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Thomas Street, future of government discussed by Wausau Committee of the Whole

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) -- Thomas Street and the future of city government were the topics of discussion by Wausau city leaders Tuesday night. The less formal discussion held by the Committee of the Whole allowed members to learn more about the Thomas Street issues, that have been unresolved since 2002. “By conducting that discussion, the council was able to ask questions, because most of the council now has come on and been elected since the original Thomas Street project was underway. It’s been underway since 2002. I’ve been here since 2008. Ms. (Sherry) Abitz has been here longer, but everyone else has cycled out since then. Every other seat has a new member in it that was not part of the original decision, and they have lots of questions about the history of the project.”

After discussion, Alderperson Keene Winters suggested sending the street issues back to the Capital Improvement, Streets, and Maintenance Committee to select an option that meets design guidelines within the smallest possible footprint. He said any extra right-of-way issues should be handled by the Economic Development Committee. “It’s a road project that’s been funded by economic development funds, and then there’s been a clashing of roles, and so what we talked about is really having the streets committee (CISM) focus exclusively on the road, but having them work in the minimum possible right of way, and then turning the rest of the right of way decisions over to the Economic Development Committee.”

Some Thomas Street residents and businesses want to stay, others want to be bought out and leave. Winters says the Economic Development Committee can set up a process to meet with property owners that want to be bought out. “Having the Economic Development Committee act as a clearing house, where some of those people who may want to be bought out can approach them and offer to be bought out, but there’s also a number of people on this street who are talking about expanding or coming in (to Thomas Street).”

Alderperson Lisa Rasmussen chairs the Capital Improvement, Streets, and Maintenance Committee, and knows it will be challenging to satisfy everyone. “You know, there’s a lot of stakeholders on Thomas Street who weren’t heard from at the last council meeting. We only had 8 people turn out, but there are people who have high emotions running on both sides of the issue, and the CISM committee has a tough order in front of it as far as to recommend an alternative and a right of way path, and finally give these residents some closure that have been waiting 10 years.”

Rasmussen says the city needs to make a decision and move forward so the people of that neighborhood know what their future holds. “I have been an advocate for closure on this project for over two years. I really think that people have been left in limbo. They’ve been told they may be in the path of a project or they may not. They just don’t know, and they’ve been put in a terrible position where for many of them, their down payment on a new life somewhere else is tied up in the house that they own. They don’t know if they should stay or go. They don’t know if they should renovate or remodel, and they really don’t know what their future is, and we really need to do better in that as far as giving those residents a clear direction.”

Council members don’t agree on how many lanes Thomas Street should haveThe project will be on the Capital Improvements and Street Maintenance Committee agenda August 14.

The Committee of the Whole also agreed to continue exploring possible changes in city government and consider moving from a mayoral system to a city administrator. A five point proposal from Alderman Keene Winters was forwarded to the Human Resources Committee for review.

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