Community Update – Holiday Open House & The Season of Giving

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Holiday Open House Invite

HolidayOpenHouse2014

This Thursday, December 18, members of the public are invited to join in celebrating the holidays at our first City Hall Holiday Open House from 4:30-6:30PM.  The open house is meant to serve multiple purposes- to celebrate and recognize those who have served on various Boards, Commissions, Committees and Councils, and to meet and get to know City Staff and various members of our community.

To prepare City Hall for the event, area students have worked on decorating ornaments that will be placed on garland trees located throughout the first floor of City Hall.  There will be holiday music performed by a local choir.  Holiday cookies from local businesses and refreshments will be served  Finally, donations of nonperishable, canned goods will be accepted, to support our local food bank.  The invitation can be viewed here.  I hope to see you Thursday!

Supporting Local Organizations

During this time of year, I would like to offer my profound gratitude to those who volunteer to ensure that those in need are provided for.  In our community, there are numerous opportunities for those interested in helping support local organizations and individuals in need.  I will outline a few below:

The Wisconsin Rapids Fire Department is holding its 48th Annual Toy and Gift Drive to provide toydrive
assistance to the many children in need in our community.  Through Wednesday, December 17, new/gently used unwrapped toys or monetary donations are being collected for distribution by social workers and counselors at Wisconsin Rapids Schools to our community’s children in need over the holidays.  Donations for the program can be dropped off at either fire station (1511 12th S. S. or 1641 W. Grand Ave.).  More information about the program can be found by visiting this link.

giftofgivingIn the weeks leading up to Christmas, various local businesses are offering the opportunity to positively influence and impact the youth of our community this holiday season, supporting the Boys & Girls Club through “Giving the Gift of a Great Future.”  Through Friday, December 19, a portion of purchases at several local businesses will be donated to the Boys & Girls Club in supporting programming for our community’s youth.  To learn more about the “Giving the Gift of a Great Future” campaign and participating businesses, visit this link.

Wisconsin Rapids area schools are helping keep kids warm through the “Caring Closet” program- collecting coats, boots, winter gloves and hats for distribution to students who need outer clothing during the cold months.  Originally opened several years in the basement of the Family Center as an effort to provide new and gently used essentials and clothing to WRPS students, the Caring Closet is now located on site at East Junior High School.  With 47% of school age children in our community now qualifying for free and reduced lunch meals, it is very clear that many children need assistance in order to enjoy a happy holiday season.  A small gift can go a long way in the life of a child and make their Christmas enjoyable and memorable.  Donations for the Caring Closet can be dropped off at either fire station (1511 12th S. S. or 1641 W. Grand Ave.) or at our local area schools.  For more information on Caring Closet or to make a donation directly, call 715-424-6730, ext. 3174.

I am thankful to live in a community where we have so many residents who volunteer their time to make wonderful things happen in our City. The impact that your help makes on those in need and our community is immeasurable.  To all our volunteers- thank you for your time and commitment- you make our city great!

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – Train Delays in Wisconsin Rapids

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Train Delays in Wisconsin Rapids

WR TrainOver the past couple months, residents of Wisconsin Rapids have taken notice- and experienced- an upswing in train delays at a number of our City’s 4+ crossings.  These delays, ranging from minutes to (infrequently) over an hour, have the potential to create an unanticipated impact on people’s travel, human capital for employment, and potentially emergency response activity through the isolation of the City, West of the tracks.

Railroad activity (specifically freight) has been a cost-effective means of moving materials throughoutRailroad map Wisconsin (and the country) since the late 1800s.  Today, freight railroads continue to play an important role in our local and regional economy through use of container shipments.   As you can see from this map, rail interconnectedness makes moving large shipments anywhere within and out of the state possible through use of trains.  For Wisconsin Rapids, our roots in paper and manufacturing, coupled with our central location, make rail a critical part of our local infrastructure and movement of goods throughout into and out of our region.

Given rail use will continue to be an significant mode of transportation in Wisconsin’s economy, it necessitates a focus on what actions might be needed to keep freight and people moving as efficiently and safely as possible.  The recent upswing of train delays and related safety concerns has warranted the need to reach out to the railroad for possible solutions and ongoing work to quantify the issues caused by trains in our City and surrounding municipalities.  Due to being federally regulated, local control and enforcement of long delays through use of citations is vastly limited, further necessitating an increased dialogue with the railroad companies to work toward a solution.

