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Editorials
Needless fretting over birds and bees PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 13 February 2013 17:35

Officials who made heavy weather of beekeeping can avoid another prolonged debate by looking beyond exaggerated concerns and allowing chickens in the city

The last time there was a buzz like this at City Hall was when a Port Washington family asked permission to keep a hive of honeybees in its yard.

    Now, a young resident has asked the Common Council to allow chickens to be raised in the city, and based on the initial reaction from some aldermen, you would think the sky is falling.

    Mere mention of a backyard chicken ordinance caused controversy last week when some aldermen — the same ones who initially opposed beekeeping — argued the council shouldn’t even entertain the request. They lost the argument, in part because other officials recall the lessons learned from the great debate over a law allowing beekeeping, which was approved after a good deal of needless fumbling.

    “Although I have a lot of concerns about having chickens in the city, I had a lot of concerns about having bees in the city, too,” said Ald. Mike Ehrlich, who voted to allow beekeeping.

    So now there will be a debate, one that will undoubtedly include exaggerated claims of the threats chickens pose to the public’s health and well-being.

    The council can save the city a lot of time and angst by realizing that allowing the relatively few residents interested in keeping chickens to raise a handful of hens in their yards (most ordinances limit the number to between three and six and don’t allow noisy roosters) and reap the rewards of locally produced food won’t threaten city life as we know but will enhance it, much like beekeeping and the city’s immensely successful community garden have.

    That understanding should start with the realization the city isn’t breaking new ground here. Many cities and villages big and small, urban and suburban, throughout the country allow chickens under reasonable ordinances. Among them are Milwaukee, St. Francis, Wauwatosa, Madison, New Berlin, Baraboo, Chicago and Minneapolis.

  Closer to home, Mequon allows chickens in some parts of the city and the Village of Fredonia passed an ordinance last year allowing hens at the request of a 12-year-old boy.

    It’s worth noting, as Ald. Paul Neumyer did last week, that urban chicken keeping is not an entirely new concept.

    “I had them when I was a kid in Glendale,” said Neumyer, who noted that several of his constituents have inquired about raising chickens. “I think this is worth vetting.”

    It’s not only worth vetting, it’s worth allowing with the understanding that plenty of cities and villages have demonstrated that chickens and urban residents can coexist quite nicely.

    Dismiss images of barnyard chicken coops. The operations allowed in cities are small and closely regulated — a few hens and  a coop built and placed on lots in accordance with exacting standards. Slaughtering isn’t allowed and many ordinances give neighbors the ability to challenge a chicken license, much like Port’s beekeeping law.

    Chicken-keeping proponents have argued that pet dogs, especially poorly behaved one that bark incessantly, nip at people and aren’t picked up after are far bigger nuisances that chickens. Judging from the Port Washington Police Department’s weekly report, they have a point.

    While the reasons to fear urban chickens aren’t compelling, the reason to allow them are. Enlightened Port residents have demonstrated a desire for locally grown food by supporting the extremely popular downtown summer farmers market and winter market. What’s more, residents tilled more than 70 plots in the city’s community garden and harvested bushels and bushels of produce during the garden’s first season.

    Beekeeping has added to the grow-local movement, and allowing chickens would reinforce the message that Port Washington is an enlightened community where residents are allowed to produce some of what they eat.

    For guidance in this matter, officials can recall the great bee debate. Although much was made of the alleged threat these valuable pollinators would pose, swarms of marauding bees have not plagued the city.

    And no, allowing chickens in the city won’t cause the sky to fall.




 
Highway pain at the pump PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 06 February 2013 17:47

Users should fund roads through a gas tax, but highway spending needs to be cut back, starting with the Highway 60 mega-bypass

Objections to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s preliminary plans for rebuilding a 12-mile stretch of Highway 60 between Grafton and Jackson have focused on the impact on property owners, the countryside and the environment of a highway that would grow from the present 100-foot width to 270 feet and could include bypasses around Five Corners and the Village of Jackson, consuming hundreds of acres of land. Little attention has been paid to the cost of the project, but it is certain that its physical excesses would be matched by financial excesses.

    Where will the money for Highway 60 come from? Where will all the money Wisconsin needs to pay for highway construction and maintenance come from? Answers are needed because the state’s traditional highway funding sources are falling short.

    The idea that highways are self-supporting through user fees, a popular but dubious notion, has been thoroughly debunked in Wisconsin, which has had to dip into its general fund to pay for highways. All taxpayers, regardless of how much they use the highways, are paying for them. Gas taxes and vehicle registration fees don’t come close to meeting the highway budget.

