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Answer Union Cemetery’s call PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 13 July 2016 17:20

If by some time-travel magic Port Washington residents dating back to the 19th century who buried their loved ones in Union Cemetery could see the haunting photograph on the front news page of last week’s Ozaukee Press, some would surely be moved to tears.

The picture shows the rolling grounds of the west-side cemetery, once a carefully tended landscape emblematic of peace and dignity, in a forlorn state, so overgrown that grave markers are obscured by weeds and uncut grass.

This is sad not just for the families of those interred in the 162-year-old cemetery, but for the entire community. As institutions of civilization that express respect for the contributions of those who have passed through this life, cemeteries are intrinsic threads in the fabric of a community—and communities should not abide their neglect.

Among the graves in Union Cemetery are those of generations of Port Washington area families, including the city’s builders and history makers, of veterans of many wars, including the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, and even some of the victims of the most deadly shipwreck along the Port shore, the sinking of the steamer Toledo in 1856. 

The sad state of the cemetery just a block off the main thoroughfare to the downtown, Grand Avenue, is a call to the city to take responsibility for its care. 

The Port Washington Cemetery Association has for ages carried that burden. But the organization, with little income from families buying its few remaining plots, is broke and unable to provide the care it promised those who bought grave sites in the past. 

The burden of managing the organization’s dwindling financial resources and tending to its maintenance is borne by Craig Heatwole, who describes himself as “president, secretary, treasurer and chief groundskeeper” of the association. Heatwole has been spending hours each week dutifully trying to carry out an impossible mission for one person—maintaining eight acres of cemetery grounds.

The cemetery needs a short-term fix—a thorough clean-up by city crews. Then it needs a long-term plan to ensure its care into the future. Volunteers could certainly play a role in this; already some have come forward in response to last week’s Press story about the cemetery’s plight. But the plan needs the structure and dependable organization that only the city can give.

It’s not at all uncommon for municipalities to care for, or even own, cemeteries within their borders. A nearby example is the Village of Grafton, which owns and maintains Woodlawn Cemetery.

Yes, this is counter to Port Washington’s trend, as in other municipalities, toward off-loading some services normally provided by government to volunteers and civic organizations, but Union Cemetery deserves to be an exception. 

Its ranks of stone markers, even those corroded and tilted by the years, speak to the history of Port Washington, and they, and the people they represent, deserve the honor of proper attention by this community.

The no-tax burden PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 06 July 2016 16:57

The rigid ideology practiced by Wisconsin’s governor and legislature has exacted a high price from state taxpayers in legal expenses to defend the dubious constitutionality of laws regulating union rights, legislative districts, voter ID and clinics that perform abortions. In the latest example, taxpayers will have to pay attorney fees of $1 million or more as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s affirmation of a federal court decision declaring Wisconsin’s law restricting abortion clinics unconstitutional.

The anti-tax ideology that Gov. Scott Walker clings to even in situations where it defies reason is costing Wisconsin residents in another way—in the toll levied on the state’s economy and its individual citizens by the failure to fund road maintenance and repair.

The delay of necessary road work is impacting the people of Wisconsin with vehicle accidents, injuries, repairs and the frustration and financial cost imposed by highway and street congestion. And the outlook is for more of the same—only worse.

There is no plan to address the highway funding shortfall, except the governor’s proposal to borrow an additional $850 million as a partial catch-up. Legislators of both parties oppose the idea because the state is already so deep in highway debt that more than 20% of the transportation fund is being spent per year on debt service.

Meanwhile the obvious, effective, fiscally responsible and easy solution to the problem remains barricaded by the governor’s opposition and veto power: raising the gas tax.

Wisconsin’s fuel tax has not changed in more than a decade. It has not been indexed for inflation since 2006, meaning that it has been decreasing in real terms every year. The improved fuel efficiency of vehicles has further diminished gas tax collections.

Aside from the governor, it is hard to find much opposition to a fuel-tax solution to the state’s road problems. The transportation secretary the governor appointed, Mark Gottlieb (a former mayor of Port Washington), has recommended a gas tax increase; legislators, business leaders and economists support it. It would not be surprising to find that a large percentage of the drivers who would have to pay it favor a modest gas tax increase to alleviate some of the frustrations they face on the state’s roads.

A 5-cent-per-gallon fuel tax increase would go a long way toward getting deferred maintenance and construction projects moving faster. An analysis by former UWM economics and business professors shows that a 10-cent increase would balance the transportation budget.

The governor refuses to consider this revenue source because it is spelled t-a-x, even though it is a tax in name only. It is really a highway user fee.