To help quantify the impact that train delays have on queuing at intersections, our City’s Engineering Department has been undergoing a study, looking at movements blocking tracks, as well as investigating what external factors may be causing the upswing in delays.  Coupled with our internal study, over the past weeks, I’ve been in contact with national representatives from CN about the blockages occurring at City crossings, primarily related to switching resulting in back and forth movements blocking tracks.  From my conversations with CN, I have been informed that my messages- and those from residents- have been received and elevated to their Government Affairs and Operations staff.  Short of building an overpass or rerouting, I affirm my commitment to working together to remedy this situation in a way that is satisfactory for residents while still ensuring the continued operations of the railroads.

I encourage continued sharing of thoughts and concerns with City Staff as well as CN as we move forward.  It is my hope- and expectation- that we find a solution that affords residents and visitors to our City the means to travel our streets in an efficient and safe manner. I will share information as it becomes available. Comments may be sent to CN here.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Rekindle the Spirit Celebration and Small Business Saturday

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“Rekindle the Spirit” Holiday Lighting and Parade

This evening, Wednesday November 26 from 5:30-7:30PM, the Heart of Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce Rekindlewill host the 22nd Annual “Rekindle the Spirit” holiday lighting ceremony and parade in downtown Wisconsin Rapids.  The celebration will begin with a lighting ceremony at Veteran’s Park, followed by a parade that begins at the Rapids Mall, travels down Grand Avenue and ends at 4th Street South.  Following the parade, the public is invited to commence at the Hotel Mead for music, hot chocolate and cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus!  With this week’s snow, we are sure to have a perfect setting for the holiday festivities.  I look forward to seeing you there!

Small Business Saturday and Shopping Local

SBSWith this Weekend marking the kickoff to holiday shopping (if not already earlier this week), and one of the busiest shopping days of the year, it also is a reminder to visit the small businesses we have throughout our City.  This Saturday, November 29, I encourage residents to celebrate “Small Business Saturday,” by heading to your favorite local shop or stop by one you haven’t and celebrating our community’s small businesses. Shopping locally benefits our community by:

  1. Improving our local economy – every time you spend a dollar, you are impacting the big picture of our City and contributing to community liveliness. Many of the small businesses in Wisconsin Rapids are owned by someone who lives in our community. That means that the money you spend locally will be recycled back into our local economy.
  2. Enriching our Community – Small businesses are the heartbeat of every thriving community. While franchises and national chain stores play a role in the national and local economy, small businesses provide an undeniable energy and unique sentiment that is the backbone of our community’s life.
  3. Experiencing a one-of-a-kind connection – Shopping with local business owners offers a sincere customer-owner connection. Small business owners are experts on the product they create and sell; merchandise is carefully selected based on the customer’s interests and needs, and owners will go the extra mile to guarantee personal attention to the customer.

To learn more about the importance of shopping locally, and the significance of shopping locally this Saturday, visit the “Small Business Saturday” webpage.  I look forward to shopping alongside residents at local retailers and helping make a big impact on our local community this Saturday.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – National League of Cities Exposition and Thanksgiving Holiday

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National League of Cities – Congress of Cities Exposition

NLC1Last Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I joined local elected officials committed to economic development, shared prosperity, and efficient government approaches for the National League of Cities Congress of Cities and Exposition in Austin TX.  Founded in 1924, the National League of Cities (NLC) has been at the forefront in supporting strong local leadership and ensuring that cities have the capacity and authority to build better communities.  Last week’s sessions included discussions on the importance of data and innovation in communities, community branding and marketing, and attracting and retaining young adults and families to our community.  Details of several of the breakout sessions follow:

