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Editorials
Grafton fire alarm PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 25 July 2012 14:19

The times have caught up with Grafton’s long-standing all–volunteer fire department; now taxpayers have to come to its rescue

The Grafton Fire Department has been defying gravity for too long. It urgently needs to be shored up. The shoring material will have to be tax dollars.

    The GFD has been trying to carry on as an all-volunteer fire department. It’s a noble effort, but an unsustainable one.

    The department needs a paid, full-time chief with paid administrative support. And it needs the resources to pay its volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel, at least modestly, for their time spent dealing with emergencies and training for them.

    The immediate problem is finding enough volunteers. The fire department has fewer than 45 active members to handle more than 1,000 calls a year. It currently has only 15 EMTs.

    The long-term problem is that Grafton and society are changing, and neither fits very well these days with the all-volunteer fire department model.

    All-volunteer fire departments were for generations a small-town ideal. Volunteers committed vast portions of their lives to the institutions that were not only essential protectors of lives and property, but essential threads of the social fabric of their communities.

    We believe that today’s citizens are no less motivated than those volunteers of yore to give time to their communities, but in an ever more complex world, one that is full of good causes seeking volunteer help, they have less time to give. Moreover, fire department service requires a greater time commitment than in the past because of more stringent training requirements.


    It is to GFD’s credit that the all-volunteer fire department has endured as long as it has, because Grafton passed the point at which many fast-growing communities have opted for partially paid departments quite a while ago. Population has surged and property valuation—emblematic of the number of buildings that need fire protection—has soared in company with the village’s high-flying commercial development.

    Fire Chief John Place has made a persuasive case to the Village Board that changes have to be made now, or as close to now as possible. He recommended that between $410,000 and $886,000 be added to the department’s half-million-dollar budget to hire a full-time chief and provide on-call and training pay that would be a financial incentive and deserved compensation for volunteers.

    Port Washington made similar changes in its fire department several years ago, and today operates with a full-time paid chief, a part-time paid assistant and volunteers who get hourly compensation for firefighting, emergency medical calls and training, contributing to its robust recruitment.

    It is unfortunate that in Grafton’s case the Village Board and the Town of Grafton Board (village and town taxpayers support the fire department) cannot simply make the decision—the need for action is obvious. But state levy limits prohibit this sort of spending increase unless it is approved by voters in a referendum.

    A referendum question will have to be drafted by Sept. 17 so it can appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.

    That should be done sooner rather than later so there is maximum opportunity to inform voters about what’s at stake, which is nothing less than the future of the Grafton Fire Department.

 
The signs in the sky are . . . ugly PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 18 July 2012 14:05

Port Washington’s efforts to make the new Highway 33 a welcoming city entrance are being undermined by the state’s insistence on installing overhead eyesores

    When the rebuilding of Highway 33 between Port Washington and Saukville as a four-lane highway was first proposed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, a number of observers, including this newspaper, expressed the fear that this road that functions as an urban street connecting two small communities would end up looking and acting like an expressway.

    Now the project is nearing completion and guess what—the DOT wants to add finishing touches that will make it look like an expressway.

    The City of Port Washington has done its best to avoid that by selecting attractive, traditionally designed street lamps to light the way into the city, opting for elaborate decorative plantings in the median and paying an outrageous amount of money to We Energies to bury power lines.


    But now comes the DOT with a plan to install large overhead signs—expressway-style signs—over the entrances to the roundabout at the intersection with Highway LL, the gateway to the city that segues in a few short blocks into the gracious, tree-lined, mostly residential Grand Avenue leading to the downtown and Lake Michigan.

    This is wrong on so many counts that it was not surprising that three aldermen have roundly criticized the DOT’s plan and are pushing for an effort to persuade the state to drop this bad idea.

    The signs, massive on their steel poles and frameworks, would be an aesthetic affront. That would be bad enough even if the signs were needed, but there is no evidence they are. Drivers have been dealing with the three roundabouts on the Port-Saukville route for weeks now without major problems and few indications of confusion.

    This in spite of the fact the roundabouts are currently marked with an array of temporary signs so ludicrously cluttered that it looks like a mad scheme intended to drive drivers nuts. Just looking at the photo of the mess in last week’s Ozaukee Press was enough to cause profound disorientation.

