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Miron Construction employees work on the Water Street side of the Watertown Public Library building. The wall of windows provides library patrons views out into the future Town Square area of Main Street.

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WUSD mental health counseling options expand

The stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with factors such as a nationwide shortage of providers, lack of insurance and transportation challenges, has led to a greater need these days in the Watertown Unified School District for mental health counseling for students.

Help is on the way, according to district officials.

Watertown Unified School District students across all grade levels who reside in Dodge County will soon have more convenient options for dealing with their mental health needs with the board of education’s unanimous decision Monday to engage clinical services with the Dodge County Human Services Department.

The board on Monday approved an agreement between Dodge County Human Services and the WUSD for the county to provide school-based mental health counseling via Open Door Clinical Services, a wing of the Dodge County Human Services and Health Department. The idea was first reviewed by the district’s educational services committee.

On Monday, prior to the vote, Paul Van Den Langenberg of the board urged his colleagues to support the help.

“We need to think outside the box on this,” he said.

Tina Johnson of the board said the students in the district need this kind of aid in 2021 and called a vote in favor of it, “a no-brainer,” adding the district needs to “tap into such partnerships.”

David Smith voted in support of the resolution, but urged the district to, “keep it in perspective.”

Board Vice President Doug Will suggested the district has an “open wound” with student mental health issues and he hoped that the engagement of Dodge County would be more than just “a Band-Aid” to help it heal.

WUSD Secondary Director of Teaching and Learning Erin Meyer, said that she hopes to get services started in the WUSD as early as next week.

“We will have one school-based therapist in the WUSD two days a week,” Meyer said, adding the district is seeing an increase in the number of students seeking additional support on a regular basis from WUSD counselors, social workers and school-based psychologists.

She said the mental health issues in students manifest themselves in many ways these days.

“This varies per individual, but we could see withdrawal from friends and activities, shifts in mood or feelings, or a student might demonstrate anxiety or strong feelings of nervousness,” she said.

Meyer said the Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation has partnered with Dodge County and this allowed the county to expand Open Door Counseling to include the Watertown School District.

Tina Crave, president and CEO of the GWCHF said the foundation provided the Dodge County Human Services Department with a $200,000 grant which covers the cost of providing several schools in the county with a therapist who is employed by human services.

WUSD Superintendent Cassandra Schug said she is optimistic that the aid from Dodge County will be helpful.

“I am thrilled that we have the opportunity to have this partnership with Dodge County,” she said. “There is no doubt that this will provide a needed service to some of our students and our families.”This provides an excellent opportunity to provide support for our students and families in a school setting. This offers a needed service to our families in a convenient location, and it will help our students who are in need of support get that support, so they can be better focused on learning in the classroom. We are so grateful to Dodge County Human Services for their willingness to provide this needed resource for our students and families.”

According to the provider agreement, Dodge County is, “... engaged in the business of providing individual, family, and/or group mental health counseling services for student populations.”

The provider agreement stated that, “The school district recognizes that offering mental health and/or AODA counseling services, on-site, provides significant benefits to students without substantial disruption to the educational process.”

Addressing the purpose of the plans, Dodge County stated, “The parties recognize the benefits of offering mental health counseling services to students in a convenient, accessible and discreet setting within the school building during school hours. Services may continue to be provided within the school building during the summer break upon mutual agreement by the district and the provider.”

As part of the agreement, the school district will provide access for Dodge County to a designated space within the service building that will be private and confidentiality will be guaranteed to students receiving services.

Dodge County employs licensed counselors who are available to counsel students requesting services. These services will be provided one day per week, unless agreed-upon exceptions are made between the district and the county.

The contract covers an initial period beginning Sept. 28 through June 10, 2023, but the county and school district may agree in writing to extend the term for an additional period, the provider agreement stated.

In state news on the Wisconsin student mental health crisis, the Wisconsin Assembly on Tuesday passed a Republican-authored bill that would require Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to spend $100 million in COVID-19 relief funding on mental health programs in schools.

The Associated Press reported that the measure approved on a party line 60-38 vote, with all Republicans in support and Democrats against, faces a nearly certain veto from Evers.

He has already vetoed two similar bills that would direct how he spends COVID-19 funding from the federal government that is currently left to the discretion of the governor to hand out.

Evers’ spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said when the bill was introduced earlier this month that Republicans were “playing politics” instead of making meaningful investments in Wisconsin schools and children.

Evers proposed a $53.5 million increase in mental health funding for schools in his two-year state budget, but Republicans cut that to a $19 million increase.

Bill sponsor, Rep. Jon Plumer, of Lodi, said the measure was designed to address mental health needs of students who have been suffering throughout the pandemic.