1) Supporting Entrepreneurship- One of a city’s most important objectives is to enable an environment that creates jobs, triggers economic growth and generates local revenue.  in today’s economy, many cities recognize the value in building entrepreneurship into the core of their platform, and are turning to entrepreneurs and high-growth start-ups to accelerate economic development. The session included a panel discussion from leaders in technology, civic investment and government entities who shared best practices for fostering entrepreneurship.  A key takeaway I had was that many entrepreneurs are looking for places that have innovative markets, a good quality of life and monetary/community incentives.  From what I learned at this session, I am proud of the progress Wisconsin Rapids is making in positioning ourselves to better meet entrepreneurial needs for incubation and acceleration.   We are finalizing development and near a public launch of our GrowRapids web portal – a solution that seeks to provide information to budding entrepreneurs on market information, community resources and incentives available.  Additionally, I will soon be working to form a Citywide Business Advocacy Team (CBAT)- a cross departmental team that will work collaboratively and serve as ‘problem solvers’ to minimize roadblocks or delays and help entrepreneurs start their businesses with less obstacles.  First announced at this year’s State of the City Address, CBAT will be a team of advocates, inside City Hall, charged with proactively reviewing ordinances and policies to minimize delay and help to create business opportunities.  In relation to quality of life, I have called for further investments into our City parks and increasing the quality of our city’s public spaces offerings, including assessing what our public aquatics offerings might look like in the near future.  The quality of our public spaces is directly tied to the attraction of young adults/families, not to mention, increasing the quality of life for all residents.  These are a great start, but there is more work that can be done. Entrepreneurs and small businesses are important to achieving greater economic prosperity; I will continue working to develop solutions to improve our current processes and better respond to their needs.

2) Open Government and Financial Transparency – Governments around the country have NLCbeen faced with a challenge with increasing technology- how can we utilize technology trends to allow decision-makers to be more data-driven and efficient with decisions, and allow for residents to not only access information more easily, but in a form that is easily understood.  With the 2015 City Budget being adopted last week, it felt timely to attend a session on increasing financial transparency and finding ways to make information more readily available to decision-makers and residents alike.  Last week’s session explored what was referred to as the “government technology deficit” and how some communities around the country are utilizing technology offerings to make information more readily available and easy to understand.  Using the City’s Executive Budget as an example: although we publish the budget and associated correspondence online on our City’s website, I recognize that more can be done to help plan for future years, and understand the constraints we operate within.  The advent of online and cloud-based solutions can help save time, improve decision-making and information dissemination with constituents.  The session was valuable for reinforcing what we are doing right for information transparency, but also for learning what opportunities exist for us to improve.  I look forward to working in the future with our City’s Finance and IT department to explore some of the solutions that exist to continue to improve the way we make information available, both internally and externally.

3) Facilitating Meaningful Civic Engagement – In today’s society, local communities are in the midst of a major transformation in local governance that is changes the roles and expectations about how local government engages with residents to solve problems and take effective public action.  Recognizing that effective engagement requires more than one-way communication, many municipalities are working to find strategies for joining with residents to collaborate in effective public problem-solving to find ways to help improve City services and solve community problems.  Over my terms as Mayor, I’ve set a focus on improving the opportunities that residents- from youth to adults- have to become involved in community affairs.  From the Mayor’s Council on Beautification, with its focus on visual improvement projects throughout the City, to Mayor’s councils on Sustainability and Youth, both near launching, there are many opportunities for people to be involved around “interest areas” to help enhance their City.  Recently, we’ve also seen excellent resident engagement and feedback through the Pool Ad-Hoc Committee meetings, to focus on understanding the usage, and operational challenges of our current pool, and consider how to engage residents in dealing with aquatics in our community.  Even with these opportunities available and upcoming in our community, we always recognize that more can be done.  Last week’s session was a great opportunity to share of our successes, and learn from other municipalities what worked well and best practices for fostering meaningful civic engagement.  I look forward to formally announcing additional opportunities to get involved in the near future!

Events such as the NLC Congress of Cities- by bringing municipal leaders from all over the country together- better establish creative solutions to real-world problems cities like ours face on a daily basis.  It was beneficial to take part in the many conversations with Mayors on these very important topics and is encouraging to see that Wisconsin Rapids is on the right track in addressing some of the important topics facing all municipalities today..

Thanksgiving Holiday

This week, families will gather together around kitchen tables to celebrate Thanksgiving and createNeighborhood Table many new memories together.  Much of the Thanksgiving season is about giving back to the community.  As Mayor, each day I have the privilege to see firsthand the commitment, generosity and compassion of residents in our community who generously volunteer their time.  In particular, I’d like to recognize those at the Neighborhood Table, an example of our community’s outstanding local charitable organizations, who will ensure this Thanksgiving season that those in need will have a warm meal to enjoy.