    They’ve been thinking about this in Madison, and some trial balloons have been launched, including raising the gas tax and fees for driver’s licenses and commercial vehicle registration. The recommendations came from the Transportation Finance and Policy Commission, which also proposed a penny-a-mile fee to be paid by vehicle owners for miles driven in the previous year.

    The last idea, often called a VMT tax (for vehicle miles traveled), is getting a lot of attention around the country as a highway-funding option for states and the federal government. Backers talk of GPS chips in vehicles that would record and report miles driven.


    The VMT tax would be a pure user fee, which is a plus. But its creepy privacy ramifications—Big Brother tracking your car’s movements—make it a hard sell. The version recommended by the Wisconsin commission would avoid that by simply requiring vehicle owners to report how many miles they drove. A vehicle that traveled 10,000 miles would be taxed $100, assuming the owner honestly reported the mileage.

    Raising the gas tax is a better, easier and less costly-to-administer option, but politicians who vote on tax issues are wary of the American hypersensitivity to gas prices. Nothing, it seems, infuriates consumers more than rising gas prices.

    That helps explain why the transportation commission offered a pot pourri of highway revenue devices, instead of simply pushing an ample gas tax hike. Wisconsin halted automatic increases in the gas tax in 2005. That, along with the fact that people are driving less and using more fuel-efficient vehicles, accounts for a substantial part of the state’s highway funding problem.

    But now it’s time to bite the bullet and raise the state’s 30.9 cent per gallon tax. It’s not a perfect user fee, but it’s close enough, and it comes with the desirable side effect of encouraging the use of fuel efficient vehicles.

    However the money is extracted from them, Wisconsin residents are going to pay more for highways. It’s best to pay at the pump.

    A gas tax increase is needed, but it should not be a substitute for paring down highway spending. Can that be done? The Highway 60 example suggests it can.

    Highway 60 west of Grafton certainly needs an upgrade to handle increasing traffic. But there are many ways to do that short of the DOT’s ultrawide highway plan at a savings of many millions of dollars in right-of-way acquisitions and construction.

    It’s painful enough paying for highways at the pump or elsewhere without the thought that the money is being spent on inflated projects that the affected communities don’t want.



 
Port High’s leap to high-tech PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 30 January 2013 18:58

With expanded technical education offerings, the Port-Saukville School District is putting a 21st century spin on the concept of a comprehensive high school

The concept of a comprehensive high school education that prepares students for diverse roles in society, once the norm in America, has fallen out of favor in some school districts. Secondary schools in these places, usually economically upscale areas, have shaped curriculums to exclusively serve the needs of students bound for college.

    Residents of the Port Washington-Saukville School District can be thankful that their high school never abandoned the comprehensive model, for it is now poised to take vocational education on a leap forward to prepare some of its students for jobs in a high-tech world.

    Plans call for Port High to expand its technology education department with an additional teacher and new courses, but that understates the importance of what’s going on. A better indicator is this: Some of the courses will be part of a biomedical engineering program;  high school vocational classes will introduce to students to the science of combining engineering principles with biology and medicine to advance health care. In other words, not your grandfather’s shop classes.

    The Port High program is a response to need. Even with millions of people looking for jobs, many employers can’t fill positions because applicants don’t have the requisite skills. College educations aren’t the answer. A paper published by Harvard University projects that only a third of the 47 million jobs expected to be created by 2018 will require a bachelor’s degree.

    This is not news to employers, which is why local businesses are expected to step up to help pay for the technical education initiative. The district is hoping that the purchase of $161,000 in equipment for the program will be financed by industries.

    The prospects of that happening are excellent, judging from the success of Project Lead the Way. That program, in place for four years at Thomas Jefferson Middle School and started  at the high school a year later, is aimed at preparing students for careers in engineering, math and science and is supported by area businesses. Students have responded to it in such numbers that demand for the elective classes cannot be met.

    The goals of expanded technical education start with getting students interested in studies that serve the advance of technology and then to prepare some for jobs right out of high school and others for further education in technical schools or colleges.

    The incentives for students are the careers available in technical fields that are expected to provide solid middle class earnings. As those opportunities proliferate, the importance of the new iteration of high school vocational education will only increase.

    There is a caveat, however: A four-year college education remains a significant marker of achievement in the United States. The liberal educations provided at universities and colleges impart broad knowledge of a world much wider than that of the narrowly focused technical disciplines. Education in literature, history, political science, economics and the arts is intended to prepare graduates to be well-rounded contributors to the vitality of society.

    College preparation, including ensuring that students understand the value of higher education, remains a primary responsibility for high schools, even as they improve vocational offerings. That, after all, fits the comprehensive high school ideal.



 
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