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VetsRoll innovator turns to fixing a meaty local problem


Kathy and Jeff Collins were farmers who branched out 11 years ago and started their own meat-processing facility and store in Clinton.

Two of their children, Jake and Jon, are now partners in Country Pride Meats, and they have contracts to butcher animals from now through 2021.

That’s a long time to have their services booked. Normally they would be booking contracts for November at this time, Kathy Collins said.

But Country Pride and other local meat processors can’t hire enough help to get the work done, she said.

Some weeks, her sons put in 60 hours, she said.

Enter Mark Finnegan of Finnegans’ RV Center in Beloit, the driving force behind the VetsRoll trips the bring military veterans to Washington, D.C., each year.

The coronavirus put the kibosh on this year’s VetsRoll trip, so Finnegan looked around and took note of the FFA and 4-H youths who had raised animals in the past year with the intention of selling them at county fairs, which were canceled.

He came up with Save Our Local Ag Kids, or S.O.L.A.K. The plan is to get those animals processed at a time when it’s hard to get any meat processed.

Anthony Wahl 

Alex Morton pulls a side of beef out of the coolers at Country Pride Meats in Clinton on Wednesday. Kathy Collins of Country Pride Meats said her business is willing to help train meat cutters so 4-H and FFA youths can get their animals processed.

Finnegan conceived a plan to offer scholarships to people ages 18-25 to learn meat cutting at a technical school and go to work for a local processor. For those who want to learn on the job, the program would subsidize their wages at $12 an hour.

He is even arranging for refrigerated storage trailers to hold the meat because storage is another problem for overworked processors, he said.

Collins said Finnegan is “working his tail off” to get the project up and running.

“Mark is definitely a planner and an organizer and a go-getter. For him to take the reins, I commend him on the work he’s put in,” she said.

Collins said meat cutters often learn their trade on the job, and her business is willing to turn unskilled hands into skilled labor.

Finnegan has recruited Country Pride as well as Wilson’s Farm Meats in Elkhorn and Lake Geneva Country Meats. He has high hopes of persuading Darien-based Sorg’s Quality Meats and Sausages to join in, as well.

Anthony Wahl 

Curt Hoekman, right, and Noah Franklin finish boxing freshly packaged cuts of beef at Country Pride Meats in Clinton on Wednesday.

The processors will decide whom they want to hire from a pool of applicants.

Finnegan said his program dovetails with one announced earlier by Rock County Agriculture Youth Supporters and Badger State Auction, which are raising money to make sure kids who were going to show animals at the Rock County 4-H Fair will get money for school or for next year’s animals—money that they normally would have earned at the fair’s meat animal sale.

Finnegan is including Walworth County youths in the project, and he said he’s willing to expand it to other counties if money can be raised.

His budget calls for $120,000 for scholarships, wage subsidies, refrigerator trucks and equipment. Some local philanthropists have already pledged about half that amount, he said. Contributions will be tax-deductible.

“I’m confident a lot of businesses and grandmas and grandpas, too, will want to fund this,” Finnegan said.

Fire commission weighs costs of Milton, Janesville consolidation


Should the Milton and Town of Milton Fire Department consolidate with the Janesville Fire Department or stand on its own?

Either way, the costs associated with consolidating or shoring up the Milton department will be in the millions of dollars, and each scenario likely will require asking taxpayers for money.

In May, Milton Fire Department command staff told the Joint Fire Commission that sharing services with Janesville had reached a “fork in the road,” and the communities had to make a choice.

Ernie Rhodes, chief of the Milton and Janesville fire departments, and Milton Finance Director Dan Nelson presented two scenarios at Wednesday’s commission meeting.

Consolidation is estimated to cost $2.4 million (with a $2.13 million tax levy). The standalone option is estimated at $2.73 million (with a $2.48 million tax levy). Both scenarios factor in $250,000 from EMS collections.

The 2020 fire department budget is $1.16 million. To increase revenue, a referendum likely would be needed.

The earliest either scenario could be implemented is 2022, assuming a 2021 referendum no later than November, Nelson said.

Rhodes said he viewed the consolidation model as a best-practices model that could be used with other departments to potentially create a countywide fire department.

The cost of a new station was not factored in. Nelson said the focus is ongoing operational costs.

The consolidation scenario calls for 15 full-time firefighters/paramedics, three full-time lieutenants, existing Milton battalion chiefs and administrative assistant and full utilization of the Janesville fire/EMS management structure.

By consolidating, Rhodes said, “We would add the staff positions of logistics to support the six stations and the three battalions, an EMS officer and a training officer.”

“This model is staffing an ambulance and an engine,” Rhodes said.

The advantages of consolidation include leveraging a $14 million budget, access to six fire stations, full command staff with training, stabilization of the staffing model and career advancement.

Disadvantages include a perceived loss of identity for Milton, limited control of resources, perception of tax dollars leaving Milton and the challenges of change.