To all-  a very safe, happy and memorable Thanksgiving weekend!,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – Running for Public Office, Tree Lighting Ceremony, and Vital Signs Announcement

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Learn About Running for Public Office

Making a difference in society can take many different forms. For me, there was no better place to get as involved as with the City I grew up in. To others, it can be anything from volunteering, serving on boards/commissions, or running for public office.  This Wednesday, November 19 at 6:30PM,  anyone thinking about running for public office, or interested in learning more about the process and importance of public service is encouraged to attend the “Why and How to Run for Local Elected Office” event hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Wisconsin Rapids Area.  The event will inform attendees on the process of running for public office, from filing the necessary papers and campaign finances, to getting the word out to voters.

I believe that no matter what our age or background or walk of life, each of us has something to contribute to the life of this community.  For anyone who feels a calling toward public service, I sincerely hope you consider your options to get involved, whether it is as an elected official or otherwise, in serving your community.  If you are interested in the event but cannot attend, RCCA Media will be recording the event and a video will be available to view Saturday on their YouTube channel.

Shoe Sensation – Grand Opening

This Thursday, November 20th, Wisconsin Rapids will celebrate the grand opening of a new shoe Shoe Sensationstore, Shoe Sensation. In a previous Community Update, I drew attention to Shoe Sensation, a regional chain that focuses on growing in smaller communities, announcing their selection of our City for their 2nd Wisconsin store.

Shoe Sensation is located at the Crossroads Center, 1000E. Riverview Expressway between Copps and Shopko.  To learn more about activities and promotions planned for their grand opening event, visit this link.  Shoe Sensation aims to provide shoes to the whole family, with typical stores carrying over 10,000 pairs of shoes across a wide range of styles.  For those of us who struggle to find shoes close to home, the addition of Shoe Sensation to our community is welcomed.

Love Lights Tree Lighting Ceremony

love lightsThis Friday, November 21 at 6:30PM, Riverview Hospital Auxiliary will be holding the “Love Lights” Tree Lighting Ceremony at the Riverview Medical Center, 410 Dewey St..  The ceremony will mark the lighting of trees covered with “Love Lights” purchased to remember or honor those who had an impact on the community or lives of others.  Lights purchased help fund the UW Cancer Center – Riverview’s equipment and programs.

Friday’s event will include refreshments, music and the reading of contest submission essays by area fourth grade students.  To learn more about the “Love Lights” event, please visit this link.  For anyone who cannot attend the event, RCCA Media will be capturing the tree lighting, with the video available next week Monday on their YouTube channel.

Vital Signs Announcement

Vital SignsThis Thursday, November 20, 2014 at 4:30PM-7:00PM at the Centralia Center, the fourth issue of Vital Signs will be released.  The Vital Signs report summarizes the most recent and best available data to help focus discussions on economic opportunity in the south Wood County area.  This year’s event will have an interactive format, designed to connect the dots between what is working well, what may need more work, and what lies ahead for our region.  Participants will learn and discuss how information contained in Vital Signs can be helpful in realizing a community that works well for all our people. Attendees will also receive the 2014 Vital Signs report.

If you care deeply about our region, join Laura Dresser, Associate Director of Center on Wisconsin Strategy, and Kelly Ryan, CEO of Incourage for this special presentation. For more information about Thursday’s event, and to RSVP, visit this link.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Community Update – Celebrating Veterans Day, Candy Bar Election, and Community Photo Contest

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Celebrating Veterans Day

Tuesday, November 11, marks the anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I on Veterans DayNovember 11, 1918. The following year, November 11 was made a national holiday in honor of our nation’s veterans.  To show the men and women of the United States Armed Forces appreciation for their brave service and celebrate our country’s heroes, several local Veterans Day ceremonies are scheduled to take place this Tuesday:

  • 11:00AM – Ceremony honoring all veterans – Veteran’s Park
  • 12:00PM – Post Ceremony Chili Lunch – American Legion Post 9’s Clubhouse
  • 1:00PM – Wood County Veterans Memorial Legacy Stone Ceremony – Courthouse
  • 4:00PM – Spaghetti Dinner – VFW Post No. 2534 Clubhouse, 2711 Reddin Rd.

