Slow down on Belgium PD
Rushing to create a Belgium Police Department without better information on need and cost could lighten taxpayers’ wallets unnecessarily
Having its own police department is a milestone almost every growing community reaches eventually. Village President Kevin Kowalkowski thinks Belgium is there. Village taxpayers should hope Kowalkowski and other officials who see the milestone in Belgium’s near future also see the caution light blinking on its approach.
A police department is a bureaucracy, and like all of its kind will only get bigger and more expensive. Build it, and it will grow.
Creating a police department is a complex economic decision with a direct impact on village property taxes. It’s a decision that should not be made hastily or without the most thorough exercise of due diligence.
The village president’s declaration at a meeting of the General Government and Finance Committee last week that funding for a police department should be included in the 2010 budget manufactures a rushed, artificial deadline that is an invitation to a costly mistake.
The police push is based on sketchy information concerning the need and a proposal containing some cost projections put together by the village’s part-time marshal. The proposal, pegging the total first-year cost of a police department at $128,530, seems quite optimistic, but in any case falls far short of the searching financial analysis the village must have in hand before embarking on this course.
As for the need, recent arrests for drug offenses and some other law breaking in the village were mentioned. These are concerns, but it is safe to say that Belgium is hardly in the grip of a crime wave. Moreover, it would be unrealistic to think that a police department would be a panacea that would put an end to the occasional bad behavior that is endemic to any community.
The current marshal system, augmented by sheriff’s department patrolling, has so far kept order effectively in one of Ozaukee County’s fastest growing communities.
Would there be enough work for a regular police department without making work to keep it busy? The proposal suggests that the cost of the police department would be partially offset by revenue from fines. The idea of a police department motivated to issue citations to help fund its existence has the look of a red flag that is probably not a comforting image to residents.
Nonetheless, Kowalkowski is right when he says the village should be thinking about having a regular police force. What he’s wrong about is the rush. A Belgium Police Department is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable now. The village government’s mission should be to ascertain when the time is right.
A good way to start would be to get a detailed proposal from Ozaukee County Sheriff Mary Straub on contracting for police services beyond those now provided by sheriff’s deputies. The sheriff’s department has enormous resources compared to what the village could manage on its own, and paying the county for them may be a cost-effective way to obtain first rate police services.
The next step should be to include funding in connection with a police department in the 2010 village budget—not an appropriation to establish a police department, but to pay for a study by a credible outside source of the cost of doing that, including providing police department headquarters and offices. Like the mythical lunch, there is no free rent, whether or not a building is owned by the village.
In the meantime, village officials should watch developments in Pewaukee, a city of more than 12,000 that is considering abolishing its police department and contracting for police services with the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department.
Find a better place for Simplicity marker
Plan Commission support for putting a stone monument in the way of lake
views is not in keeping with its role
as protector of city aesthetics
It is no slight to Simplicity Manufacturing Co., its workers, founder, charitable foundation or the memory of their contributions to the City of Port Washington to say that the lakefront is not the right place for a monument to Simplicity.
On the contrary, the prominent spot at the harbor being considered for a large stone marker honoring the Simplicity Foundation is so illogical it is likely to detract from the intended tribute. We can imagine people, on first viewing, saying, “What is this doing here?”
The granite monument is now out of sight at the Simplicity Proving Grounds on Highway LL, where it was moved after Briggs & Stratton shut down Simplicity garden tractor and snow thrower manufacturing operations and sold the building on Spring Street. Members of the Simplicity Foundation would like to see the monument displayed in the city in a place readily accessible to the public.
As it should be. Although the monument itself doesn’t have a long history—it was made after the Simplicity Foundation was established in the 1990s—it is significant because it honors an organization that has supported good works throughout the community and because it is a reminder of Simplicity, the storied, now departed company that left a lasting impact on Port Washington. It should be displayed somewhere.
