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Editorials
Enlightened, effective preservation PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 17 February 2016 19:03

In deciding how to protect its past, Grafton can look to Port for an example of historic preservation that has improved and inspired a community

Historic preservation efforts can strengthen a community by saving and sharing things from its past that are an important part of its identity. Or they can tear communities apart with well-intentioned but over-reaching approaches that preserve history at the cost of property rights.

In Grafton, such efforts do neither because they are all but nonexistent. Members of the village’s Historic Preservation Committee admit as much and are considering disbanding in favor of creating a historical society that, independent of government, would be a nonprofit organization better suited to inspiring community participation and able to solicit tax-deductible donations to fund preservation efforts. 

It’s a promising concept, and to see the potential such an organization has to offer, Grafton needs only to look a short distance to the north where the Port Washington Historical Society has proven to be a model of success.

Founded in 1991, the Port Washington Historical Society has brought an enlightened preservation approach to the city that instead of dividing it has done much to unite it in a common goal of protecting and highlighting Port’s important past. To show for its efforts, the organization owns and operates two prominent museums and a research center and has amassed a large core of dedicated volunteers and generous benefactors.

That’s not how historic preservation efforts work everywhere. In communities throughout the state and country, preservation commissions empowered by local ordinances yield considerable authority when it comes to deciding what properties to preserve and how to preserve them. Sometimes these efforts are successful and well-received. Other times they are divisive and counterproductive, burdening the mission of historic preservation with debilitating controversy.

An indication of that came last year when two Republican state lawmakers, Rep. Rob Brooks of Saukville and Sen. Frank Lasee of De Pere, introduced legislation that would prohibit municipalities from designating properties as historic landmarks without the consent of their owners. Not surprisingly, the bill sparked almost immediate controversy, with property-rights advocates praising it and historic preservationists blasting it.

Such controversies don’t exist in Port Washington, where historic preservation has been a mission led by the nonprofit Historical Society, embraced by city government and supported by residents. 

This is some of what has been accomplished:

n The Historical Society acquired and restored the 1860 lighthouse atop St. Mary’s Hill that it now operates as the Light Station museum, which is particularly well-suited to exhibiting the city’s maritime past.

n A downtown storefront dating to 1852 is now the organization’s Resource Center, which houses its archives and offices and is used for exhibits and presentations that are open to the public.

n The crowning achievement of the Historical Society, the Port Exploreum, opened last year on Franklin Street in a 1907 commercial building known as the Gentlemen’s Club. Preservation of the building aside, the project is immensely valuable because of what it has introduced to the city — not a musty museum filled with artifacts but an engaging, interactive facility that uses technology to make relevant that which has been important to the city since its inception.

In addition to its tangible accomplishments, the Historical Society has helped foster a community ethic that inspires preservation. A prime example of that is the renovation of the Boerner Mercantile Building in the heart of downtown by owners Dan and Marie-Anne Ewig, who had the 1969 facade removed and the original building restored to provide attractive spaces for two large retail stores and numerous offices.

Grafton will have to decide if it has the collective commitment to historic preservation and the energy to accomplish it, which is a subject of a community meeting this week. As Village Administrator Darrell Hofland noted, the creation of a historical society hinges on “the sheer passion for preserving Grafton’s history.”

Village residents should make that determination knowing that such organizations can make meaningful improvements in their communities in ways that unite and inspire their residents. For proof of that, they need only look north.

 

 
The Walmart lesson PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 10 February 2016 21:03

The mega-retailer’s decision to close outlets teaches consumers   a painful lesson about what can happen if they fail to support the local businesses that enhance their communities

Walmart’s announcement last month that it will close 154 stores in the United States shocked and angered residents of communities affected by the closings.

These Walmart shoppers, many of whom  live in small, rural communities, said the company betrayed them by opening stores in their towns that lured them away from independently owned shops with product selection and discount pricing only to announce now those stores will close. In the process, long-established mom-and-pop operations unable to compete with the retail monolith went out of business, leaving soon-to-be former Walmart shoppers faced with having to drive 20, 30, even 40 miles to buy a gallon of milk or a carton of eggs.

Shocking? Hardly. Community loyalty has never been a factor in the giant corporation’s business plan, so when it became clear its smaller Express store concept was a failure and on-line retailers like Amazon were cutting into its profits, Walmart did what you’d expect by shedding underperforming stores and changing directions.

Doug McMillon, Walmart’s president and chief executive, said the decision was not easy. It probably wasn’t that difficult either. The 154 stores in the United States, plus another 115 outside the country that are slated to be closed, account for less than 1% of Walmart’s global square footage and revenue, which was $485 billion last year.

Walmart detractors, however, are on the right track when they talk about betrayal, although they have it backward. It was consumers who betrayed local merchants by choosing to spend their money at Walmart instead of at their corner grocery stores.

Along with the stories of irate Walmart shoppers who now will have to drive miles for their groceries are those of shop owners who watched in disbelief as customers loyal to them for decades gave their business instead to the mega-retailer.

