Nature has smiled on Ozaukee County by giving it 25 miles of Lake Michigan coastline. The gift provides natural beauty, recreation, high land values and the economic vigor that results from its appeal to tourists, new residents and businesses. An unfortunate vote by the Ozaukee County Board on March 15 suggests that some of its members are taking this gift for granted.
The vote denied the City of Port Washington’s request for a $150,000 contribution by the county toward a breakwater improvement project that will cost $8 million.
A majority of the board—16 members—voted in favor of the contribution. But because a two-thirds vote was required, the no votes of merely seven supervisors scuttled a funding measure that was in the best interests of county residents.
The rationale of the naysayers seemed to be that the county should not contribute because the project benefits only the City of Port Washington. This pinched and shortsighted view misses the obvious: The harbor that needs the breakwater improvements is as much Ozaukee County’s harbor as it is Port Washington’s.
It is the only harbor on the county shore, and it benefits the thousands of residents of Ozaukee County who use it to launch or moor boats, go fishing on charter boats or from docks and breakwaters or visit it to enjoy the beauty of Lake Michigan, an enjoyment that will be enhanced by the improvements that will make the breakwater safer and easier to use by those who want to walk over the water on its half-mile length to the lighthouse.
The economic impact derived from the spending the harbor stimulates flows to the entire county, generating county sales tax revenue and supporting businesses and the taxes and jobs they produce.
The breakwater project is going to get done with or without county money, but the rejection of the city request for modest cost-sharing puts unnecessary pressure on the taxpayers of Port Washington to fund infrastructure in the which the county has a significant stake.
This should have been an easy decision for the County Board, an opportunity to support Port Washington in providing a turn-key benefit for county residents.
The city government has done all of the heavy lifting for the project, persuading a reluctant federal government to rebuild the failing breakwater structure, winning grants for necessary safety and accessibility upgrades and appropriating roughly $1.5 million in city funds for the work.
Refusing to make a contribution that amounts to less than 2% of the cost of the project was an unfriendly response, insensitive to the contributions to the county by the City of Port Washington and its taxpayers and unsupported by any evidence that it would have been irresponsible spending.
It also amounts to a rejection by the no-voters of county government policy toward the harbor at Port Washington. Ozaukee County has demonstrated it values its stake in the harbor by contributing $1 million to the building of the small-boat harbor in which the marina is located and funding the rescue boat that is an essential marina service.
This episode in the annals of the relationship between the county and its county-seat city deserves a happier ending, one that reflects the will of the County Board majority. That can be accomplished by reconsideration and the change of just two of the dissenting votes. The satisfaction of doing the right thing should be an adequate incentive to do that.