There is nothing to suggest that the lakefront location, in a small open space at the foot of Main Street in front of the harbor walk and north slip marina, is the right one. But once the idea got out there, it gained momentum in a downhill-snowball sort of way, and now the Plan Commission has a motion on the table (it was tabled Aug. 20) to approve the site.
Any connection between Simplicity and the proposed monument location is an improbable stretch. Simplicity founder William J. Niederkorn worked for a few years at the Turner Manufacturing Co. across the harbor from the foot of Main Street and eventually started a company there making engine refurbishing devices, but 99% of Simplicity’s history played out on the west side of the city.
It was the Wisconsin Chair Co., and not any ancestral enterprise of Simplicity, that was located on the site proposed for the monument. If the marker were to be placed where Niederkorn actually got his start, it would be in the middle of the parking lot in front of the launching ramps.
The tenuous connection with the lakefront, however, is a small matter compared to the overriding reason the monument does not belong where some Plan Commission members want it: The lakefront is not a place to clutter with man-made objects signifying one thing or another; its value is in its views, the spaces from which Lake Michigan and the gorgeous harbor the city has made, which brings the lake into its heart, can be seen.
The public owns the lakefront and, to the extent it’s possible, its views, but it has little control over these treasures. That belongs to the public’s representatives, elected and appointed.
The Plan Commission in particular has a responsibility for the appearance of the city. After all, most of its decisions, involving the likes of building setbacks, commercial signs, materials used for buildings or subdivision design, have to do with how things look. The Plan Commission should be a staunch protector of the city’s aesthetics, none of which is more important that its lake views.
So where should the monument go? Port Washington has hundreds of acres of public land and surely enough good minds to find an acceptable place on a few square feet of those acres for the Simplicity monument.
Simplicity has a prominent place in Port Washington’s history, owing to its spectacular success, the aura of its charismatic, over-achieving founder, the sixth grade drop-out Bill Niederkorn, and the gifts (predating the Simplicity Foundation) he bestowed on the city. But there were many other companies that contributed importantly to the city’s prosperity that might also be recognized. Of course, if monuments to all of the once thriving manufacturing companies that have left town were put in a single place, it would look like a graveyard.
Better a living memorial: Reminded by the Simplicity monument fuss of the days when good jobs were available for just about any resident who wanted one, city officials should redouble their efforts to attract manufacturing employers to move into the city’s stock of abandoned factory buildings.
A worthy public amenity
The plan to build stairs from Port’s Lake Park to the beach deserves a thumbs-up from the Council—and the addition of a plan to fix up the embarrassing beach entrance
Some of the most welcome news to come out of the Port Washington City Hall this summer was the report in the Press two weeks ago that the Board of Public Works had recommended that the city build a stairway between Upper Lake Park and the public beach.
It was welcome not just because better beach access is long overdue, but also because it is refreshing to see a municipality interrupt the litany of gloom over hard times and stressed budgets and the increasing difficulty of providing basic services and proceed with a worthy public amenity—an improvement that is not strictly essential but is a valuable addition to a community’s quality of life.
The stairs will be an alternative to the awkward and sometimes unpleasant beach access routes on either side of the wastewater treatment plant.
The connection with Upper Lake Park is natural. That’s where the great views of the lake and the beach are and where there is ample parking. The stairway will likely increase the use of both the park and the beach, and be easy to use with the landings and benches that are planned to offer rest stops for beach visitors ascending the bluff.
There’s a lot to like about the project besides its utility. Its cost, at about $100,000, is modest, a result of the efficient way public resources are going to be used to construct it. The stairs will be built by the Ozaukee County Highway Department. Anyone who has seen the stairs and boardwalks in the Lions Den Gorge, which are the work of the county crew, will have high expectations that the beach stairway will be equally well designed and built.
The Common Council should give its quick and enthusiastic approval to the works board’s recommendation.
While they’re at it, the aldermen should consider adding a small side project to the stairway: Making the entrance to the beach from the existing access routes more civilized.