No one was registered in opposition to the bill. Backers include the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools and the Institute for Reforming Government.

The measure would have to pass the Senate and be signed by Evers before becoming law.

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City tries pilot program with leaf pickup

The City of Watertown is giving away five pre-packaged, 30-gallon bags to the first 500 residents Saturday at the yard waste site on a first come, first served basis.

Also, compostable paper bags will be available from 6:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Watertown Street Department, 811 S. First St.

Why you’re asking? To help kick off its citywide pilot program where residents can volunteer to bag their leaves for pickup.

Watertown Public Works Director and City Engineer Jaynellen Holloway said it’s a “win-win” for the city and its residents

Holloway, who spoke at Tuesday’s public works commission meeting, said residents will have several options this fall to dispose of their leaves. She said residents can fill compostable paper bags with leaves only and leave them on their street terrace for city pickup, rake their leaves to the terrace for pickup, fill the bags with leaves only and then take them to the yard waste site and take or mulch the leaves on their properties to re-introduce the nutrients into the soil.

She said the city anticipates moving to a citywide paper bag leaf collection with no curbside leaf vacuuming within the next two years.

The city’s yard waste site at 1355 Boomer St. is open 3:30 to 7 p.m. Monday and Wednesdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. After Nov. 7, the yard waste site will be open 3:30 to 6 p.m. Monday and Wednesdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.

She said for residents, who are unsure of their leaf collection day, they can visit the city’s website at ci.watertown.wi.us and find the day by looking at the brush collection map.

When asked the impetus for the program, Holloway said Watertown Mayor Emily McFarland has made the work of city departments goal-driven.

“One of the city’s goals this year is doing work that prioritizes innovative services and programs, so this program was a natural fit,” Holloway said.

She said residents voiced their concerns of loose leaves on the terrace often blowing back into their yards; and, sometimes, the leaf piles kill the grass below them.

“Successful paper bag leaf collection programs are being done in several communities around Watertown and beyond,” Holloway said. “The city studied the program to determine if it had the proper resources to implement such a program and we did.”

She said an added benefit to the program is once it’s fully implemented it will potentially relieve three to six employees from leaf vacuuming at a critical time of the year in the city.

Holloway said traditionally, the city runs three leaf vacuums each with three people to collect leaves in the terrace. She said under the 2021 pilot program, the city will reassign one to two crews of two to three people each to collect compostable paper bags filled with leaves only onto an end load garbage truck.

Any paper bags containing materials other than leaves such as twigs, branches, wood, rocks, stones, animal waste and bulk grass clippings will be “orange” tagged and left at the curb.

“In mid-to-late fall, city employees are finishing up its annual street program and any other construction projects that are weather sensitive, retrofitting construction equipment into snow and ice removal equipment and vacuuming leaves,” Holloway said. “The phrase ‘all hands on deck’ is realized during these weeks leading up to winter weather so to have extra ‘hands’ available is needed.”

She said the city will be evaluating the pilot program from many aspects such as a cost benefit analysis of the total annual program cost of vacuuming leaves versus a leaf bag program, how many residents participated noting any increases or decreases in yard waste site drop-offs of leaves, any increase or decrease in the amount of leaves collected, the hours logged in leaf bag collection and leaf vacuuming and city employee and resident feedback.

The 1841 Foster House and Fort Atkinson's 1901 water tower will both be open for free tours Saturday, sponsored by the Hoard Historical Museum. A3

A Miron Construction employee paints the cornice on top of the Watertown Public Library Wednesday afternoon.

Properties to undergo revaluation

All properties in the City of Watertown will be visited for an exterior inspection to begin the revaluation process in October.

During a revaluation, an assessor reviews all property within the city and modifies each to its current fair market value. Watertown is required by state law to perform a periodic revaluation of all properties to ensure equity among all property types while bringing assessed property values in line with market rates.

Watertown City Clerk Elissa Friedl said the last revaluation of properties in the City of Watertown took place in 2012.

Accurate Appraisal assessors will visit properties during the week of Oct. 25 and complete their exterior inspections of all properties over eight weeks. Assessors will arrive in marked trucks with the “ACCURATE” logo on them.

Assessors need to verify current conditions for the city’s 2022 revaluation next year. They will be taking new images of all properties, measuring any new structures, and on some occasions will knock on doors to verify property information with owners. Inspections are external only. No home entry is required.

The inspections are divided into phases for this project. The first phase includes all properties north of Main Street within the city limits and will be inspected between Oct. 25 to Nov. 5. The second phase includes all properties south of Main Street within the city limits and will be inspected Nov. 8 to Dec. 3.

Since the revaluation will not take effect until 2022, it will not affect residents’ 2021 property tax bills.

For more information on the revaluation process, visit ci.watertown.wi.us