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Editorials
Why would legislators want to raise your utility bills? PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 22 April 2015 15:47

The Joint Finance Committee’s decision to end funding of CUB will enrich utilities at the expense of electricity and gas ratepayers

Ask and you will receive. Who knew it would be that easy? The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce asked the state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to put the Citizens Utility Board out of business, and the eager-to-please majority of the committee said, “Sure, no problem.”

    Those might not have been the exact words, but the Republican-dominated committee made it clear that it was happy to accommodate the business group with a 12-4 vote along party lines to cut off ratepayer funding for the consumer group that advocates for lower electricity rates.

    Taking away ratepayer funding for the most effective advocate Wisconsin customers have in resisting rate increases by utilities seems indefensible, but committee members tried anyway. Their defense? A claim that eliminating CUB funding will save ratepayers $671,300 per year.

     Wisconsin electricity and natural gas customers paid utility companies about $9 billion last year. The “savings” resulting from the CUB funding cut amount to less than a penny for each $100 paid by ratepayers. An average ratepayer might save a dime a year.

    Even those few pennies are unlikely to materialize if the Legislature ratifies the committee’s decision, because that will be an invitation to higher energy bills. By CUB’s reckoning, it saved utility customers $161 million last year by fighting rate increases in some 25 Public Service Commission proceedings. Since 2008, it has been instrumental in preventing almost $3 billion in rate increases.

    Without CUB’s advocacy on behalf of consumers at PSC hearings, it will be easier for utilities to make their case for rate increases. And to add insult, ratepayers will have to continue to fund the utilities’ lobbying for higher rates.

    While CUB would be cut off from its modest funding, the legislators put no limits on the amount ratepayers can be charged for the highly-paid lawyers and consultants marshaled by utilities in rate cases before the PSC.

    Wisconsin utility rates are the second highest in the Midwest. Electricity and gas increases here in recent years have exceeded the rate of inflation. This is no time to take away the public’s advocate.

    CUB is a small operation with a staff of four. It expects to have to shut down by the end of the year if the funding cut is approved.

    We Energies, the state’s biggest utility company, did not lobby for the defunding of CUB, according to a spokesman, nor apparently did any other utility. The fact that We Energies CEO Gale Klappa is vice-chairman of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce board of directors may or may not have had something to do with why the association pushed for the change, but it certainly doesn’t explain why the finance committee complied so readily.

    They might not have asked for it, but utility companies would get a benefit from crippling CUB. The individuals and businesses that pay for electricity and gas would not. What they would surely get is more expensive energy bills. Why would the Joint Finance Committee want that to happen?

    The measure is so obviously and foolishly contrary to the interests of the citizens of Wisconsin that it would be an embarrassment to the state if it became law. The Legislature must not let that happen.



 
Stormy seas for a worthy nautical event PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 15 April 2015 18:07

The cancellation of this year’s Maritime Heritage Festival should be a signal to the community to recharge the event with new energy

It has been more than a year and a half since the motorcycle-music bash called Rock the Harbor took over downtown Port Washington for a day in 2013, but the pernicious effect of the disastrous event lingers on.

    Rock the Harbor may have killed the Port Washington Maritime Heritage Festival. At the very least, it severely wounded it.


    The roots of last week’s announcement that for the first time in many years there will be no Maritime Heritage Festival this summer reach back to the motorcycle debacle.


    The misbegotten motorcycle event was intended to glom onto Harley Davidson’s 110th anniversary celebration and attract tens of thousands of Harley riders to a concert by expensive performers in downtown Port Washington.


    To put it mildly, it fell short of expectations.Then the dominoes fell one after the other: The big-budget extravaganza bankrupted its sponsor, Port Washington Main Street, which was partially funded by tax money. This infuriated the Common Council, which refused to provide further city funding for Main Street. Facing strict budget constraints, the Main Street board jettisoned a previously successful event it had sponsored for years—the Maritime Heritage Festival.


    The sad irony in this is that a one-time event that was totally out of character with Port Washington threatened the future of a celebration that for years had perfectly expressed the city’s character as a seaport with a past rich in seafaring history and a present marked by an appealing nautical culture.


    The former executive director of Port Main Street formed a group to organize last year’s maritime festival, but the event failed to break even. The organizers cited lagging fundraising in canceling the 2015 festival.


    The festival failed not only because of inadequate financial capital, but because of a dearth of human capital. Many members of the large corps of community volunteers that provided both the manpower to put on the ambitious three-day festival and the emotional energy that gave it its spirit did not participate in last year’s event.

    Make no mistake, the demise of the festival hurts Port Washington.

    It hurts because the community has invested generously in the event for many years in many ways—with the hard work and enthusiasm of all those volunteers, with the money and in-kind donations of numerous businesses, with the $169,000 in room-tax funds provided over a number of years by the Port Washington Tourism Council, and with the past funding and management by Port Main Street. These investments should not have to be written off.


    It hurts because the Maritime Heritage Festival is the quintessential Port Washington celebration.


