past few years.
Baldwin believes the proposal would give the department more resources to improve harvest and land management.
"That will in my mind, in my mind if we are successful in seeing this through," Baldwin said. "We'll safeguard the funding that is really supposed to be used for other purposes to maintain healthy forests in the United States."
That will allow the Forest Service to use resources for the purpose they were intended for.
Baldwin hopes the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act gives leaders at the CNNF the resources to harvest levels closer to the allowable levels.
"The idea here is to that when we have an extreme wildfire event that they will be treated as the natural disasters that they are," Baldwin said. "And that a separate stream of funding will be used."
According to a American Forest Foundation report, the proposal would creates a budget cap adjustment for a 30% portion of wildfire disaster funding for USFS and DOI. They compare the structure to what the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) uses for other natural disaster response.
Most of the senators and representatives that are sponsoring the legislation come from states impacted by wildfires and the timber industry.
"We'll be leading this effort and we're just hopeful that we'll be able to see some progress," Baldwin said.
The proposal is in committee in both the House and Senate. Baldwin says she’s confident they’ll see progress with it this year. Rep. Reid Ribble-(R) Wisc. is a co-sponsor of the House version of the bill.
RHINELANDER - Your water and sewer bill could soon be on the rise if you live in Rhinelander.
Unlike other Northern Wisconsin cities, the water utility rates haven't changed since 2008.
The public works director says the cold winter only played a small role in the proposed increase.
Rising expenses and upgrades are the main reasons they hope to soon raise utility costs.
"Sewer rates are going up 13 percent in the city largely due to the expenses the utility has experienced because of the upgrades that have taken place and our best efforts to deliver the utility at a low expense," said Public Works Director Tim Kingman.
MADISON - A Wisconsin Rapids woman will spend three years on probation for threatening to kill a federal administrative law judge.
51-year-old Norma Prince was sentenced Thursday. Prince pleaded guilty in December.
Prosecutors say the incident happened Jan. 31, 2013, when Prince appeared at a Social Security disability benefits hearing in Wausau.
Administrative Law Judge Thomas Sanzi was presiding over the hearing by teleconference from Madison. Prosecutors say Prince became upset and threatened to shoot Sanzi and cut off his head. The hearing was halted and Prince was escorted from the courtroom.
Prince's husband told a federal agent that his wife had bought two .22-caliber rifles about a month before the disability hearing.
At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman said Prince's mental health issues can be controlled through medication and supervision.
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