Vernon County eliminates economic development contract, hires new director and creates new department

VIROQUA, Wis. – Vernon County Economic Development is in the process of a transition. The Vernon County Economic Development Committee has made a series of decisions over the last year that restructured the department with the elimination of a contract position, the creation of a full-time county position and the creation of the community development department.

Christina Dollhausen has been the counties economic development director since 2018 as a contract employee when the county first created that title. Technically Dollhausen was not a county employee but assumed that title in 2018 and guided the county through two strategic plans with the most recent being finished in the last month.

Christina Dollhausen – Contributed photo

Since Dollhausen was not a county employee her contract was renewed on an annual basis. In Oct. of 2022 the economic development committee began discussions about making the economic development director position a permanent county position in part because there was some discussion about whether the county was following guidelines for contract employees. Dollhausen was treated as a county employee with a county office, email address and computer. And she was listed as the county economic development director on the county website. Throughout the last year the economic development committee was in disagreement about placing the position on the county payroll and where to place the position on the wage scale. There was a lengthy discussion on the goals of the department and the return on investment. You can read our previous out previous story on that discussion and the list of accomplishments in the department here.

At the beginning of 2023 Dollhausen’s contract was extended three month’s to March while the committee tried to decide what it wanted to do with the position. When that extension expired the committee extended the contract another six months to October of 2023. The committee did recommend putting a line item in the 2024 budget for $80,000 but still needed an outside wage consultant to recommend a wage and develop a job description. The committee extended the contract again in October for another three months to the end of December. When that contract ended the committee extended the contract until March of 2024.

In February the committee voted to end the position as a contract position and make the director a permanent county employee. The position was placed on the county wage scale at grade level P, which starts at $31.40 an hour.

Having switched the role to a county position the committee posted the job and opened it up for applications. As was eventually announced at the committees April 4 meeting, they received eight applications and interviewed three of those applicants, one of them being Dollhausen. However the hiring committee decided to change directions and announced the hiring of Viroqua Chamber Assistant Director Larkin Breckel to fill the position.

Larkin Breckel – contributed photo

At the conclusion of the April meeting with the announcement of the new hire the committee praised Dollhausen for her service and for transforming the department.

“I want to personally thank Christina for all of her efforts,” said committee member Rod Ofte. “I just wanted to thank you publicly since I was on the panel that hired you. We would not be where we are at without your efforts.”

“That’s right you built it from nothing to what it is today,” said committee member Karen Dahl.

“You’ve got a lot of big fans here and we wish you the best of luck,” said Ofte.

Dollhausen agreed to stay on board with her contract through Wednesday, April 24 to hand off ongoing projects to the new director and make the transition as smooth as possible.

In addition to the creation of the new position and new hire the county is realigning some positions to create a new department known as Community Development. The department will include County Grants Officer Amy Oliver, who will become community development director, Grants Assistant Amanda Elliot, and Breckel whose official title will be economic development and marketing coordinator.

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