    This takes nothing away from Port Fish Day, the celebration that was founded in recognition of the city’s fishing-village origins but evolved into a joyous, loud, music-filled summer party that delights many residents while bringing scads of one-day visitors and generating revenue that funds organizations and causes dear to the community.


    The maritime event is something else—a weekend that evokes seafaring history quietly but colorfully with tall ships and seafaring-related displays and activities on the Port’s downtown docks and lakefront parks. It brings visitors to support the local economy, pleases residents and syncs with the city’s burgeoning embrace of its maritime history, evident now in the opening of the Historical Society’s innovative Exploreum, with its strong nautical component, and the plans for the tall ship Denis Sullivan to make Port its part-time home port.


    Can the Maritime Heritage Festival be revived? The answer had better be yes, because Port Washington needs it. With new vision, new energy, new commitment and the return of disaffected volunteers, it can be reborn. The lack of a tall ship festival this summer will disappoint many, but if the hiatus provides the opportunity to recharge the festival, it will be worth it.


    It’s not too soon to start putting the pieces in place for a 2016 renaissance of the Maritime Heritage Festival.


 
The parkland menace PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 08 April 2015 19:16

While some Port officials talk of selling parks, citizens here and across the nation support protecting land of natural value in the public trust

Folks, we’ve got trouble, trouble right here in Lake City (a.k.a. Port Washington). It’s not too many pool halls, the “trouble in River City” made famous in “The Music Man.” No, friends, this could be worse trouble. It’s too many parks!

    Your hear the statement fairly often these days, mainly from city officials: Port Washington has too much park land.


    This apparently is viewed as a serious problem. It is being used as a rationale for the possibility of selling some city parks. It has even been mentioned as a defense for the Common Council’s controversial effort to sell publicly owned land overlooking the north slip marina for private development.


    The statement is not a fact; it’s an opinion, and a dubious one at that. Port Washington has a large amount of park land, probably more than most cities its size. By far, most of the park acreage is in four parks, Upper Lake Park, Veterans Park, Rotary Park and Coal Dock Park. All of these parks are on the lakefront.


    Port Washington is fortunate to have more lakefront land than most communities. Therefore, it has more park land. If this land on the shore of Lake Michigan had not been put in the public trust by wise city leaders of the past, there really would be trouble in Lake City.


    When he proposed recently that an inventory be taken of city-owned parkland and other land with a view to offering some of it for sale, Ald. Bill Driscoll was not, of course, suggesting that any of the lakefront parks be sold for development (even though Rotary Park would be a spectacular site for a brewpub). He has identified a few small, unused parcels that probably should be sold (the former site of a water tower, for example), but it would be a mistake to sell the small parks on his list.

    The undeveloped land of what is now the Oakland Avenue Green had been used for years as though it were a park. When the land was to be put up for sale by its owner, We Energies, residents of the south side neighborhood in which it’s located appealed to the utility. To its credit, We Energies deeded the land to the city to be used as a park. A small but pretty green space on the edge of a ravine through which Mineral Creek flows, it is today well used and appreciated.

    Land at the corner of Jackson and Lake streets that is on the maybe-sell list, though separated from Veterans Park by the water filtration plant, is really a part of that park. It’s a shady green space with a wonderful view of the lake and the breakwater. No doubt, it would be a fine site for a bar and restaurant, but then the public would lose the view. And that is not an option.

    West Side Park also made Driscoll’s list. It is true the small park along West Grand Avenue is not used as much as it was when west siders gathered there for summer picnics complete with beer, brats, a band and a carnival, but the land was purchased by the members of the West Side Boosters Club and gifted to the city in 1936 expressly to be a park, and that generous intention deserves enduring respect.


    The too-much-parkland mindset seems to derive from the idea that government, as though it were a business, should not own unproductive land. The notion seems to afflict politicians at all levels of government.


    Two weeks ago, the United States Senate voted 51 to 49 to support an amendment to a non-binding budget resolution to sell all federal lands except parks and monuments. Will Rogers, president of the Trust for Public land, wrote that the lands “constitute much of what’s left of the nation’s national and cultural heritage.”


    In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has proposed freezing all purchases of land for conservation by the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund until 2028, effectively ending the bipartisan program that has preserved thousands of acres of Wisconsin’s natural beauty over the past 25 years.


    These backward steps on conservation reflect a fundamental misjudgment of the American citizenry. Americans want the natural beauty of their country protected by their government.


    Since 1988, $71.7 billion has been authorized by voters in 43 states to conserve land. In Wisconsin, a poll conducted in February by Public Opinion Strategies, which describes itself as “the nation’s largest Republican pollster,” found that nearly 90% of Wisconsin voters believe the state should invest in conserving land, water and wildlife even when budgets are tight. The survey also found that nearly 9 in 10 voters support continued funding for Stewardship Fund land purchases.


    In Port Washington, the city government’s plan to sell the north slip land has been met with strong opposition from the public, and it’s not even a park. It’s just a parking lot, but it’s a parking lot with a lake view the public values.


    Trouble in Lake City? Maybe. But it’s not too many parks.


 
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