When it comes to road funding, anti-tax purity is an indulgence Wisconsin can’t afford. The state is failing to keep pace with other midwestern states in economic growth—growth that requires a smooth-running, up-to-date transportation infrastructure.

With job creation also lagging behind neighboring states, Wisconsin is missing out on the auxiliary benefit of investment in transportation infrastructure—the type of economic stimulus economists consider most effective. Road projects accomplish needed work that benefits the public while generating good paying jobs and employer profits.

Much has been made of the major freeway and highway widening projects that have been delayed by the funding shortfall. Transportation spending is heavily skewed toward this new construction in Wisconsin, and critics have said, with justification in some cases, that these projects are too grandiose or altogether unnecessary. 

The impact of lagging highway work, however, is felt most by drivers on local roads, which carry more than 40% of the state’s highway traffic but receive only 30% of state road funding. Municipalities need state aid to keep their streets, highways and roads in safe driving condition; Wisconsin is failing to meet that responsibility.

In explaining his unyielding position on taxes, Gov. Walker asserts that all taxes are burdens on citizens. Some certainly are. But rather than imposing a burden, a reasonable fuel tax increase would relieve burdens, the burden of the cost of excessive debt and the burden of traveling on inefficient, uncomfortable and, in many cases, dangerous roads.

Long live the farms of Ozaukee PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 29 June 2016 17:17

The county with the smallest land area in Wisconsin; rapid population growth (more than doubled in the last 50 years); the highest per capita income in the state; urban sprawl fueled by rampant residential and commercial development with municipalities claiming large tracts of rural land to expand their borders.

That is Ozaukee County.

But so is this: A county that devotes half of its land to farming.

Everyone has heard about the decline in agriculture as a contributor to the state’s economy, so the statistic that 50% of the land in the county is used for farming is probably surprising to many. But it should also be heartening. In fact, it’s a statistic that should be protected as a key contributor to the quality of life in Ozaukee County.

Though it is true that relatively few people now work in agriculture here, many Ozaukee residents care about farming, judging from the thousands who showed up for Breakfast on the Farm Saturday at Bob and Cindy Roden’s dairy farm near Newburg. Besides a hearty breakfast, the visitors got a bit of an education in 21st century farming.

One aspect of agriculture they probably didn’t hear about is the one that is its most important influence on the future of Ozaukee County: Farming is a bulwark against the theft of open spaces by unchecked development.

Most of the open space of the Ozaukee County countryside is farmland. Seen from the many miles of county and town roads that crisscross the county, these fields present more than broad vistas. During the growing season, crops of hay, oats, wheat, corn and soybeans offer views of undulating carpets of green. At harvest time, they turn the landscape golden.

Because not all of the land of farms is tillable, agriculture also preserves features that add natural character to the countryside, such as woodlots, areas of rocky outcroppings and banks of waterways.

The value of farming as a counter to urban sprawl is recognized by the Ozaukee County government with a farmland preservation program that offers tax credits and other incentives to keep farms in business. 

These inducements are not giveaways. Even with the tax breaks, farms more than pay their way with taxes because their service demands on local government are small compared to residential or commercial land uses.

Ozaukee County farming contributes more than open space preservation. As a part of the great American agricultural enterprise, it helps feed this country and some of the world beyond, while adding more than $60 million a year to the county’s economy.

In a society that has a high regard for small business owners (just listen to politicians extoll their virtues), Ozaukee’s farms are quintessential small businesses with operators who exemplify the admired traits of hard work and entrepreneurial courage.

The term “corporate farm” has become somewhat of a pejorative label, but the fact is that virtually every farm in Ozaukee County is a corporate farm, albeit many of them small corporations. Folks of a nostalgic bent may prefer to think of farming in images of cows lowing in the pasture and red wooden barns and windmills dotting the countryside, but today’s farms are businesses that have to evolve and grow—especially grow—to survive.

Farming can be in conflict with the environment in numerous ways, including tilling practices that deplete topsoil, overuse of chemical fertilizers and negligent handling of the tremendous volume of natural fertilizer farm animals produce, and the bigger the farm the bigger the conflict.

There are responsible ways to deal with these problems, and most Ozaukee farmers practice them. A few Ozaukee farms meet the definition of CAFOs, concentrated animal feeding operations with huge confined dairy herds. With this factorylike version of farming, the consequences of any lapses in environmental protection measures are potentially so severe that stringent enforcement of state regulations is essential.

Many would hope, with good reason, thatCAFOs do not proliferate here. The reality is, however, that farms of all sizes are fast leaving those fond pastoral images to history. 

That’s a price worth paying to keep farming alive and well as the guardian of our open spaces.

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