Therein lies the cautionary tale to emerge from the Walmart closings. Consumers who fail to support their local businesses do so at their own risk — the risk of losing merchants who, while not always able to match the quantity-driven discounts offered by big box retailers, typically provide quality goods and services at fair prices and contribute in no small way to the quality of life of the communities they do business in.

The Walmart closings won’t affect Ozaukee County, but residents of small communities here know what it’s like to lose stores that offered necessities like groceries and were just a pleasant stroll or short drive away.

In 2007, Belgium Village Market opened in a new building that was to be the anchor of a retail and business development. A year later, it closed for lack of business.

More than six years later, the village is still without a grocery store.

In December, Village Market, Fredonia’s only grocery store, closed. Its former owner, David Roggenbuck, who sold the business months earlier because he could no longer make a go of it, told Ozaukee Press, “It is a tough business, especially when people only stop in for one or two items before heading to places like Walmart or Target for their major grocery shopping.”

Village Trustee Lisa Dohrwart described it as a “don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone” moment for Fredonia, and astutely described the trickle-down affect of business closings on a community. Aside from the economic impact, the blight of empty buildings and a dearth of local shopping options, fewer local businesses mean fewer members for organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, fewer sponsors for community functions and causes and less self-sufficiency for villages and cities that teeter on the line that separates thriving municipalities from bedroom communities.

Port Washington is an example of the former for several reasons — a healthy downtown, a strong tourism economy, residential development and yes, a grocery store. It’s unthinkable that a city of nearly 12,000 people would not have a full-service food market, yet that was the case in Port for a short period of time until Sanfilippo’s Sentry Foods opened. It remains the only grocery in the city and needs the support of local customers if it’s going to continue providing an essential service in Port.

The lesson in the Walmart closings isn’t that a global corporation with annual profits in the hundreds of billions of dollars isn’t loyal to the communities it does business in, but that consumers who don’t support local businesses risk losing stores that provide needed services and goods and make their villages and cities better places to live.

 
Legal tax evasion PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 03 February 2016 18:29

Dodging U.S. taxes was the purpose of Johnson Controls selling itself to a company with a mailing address in Ireland

Wisconsin officials may be exchanging high-fives over a dodged bullet in the sale of Johnson Controls last week, but U.S. taxpayers have nothing to celebrate. The company’s 3,400 jobs will stay in the Milwaukee area, but $150 million per year in tax revenue needed to help fund American government services will disappear.

Avoiding payment of those taxes was the purpose of the maneuver by Johnson Controls to sell itself to a much smaller company that has a mailing address in Mahon, Cork, Ireland.

The buyer, Tyco International, will change its name to Johnson Controls. The combined company will have an office in Ireland. Though it will essentially remain a U.S. company, registered on the U.S. Stock Exchange, enjoying the protection of American laws and access to American government contracts, its tax payments will go to the government of Ireland.

This form of legal corporate tax evasion is not new, but Johnson Controls’ use of it may be the most disgusting example as a case of glaring ingratitude if not betrayal.

The company, a major supplier of automobile batteries, was one of the beneficiaries of the $80 billion American taxpayers paid to bail out the auto industry in 2008. Had General Motors and Chrysler been allowed to fail, Johnson Controls may well have gone down with them. The company’s CEO appeared before Congress to beseech lawmakers to approve the bailout.

In 2010, the company received a $299 million federal grant for the production of hybrid batteries. It has also raked in $149 million in tax breaks from the state of Michigan.

Apologists for exploiting the business nationality loophole in the tax code say such behavior is forced on companies because of the high U.S. corporate tax rate of 35%. A case can be made that 35% is too high, but the reality is that the tax rate is subject to reduction in so many ways that no business with an accountant who can correctly add two plus two without a calculator actually pays it. Johnson Controls paid a rate of 19% in its last fiscal year, substantially less than the rate paid by most individual taxpayers.

The business tax code needs to be cleaned up. Closing loopholes such as the ploy used by Johnson Controls would justify adjusting rates to put the U.S. more in line with other industrial countries. That’s a job for Congress. Unfortunately, while there is plenty of complaining about business taxes going on there, no progress in corporate tax reform is evident.

Spokesmen for Johnson Controls describe the Ireland dodge as a responsible move by its board of directors on behalf of stockholders. Share owners will benefit from the tax savings, but that is hardly a rationale to paint the sale to Tyco as ethical business conduct. The U.S. does much to create an environment in which business can prosper, which is one reason it has the world’s largest economy. Paying taxes to support its government should be seen as a duty not to be shirked by companies that profit in that environment.

Johnson Controls and Tyco, which makes fire protection products, would seem an odd couple, but they have one thing in common—tax dodging. Tyco is an old hand at avoiding taxes, having moved from the U.S. to Bermuda, then to Switzerland, before setting up in Ireland.

As for that dodged bullet, it’s a relief that Johnson Controls is not moving its Wisconsin jobs along with its for-tax-purposes headquarters. But caution for the future is indicated: Loyalty is obviously not this company’s strong suit.

 
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