As we recognize this Veterans Day in the company of family and friends, we pay tribute to the brave men and women in our nation’s military who are presently serving overseas and are in harm’s way. Let us remember all of those who have served in our nation’s armed forces, and let us reflect on the freedoms we enjoy in this nation that were paid for by those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“Wisconsin Rapids Stand Down” Event

Last Wednesday, I joined over 100 local veterans, members of the County Veterans Service Officer’s Association and 12 local agencies, for the inaugural “Wisconsin Rapids Stand Down” event.  The event was designed to acquaint veterans with the many resources available to them, and covered opportunities including enrolling for VA benefits, employment programs, credit and financial counseling, help for substance abuse, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Flu shots were also made available to registered veterans who attended.  In all, last week’s event saw a great turnout: 107 Veterans participated, 42 Veterans received clothing assistance, 11 received flu shots, and 7 Veterans were identified as homeless and received assistance with shelter (something critically important with the cold weather returning to our area).  For a video report on last week’s Stand Down event, visit this link.

The State of Wisconsin has a long history of providing supporting benefits, programs and services to returning veterans, but many individuals aren’t aware of the help they are eligible for.  Wednesday’s Stand Down event was an excellent opportunity for our local agencies to provide supporting ways to help Veterans who have served selflessly in this nation’s military.  For more information about the Wisconsin Rapids Stand Down event, please contact Rock Larson, Wood County CVSO or visit the County Veterans Service Officer’s Association website.

Woodside Candy Bar Election

FullSizeRender_1 (2)Last week, in conjunction with Election day and to educate 3rd and 4th grade students at Woodside Elementary School on topics related to the electoral system, I had the opportunity to participate in Woodside’s annual Candy Bar Election event.  The goal of last week’s event was to expose students to the election process by providing an engaging classroom experience around elections and the jobs of elected leaders.

The event’s activities included students giving speeches
“campaigning” for their favorite candy bar, accompanied by created campaign signs to raise awareness forFullSizeRender_1 their assigned candidate.  After, students then cast their vote for their favorite.  After two consecutive years of Kit Kat winning, the 2014 Candy Bar Election winner was Twix!  After voting, I spoke with students on the importance of voting and getting involved early in making our city a better place.  I also spoke about my job duties as Mayor and the different opportunities for getting involved in the Wisconsin Rapids area.  As always, the students were full of excellent questions!  I appreciate invitations like these to ensure all people have direct access to their Mayor.

Capture the Community Photo Contest

If you were a visitor to the Wisconsin Rapids area, what events, recreational activities, landmarks or Photo Contestattractions would you attend?  The Wisconsin Rapids Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is sponsoring a photo contest to help answer this question- what do community members believe visitor’s should know about or see in the Wisconsin Rapids area.  From now until December 1, 2014, you can enter your photos in the Community Photo Contest, for a chance to be used in various Visit Wisconsin Rapids publications and on its website, to promote the Wisconsin Rapids Area as a destination.

The “Capture the Community” photo contest is an excellent opportunity for our many talented local photographers to showcase their photos.  For complete contest information and rules, please visit this link.

Thank you for reading,

Mayor Zach Vruwink

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Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings Host the Illiana Blackbirds This Weekend

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riverkings- LogoThis weekend, Wisconsin Rapids’ newly launched junior hockey team- The Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings, will play their second home game stretch of the 2014/2015 season, by hosting the Illiana Blackbirds at the South Wood County Recreation Center.  Game Time will be at 7:30PM tonight (Friday,11/7/2014) where I have the honor of dropping the ceremonial puck to start the game. The Riverkings take the ice again at 7:30PM tomorrow (11/8/2014); and the Riverkings will close out their home stretch with a game at 12:00PM on Sunday (11/9/2014). Tickets are available at the door for only $5 for adults and $2 for anyone under 18.

The Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings are a Junior Hockey Team within the Minnesota Junior Hockey League.Riverkings- Team  The Riverkings are in their inaugural season, with “home ice” being the South Wood County Recreation Center.  As we begin our inaugural season in the Junior Hockey Organization, we have much to be proud of with our team and to look forward to this season and beyond.

For more information on the Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings, visit their team website.  RCCA Media will be capturing video of game, to be aired next week, or on demand by following this link.

Mayor Zach Vruwink