The standalone department scenario calls for 15 full-time firefighter/paramedics, three full-time captains, three full-time lieutenants, one full-time and one part-time administrative assistant, a fire chief, deputy chief and $115,000 for accounting, payroll and human resources services.

The advantages of this scenario include the exclusive use of equipment, maintaining an identity and Milton using its own command staff.

Among the disadvantages are limited economies of scale, higher overall cost share, more shared duties in management roles and potential cost share for mutual aid calls.

Both scenarios include a $175,000 contribution for capital/equipment and maintaining the current $281,000 budget for operating supplies, utilities and vehicle maintenance.

Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag told the commission that Janesville remains a community partner.

“We’re happy to dive into this and look into this with more detail to make sure certainly it works for the city of Janesville but also for the town and the city of Milton,” he said. “… We’re happy to continue the conversation if that’s what you want to do.”

Nelson said there are lots of ways costs could be split. He plans to present one method of cost sharing and what it will mean for all municipalities involved.

The commission will meet again at 7 p.m. July 30.

A joint meeting of the city and town of Milton is planned for August.

Obituaries and death notices for July 16, 2020

Catherine E. Larson

Dwight Eugene Murdy

Jonathan C. Myers

Thomas James Schaitel

Gerald “Gerry” Stoflet

John Henry Woodstock

David J. Zigler

Mail could be delayed as new postal boss pushes cost-cutting


Mail deliveries could be delayed by a day or more under cost-cutting efforts being imposed by the new postmaster general. The plan eliminates overtime for hundreds of thousands of postal workers and says employees must adopt a “different mindset” to ensure the Postal Service’s survival during the coronavirus pandemic.

Late trips will no longer be authorized. If postal distribution centers are running late, “they will keep the mail for the next day,’’ Postal Service leaders say in a document obtained by The Associated Press. “One aspect of these changes that may be difficult for employees is that—temporarily—we may see mail left behind or mail on the workroom floor or docks,’’ another document says.

The changes come a month after Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major donor to President Donald Trump, took over the sprawling mail service. In a memo titled “PMG Expectations and Plan,’’ the agency said the changes are aimed at “making the USPS fundamentally solvent which we are not at this time.’’

The memo cites deep revenue losses from a decadelong decline in mail deliveries that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and says an overdue “operational pivot” is needed to ensure the agency’s health and stability.

Postal Service officials, bracing for steep losses from the nationwide shutdown caused by the virus, have warned they will run out of money by the end of September without help from Congress. The service reported a $4.5 billion loss for the quarter ending in March before the full effects of the shutdown sank in.

Single-piece, first-class mail volume fell 15% to 20% week to week in April and May, agency leaders told Congress. Losses will increase by more than $22 billion over the next 18 months, they said.

Bills approved by the Democratic-controlled House would set aside $25 billion to keep the mail flowing, but they remain stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. Congress has approved a $10 billion line of credit for the Postal Service, but it remains unused amid restrictions imposed by the Trump administration.

A spokesperson said Wednesday that the agency is developing a business plan to ensure it will be financially stable and continue to provide reliable, affordable and secure delivery of mail and packages. While the plan “is not yet finalized, it will certainly include new and creative ways for us to fulfill our mission, and we will focus immediately on efficiency and items that we can control,’’ said spokesperson Dave Partenheimer.

The memo cites U.S. Steel as an example that the Postal Service is far from “untouchable. In 1975, the steel giant was ”the largest company in the world,” the memo states. “They are gone.” In fact, U.S. Steel remains a leading steel producer, with more than 27,000 employees as of earlier this year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put the Postal Service in a double crisis, said Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, which represents more than 200,000 postal workers and retirees.

As many as 12,000 postal workers have fallen ill, with at least 64 fatalities, and the economic contraction has caused a dramatic drop in letter and other flat mail volumes. A spike in package deliveries that has buoyed the agency during the pandemic is likely to be temporary, Dimondstein said, adding that the outbreak has sharply increased expenses for personal protective equipment, deep cleaning of facilities and temporary workers to replace postal workers who get sick.

“Postal workers are tremendously dedicated to the mission of getting the mail out,’’ Dimondstein said, but the new policies could cause delays that will further drive down revenues.

“It’s the customer who will suffer if the mail slows down,’’ he said.

Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey denounced the proposal to delay mail delivery, saying it would be a “stunning act of sabotage against our postal service.”

“Trump and his cronies are openly seeking to destroy the post office during the worst public health crisis in a century,’’ Pascrell said. With states increasingly relying on voting by mail to continue elections during the pandemic, destabilizing the Postal Service not only threatens the economy and the jobs of 600,000 workers but is also “a direct attack on American democracy itself,’’ Pascrell said.

For most Americans, mail deliveries to homes or post boxes are their only routine contact with the federal government. It’s a service they seem to appreciate: The agency consistently earns favorability marks that top 90%.