Fitchburg has a new public works director for the fifth time in five years.
But this time, the new director is not so new.
Bill Balke had served as interim public works director twice before, and had been asked to step into the role before predecessor Mike Bisbach was hired. But in June, after Bisbach announced his resignation for a job in the private sector, Balke accepted the permanent position.
Balke is responsible for assessing how to improve or maintain city infrastructure while long-range planning for future development. He previously had been an environmental engineer and then a transportation engineer for the city since 2017, and oversaw road construction projects like Lacy Road and Hwy. MM, as well as the in-progress Fahey Fields development.
He called it an additional layer of problem solving and said he looks forward to serving the needs of Fitchburg residents.
“I really am passionate about people – making connections with everyone – getting perspectives on different issues,” Balke told the Star. “It’s really a joy working with the public and the challenges presented. I am a public servant and my job is to serve, really.”
Balke said one of his goals will be to connect people to the places they want to go in a more efficient manner. He’ll be looking at roadways needing additional pedestrian or bicycle paths to get people around Fitchburg more safely and making physical connections between businesses and recreation areas.
“We have a great parks system we’d like to connect up to have people walk or bike to and a lot of great businesses people could walk or bike to, connecting people with places they want to go,” he said.
Despite starting in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Balke said it’s been “almost business as usual” around in public works.
He said the maintenance and public works staff have been working full time, donning personal protective equipment when necessary. He acknowledged one of the challenges has been making sure he has enough staff on board to keep construction going forward, but also keeping workers safe.
The public works department has seen several turnovers in the role of director in recent years. Cory Horton had served in the position for over three years before leaving in December 2017. Lisa Coleman filled the role from July 2018 through March 2019. Michael Bisbach took her place as director from July last year but left this May.
Balke has been a municipal engineer throughout Wisconsin since 1992, but it’s been in several different sectors, including transportation, development and stormwater.
Balke started his career in Beloit as a transportation engineer, before moving to Eau Claire, where he oversaw subdivisions and new developments.
He spent time in Sheboygan’s public works department designing a response to record rainfalls and flooding before becoming director of public works for Bellevue for nine years.
Balke then moved to Fitchburg in 2017 to take the position of environmental engineer for around 10 months and first served as interim public works director during the transition from Horton to Coleman. He then became a senior transportation engineer for the city before becoming interim director of public works yet again.
Balke said he likes the variety of projects that are done under the umbrella of a public works department.
“I’ve had lots of experiences in lots of cities around the state,” he said. “It’s a pretty broad base I bring to the table; I’ll help out with a lot of things.”
In his downtime, Balke said he enjoys being out in his yard, quietly working on landscaping and trimming weeds.
“I love to help out family with different projects since I’m always helping everyone else out,” he said. “I am a helper. I love helping out people where I can.
“That’s why this job fits me – helping out the council, my staff, the community – that’s my role in life.”