It is hard to believe that the same city that is planning the progressive initiative of building the beach stairway would tolerate a gateway to one of its prime recreational resources that is as unwelcoming, unsightly, difficult to use and, at times, downright dangerous as the 10-foot wide path to the beach.
It consists of broken pavement, crushed stone and concrete rubble, lubricated by a constant seepage of mud, framed by noxious weeds.
We have to wonder whether members of the Park and Recreation Board have ever seen this civic embarrassment. Certainly they would never tolerate something this off-putting as an entrance to one of the city’s parks. Yet the beach is more heavily used than many of the parks.
The beach, a splendid natural asset the city is lucky to have, is a popular place. Residents often go to the beach as families—kids, sand toys, umbrellas, picnics. Visitors seek it out; among the most frequently asked questions by tourists at the Pebble House Visitor Center are: Where is the beach and how do we get to it?
Beach visitors navigate the routes around the wastewater plant and then have to face the slippery, messy, rough roadway that passes as the beach portal.
Even after the stairs have been built, this entry and the walkways leading to it around the wastewater plant will continue to be well used. Many people will still find it logical to approach the beach from beach level, rather than going to the Lake Park bluff and then down to the beach. People in wheel chairs and families bringing the strollers and coaster wagons frequently seen on the beach will not be able to use the stairway.
Improving the entranceway would not be a major project: build a low wall to hold back the mud seeping from the bluff; remove the pavement, rock and concrete, resurface the walkway with something foot-friendly; remove the brush. The city public works department could handle it.
There are four signs at the beach entrance, and every one of them is a warning of one kind or another. There is no sign identifying the Port Washington public beach and inviting people to use it. With an improved entryway, the city would have no reason not to be proud of its beach and take credit for it with a proper sign.
Hit the health care
Disagreement and rancor have
hijacked the health care reform
initiation; can’t Americans at least
agree that change is needed?
So much to disagree about. So much time spent disagreeing. The story of America’s attempt to reform health care has been all about disagreement, disagreement to the point of rancor so profound it threatens to destroy this historic initiative.
Can’t all Americans agree on something about their health care system? How about two things: that the status quo is not acceptable and if it is to change there must be better regulation of health insurance companies.
The status quo is not acceptable because one in six Americans—nearly 50 million people—do not have health insurance. Even people who have health insurance and are satisfied with it cannot be satisfied about that dismal fact of life in the United States.
The status quo is not acceptable because it’s not economically sustainable. It costs Americans $2.2 trillion a year and that amount is increasing by more than twice the rate of inflation every year. Households, businesses and government will not be able to bear it much longer.
America spends twice as much per person on health care as Germany. The German health care system is a useful comparison because it is paid for mostly by individuals and employers rather than government and is popular with the German people. It is not ranked among the very best health care systems in the world, but it is better than America’s according to a number of measures.
The World Health Organization ranks Germany health care 25th best, compared to 37th for the U.S. In infant mortality, Germany is ranked 8th, while the U.S. is 19th. Life expectancy at birth in Germany is 70.2 years; in the U.S. it’s 67.6.
The one ranking in which the U.S. indisputably leads the world is in spending on health care. In 2007 we spent $6,002 per man, woman and child for health care, more than any country. Germany spent $3,025 per person.
German health care covers almost everyone. One of the reasons that isn’t true in the United States is that insurance companies refuse to cover people with pre-existing conditions. In other words, sick people, the people who need health insurance most, can’t get it. It will take government regulation to change that.
The need is so obvious that even insurance companies are sending signals that they expect it. Yet just the linking of the word “government” with health care has fueled fears that Americans will lose the ability to choose the health care they want.
The irony in this is that free choice is more myth than reality in the American health care system as it stands now. Doctors who cannot prescribe the medicine they believe is right for a patient, or order the procedures they think are needed, because health insurance rules won’t allow it, can attest to this. Patients who are restricted by cost from seeing physicians outside of their insurance company’s network can attest to it.
