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Towns need help with roads—but not private snow plowing PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 14 November 2012 16:59

Town governments are right to push for more road aid, but the Town of Port’s idea of dropping county plowing looks like a mistake

Saukville Town Chairman Barbara Jobs didn’t mean it as a threat to be taken literally last year when she said the Town of Saukville might have to tear up its paved roads and convert them to gravel in order to get by on reduced state and county road aid.

     “I’ve heard where some communities are just grinding up their roads and converting them to gravel,” she said. “We may have to consider something like that.”

    Jobs was alluding to what turned out to be an urban myth (actually a rural myth in this case) about road-funding frustration in Wisconsin towns. Gravel roads aren’t really coming back, but both the myth and the town chairman’s comment pointed to a real problem: Towns are having a hard time paying for maintaining the roads they provide for their residents and the general public.    

     It’s bad enough that county road aid to the towns was ended last year in Ozaukee County. But Ozaukee towns, like towns everywhere in Wisconsin, also get a bad deal from the state of Wisconsin. Only 30% of the state transportation fund, which disburses money collected in gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees, is spent on local roads, in spite of the fact that they are estimated to carry at least 40% of traffic in the state.

    The Saukville Town Board recently joined a number of Wisconsin towns in approving a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment that would require half of the revenue in the transportation fund to be distributed to local governments.

    The chances of such an amendment being passed are slim at best. But its backing by the towns is a cry for help that deserves a response from state officials. Most gas tax and fee revenue is spent on new highways, while the essential transportation infrastructure of local roads is deteriorating. The consequences of that will be felt not just by town residents, but by everyone who travels on local roads.    

    Roads are a challenge for towns in other ways. Unlike municipalities, most towns don’t have road maintenance employees or equipment (the Town of Cedarburg is an exception). For many years, the towns have contracted with the County Highway Department for road work.

    It has been a smooth-running, efficient arrangement. Towns get the benefit of the county’s equipment and expertise. The highway department gets steady business that helps pay for its overhead, which is a benefit to taxpayers, including those who live in towns.

    The Town of Port Washington, nonetheless, is not a satisfied customer. Last year it gave the contract for summer road work that had been done by the county to private companies that charged less. Now it is considering taking snow plowing away from the County Highway Department too.

    This has all the appearances of a bad move made for a dubious reason.

    According to Town Chairman Jim Melichar, the town is considering privatizing snow plowing because the county cannot guarantee that plowing will be completed by 7 a.m.

    Melichar said that not having roads plowed earlier is a hardship for town residents who have to commute long distances to their jobs. The town government has adopted standards saying roads must be cleared by 5 a.m.

    That may be an unreasonable standard. It’s safe to say that most residents of Ozaukee cities and villages have experienced snowstorms when their streets were not plowed before 7 a.m.

    Reliability, more than timing, should be the priority for the town. With county snow plowing, there is no doubt the job will get done and done well—with state-of-the-art equipment, well-trained operators and a knowledge of town roads based on years of experience.

    If taking a flyer with a private contractor doesn’t pan out, there could be long-term consequences. County Public Works Director Bob Dreblow said if towns take snow plowing work away, his department would have to “downsize personnel and equipment and there’s no going back.”

    Which means that if a private contractor isn’t up to the job, town residents could be stuck with a big problem—and “stuck,” as in a snow drift, is the operative word.

    Privatization is overrated as a means of dealing with government responsibilities, particularly in the case of snow plowing.

City shouldn’t take a cut of festival proceeds PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 07 November 2012 17:50

Downtown festivals do great good for Port Washington; reasonable city services should continue to be contributed to the events without charge

Can raising the price of beer limit property tax increases?

    If we’re talking about beer sold at festivals in Port Washington, some city officials think the answer is yes.

    The preliminary 2013 city budget calls for a property tax increase of 1.1%, which is less than the increase allowed by the state tax levy limit.

    One very small factor contributing to the city’s ability to keep the increase in next year’s property taxes small is the revenue expected from a proposed surcharge on beer sold at downtown festivals.

    Festivals are big in Port Washington and they are beneficial to the city, treating residents to a good time downtown and showing off the city to throngs of visitors in the hope that some will return to provide further support for the local economy.

    The oldest and biggest Port Washington festival, Fish Day, also provides the significant benefit of generating revenue for participating service organizations that return it in good works for the community.

     While the festivals have helped the city, particularly the downtown, it should be acknowledged that they’ve needed the assistance of taxpayer-supported services to do it. A lot is asked of the police and street departments in dealing with crowds that can easily be twice the size of the city’s population.

    A city fee charged on beer sales would be used to offset some of these costs. The budget proposed by the Finance and License Committee includes revenue of $5,000 from fees to be charged on festival beer sales.

    But in a budget that totals $8.56 million, the amount is so tiny that it begs the question: For a return that small, is it worth making the city appear as though it’s complicating the hard work of the groups that put on the festivals for the good of the city.

    Smart cities support festivals for a sound reason—they add economic and social vigor to communities. The Port Washington Common Council of 1964 clearly understood that when the city’s first festival was proposed. The aldermen not only avoided any talk of charging Fish Day fees, they voted to give the organizers $3,000 (more than $20,000 in today’s dollars) to help stage the event.

Historic ship, historic pollution PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 31 October 2012 16:44

The car ferry Badger must not be allowed to parlay its cachet as the last steamship operating into a pass to continue dumping toxic ash into Lake Michigan

What if 50 huge, double-axel, 10-ton-capacity dump trucks backed, one after the other, across Port Washington’s south beach to the water’s edge and dumped a total of one million pounds of coal ash laced with mercury, arsenic and other toxic pollutants into Lake Michigan?

    Federal, state and local authorities would react ferociously. Perpetrators would be arrested. Companies involved would be fined to the point of being driven out of business. A prodigious clean-up effort would be launched. News media and the Internet would be apoplectic with outrage.

    None of that reaction has occurred, but the environmental crime described in the first paragraph was actually committed this year—just not at Port Washington and not by dump trucks.

    It was done, as it has been during every shipping season for years, by the car ferry Badger in the open waters of Lake Michigan: 500 tons of ash from the coal burned to fire its boilers dumped into Lake Michigan.

    The Badger, which crosses the lake between Manitowoc, Wis., and Ludington, Mich., has been allowed to dump its ash overboard under a special permit issued by the Environmental Protection Agency recognizing the 60-year-old ship’s historic status as the last coal-fired steamship operating in the United States.

    The EPA has warned the Badger’s owners for years that ash-dumping would have to stop at some point. That point has now been set at Dec. 19, 2012. The company that owns the Badger, Lake Michigan Carferry Service of Ludington, should have prepared for the deadline by converting the ship to a cleaner fuel such as natural gas. Instead, it’s asking the EPA to extend the permit and trying to round up political support to be allowed to continue polluting Lake Michigan.

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