    Yet drivers are driving ‘round the roundabouts just fine—exactly as, ironically, the DOT said they would. The DOT has been selling roundabouts, which are proliferating in the agency’s projects all over the state, to the public as intuitive, easy to use and safe. But by insisting on overhead signs at the Port roundabout in addition to the planned ground-level directional signs, the DOT undermines its own roundabout hype.

    The DOT is right about roundabouts—they are a vast improvement over conventional interactions. But it’s wrong about the overhead signs.

    The Common Council should not accept Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven’s assessment that there is no alternative to going along with the state’s overhead-sign dictum. Rather, the aldermen should instruct him to make the case with the DOT that the signs are not just superfluous, but damaging to the character of the city’s western entrance.


 
Snooping fad steals privacy PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 11 July 2012 15:44

Talk of surveillance cameras in a Fredonia park brings home the digital-age phenomenon that sacrifices privacy to an obsession with security

    How prevalent are close-circuit video security cameras in public places? Here’s one measure: You can buy an app for your smart phone called iSpy that enables users to access live webcam images all over America and beyond. In many cases, the user can control the cameras’ pan, tilt and zoom functions. Ranked one of the top 10 best selling apps shortly after it was introduced in 2010, iSpy costs only 99 cents. One critic described it as “super good fun” and recommended that iSpy users refer to the “best-rated list” of public webcams to find the best entertainment.

    When a couple strolling in a sylvan park in an American city share an embrace and a kiss, there is a good chance they’re providing “super good fun” for a large audience.

    Police and private-enterprise security agencies hired by public entities have had access to such entertainment for years, of course, as television monitoring of public places has grown into a snooping fad. Public officials have presided over this with the view that citizens will accept the theft of their privacy so long as it’s done in the name of security.

    It was refreshing, then, to hear members of the  Fredonia Public Safety Committee express skepticism over a proposal to install a security camera system in the village’s Stoney Creek Park.

    Village President Chuck Lapicola recommended the cameras as a means to combat frequent vandalism in the park. He further suggested using portable cameras to provide “coverage all over the village,” including the police station and water department, which, he said, have been identified as potential terrorism targets.

    He didn’t mention privacy, but Trustee Jill Bertram saw that issue clearly. “I don’t have a problem putting cameras on the water plant,” she said, “but I don’t believe in having them in public places where we can watch everyone. It is intruding on people’s privacy in our parks.”

    Trustee Fritz Buchholtz, chairman of the committee, got it too, saying privacy concerns have been exacerbated by the wide use of camera phones. Perhaps alluding to issues raised by the iSpy phenomenon, he said, “You never know when someone is taking your picture with their phone. They are everywhere.”

    Whiz-bang spy webcam technology, especially when it’s relatively cheap (Lapicola said the entire village could be covered by security cameras for $1,000), is apparently hard to resist, but how effective it is in crime fighting is a matter of debate.

    In Fredonia’s case, it wouldn’t help the village marshal catch a vandal in the act; the village is not going to pay someone to monitor the camera feeds 24/7. Even after a criminal act in a surveilled location, police officers bleary-eyed from watching hours of video will attest that such evidence is inconclusive or outright useless most of the time.

    The village president opined that posting signs saying the village is covered by security cameras would be a deterrent to bad behavior even if the cameras were turned off. It’s hard to find any data to back up that theory, and experience casts a lot of doubt. Bank robberies, for example, are increasing at a fast pace across the country even though banks have state-of-the-art surveillance systems. The bank robbers keep coming with their notes and real or simulated guns though even the dullest of them must know they will be the stars of TV programs in police stations and the nightly news.

    It goes without saying that banks should have security cameras and that facilities that have a high likelihood of being a terrorist target should employ high-tech surveillance. It would be stretch to say the Fredonia water plant meets that standard, but better cameras there than in the park.

    Citizens have a right to be in parks and other public spaces without being spied upon. Their privacy trumps notions of safety through webcam snooping

    The people of Fredonia deserve security—the security of knowing they can enjoy their parks without being photographed in police surveillance or as entertainment for smart phone spies.

 
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