An example of the paranoid level fear of government involvement in health care has reached was documented in news stories about one of those infamously acrimonious town hall meetings: An enraged attendee shouted a warning that government had better “keep its hands off my Medicare.”
The government’s hands, of course, have been all over his Medicare and everyone else’s since it was started in 1965. It’s a government program through and through, wholly controlled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is also, particularly when combined with the inexpensive supplementary policies approved by the government for use with Medicare, probably the best health insurance available in the U.S. with virtually unfettered choice of providers and treatments.
Where health care reform goes from here is impossible to say, such is the state of chaos that surrounds it now. What we need is a restart button that can be pushed to purge the paranoia, the denial and the demonizing of government and to start over by accepting the plain truths that the status quo is unacceptable and better government regulation of health insurance companies is needed to change it.
It would just be a start, but a little agreement can go a long way.
Save the dam
Using federal stimulus money to remove Grafton’s Bridge Street dam would
destroy the millpond that is a valuable economic and lifestyle asset
Grafton without the river would be like Port Washington without the lake.
Both communities are defined by their nearness to the water and their easy access to its aesthetic and recreational gifts.
No one is talking about taking Lake Michigan away from Port Washington. But there is plenty of talk about, in effect, taking the Milwaukee River away from Grafton by removing the Bridge Street dam and thus draining the millpond that has graced the village for almost a century.
Worse than the talk, there is a recommendation by the Grafton Public Works Board that the dam be taken out. The probable effect would be to substantially reduce the width of the river in downtown Grafton.
The recommendation is based solely on money and therefore serves as further evidence that what is financially attractive is not always in the best interest of a community.
Federal economic stimulus money is the catalyst for the recommendation—a $4.7 million grant earmarked for work on the Milwaukee River in Ozaukee County that can be used to remove the Bridge Street structure.
The works board acted after learning that if the dam is not removed, the Wisconsin DNR will likely force the village to repair it at a cost that could exceed $1.5 million. Stimulus money is not available for the repairs.
There are some good reasons to remove dams that no longer serve their intended purposes. Most have to do with letting rivers flow vigorously and allowing fish free passage up and downstream.
Some of this is addressed by Ozaukee County planners in a project that would use the stimulus money to modify the Bridge Street Dam and one in Thiensville by creating passages that allow fish to swim over the dams. The plan also calls for removing the dam in Grafton’s Lime Kiln Park.
Using the stimulus money to remove the Bridge Street dam, instead of adding the fish passages, makes economic sense only when viewed out of context—without factoring in the consequences.
The consequences are changes that could have a profound negative economic and aesthetic impact on the village.
The river on the upstream side of the Bridge Street dam is in fact a lake in the heart of a village that offers fishing, ice skating, boating, bird watching, pretty vistas and the compelling ambience that has been associated with river towns with millponds for time immemorial. Without the dam, this would not exist. The millpond is, as Ralph Zaun, village benefactor and minder of its rich history, points out, one of the central features of the village’s heritage, the result of a dam that was built to harness the river’s power for a mill but had the side benefit of creating a feature of beauty and enjoyment in the village’s very heart.
The appeal of this feature has only grown over the years. As was pointed out by a number of speakers among the throng of taxpayers who attended an informational meeting about the dam last week, the commercial and residential developers who have powered the revitalization of Grafton’s downtown were attracted by the river.
By the river, they meant the river as it now, wide, lapping at the very edge of the downtown, not the narrower waterway it would shrink to if the dam were removed.
Using free federal money to remove the dam might sound like a good deal, but it isn’t. It would amount to selling a part of the village’s past and future tied to a river that is a valuable public asset precisely because it is slowed and widened by a dam.
The prospect of having to pay for dam repairs in the future is no justification to squander this asset. The dam should be considered as much a part of the village infrastructure as streets, bridges and sewers; when repairs are needed they should be included in the village budget and dealt with. Having the wherewithal to do that is the whole point of the economic development Grafton has pursued so avidly and effectively.