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State conservation program should stay big PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 12 June 2013 16:31

The high cost of protecting Wisconsin’s gorgeous pieces of nature is worth every penny

It apparently dawned on the members of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee as they cobbled together their version of the state budget that it costs quite a bit of money to protect Wisconsin’s natural places and make them available for the public to use.

    Hello. Most of us knew that. And most of us, according to opinion polls, approve of spending taxpayer money on stewardship of Wisconsin’s land and water.

    Yet the committee, acting as though it had discovered an irresistible opportunity to exercise the shrink-the-government ideology most of its members espouse, voted to make deep cuts in funding for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

    There are cases in which the best public policy is to maintain big, expensive government programs as big, expensive government programs. The Stewardship Fund is one of them. There are plenty of good reasons for this, but let’s start with one the committee should find easiest to understand: economic development.

    Much lip service and taxpayer money has been spent by the Legislature in the name of economic development with little to show for it except embarrassing reports of mismanagement of public funds by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Meanwhile, the lands and waters opened to the public through the Stewardship Fund support a large sector of the state economy.

    Wisconsin’s outdoor recreation industry, with total revenues of more than $12 billion last year, thrives in part because of the resources protected by the Stewardship Fund.

    Wisconsin competes for recreation dollars with two neighboring states that are similarly blessed with resources, Michigan and Minnesota. Both states have acquired more state-owned public land for recreation than Wisconsin and both do more tourism business than Wisconsin.

    The Stewardship Fund was created in 1989 to conserve land of distinctive natural character, but it’s done much more than protect resources; it’s opened land and water that was inaccessible to the public under private ownership. Hunters, fishermen, campers, hikers, snowmobilers, birdwatchers and other outdoor enthusiasts use stewardship land.

    The Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported in January that 90% of the land in the stewardship program is open to hunting. It should be no surprise that sportsmen and their organizations are strong supporters of the Stewardship Fund.

    Wisconsin’s vast “outdoors” is frequently cited as the state’s leading quality-of-life asset. It would not be so vast without the Stewardship Fund.

    Economic benefits aside, the overarching reason stewardship spending should not be curtailed is that if Wisconsin’s best natural places are not protected, they are in danger of being developed as the state’s population grows, and then they are gone. The need for protection is especially acute in the wake of the weakening in the past two years of state land-use regulations as part of efforts to make Wisconsin more friendly to business development.    

    In his budget proposal, Gov. Scott Walker called for spending $60 million for stewardship in each of the next two years. The Joint Finance Committee voted to cut stewardship funding to $47.5 million next year and $54.5 million the second year. Those cuts would be especially impactful because stewardship funding was reduced two years ago from $86 million to $60 million.

    Gov. Walker says the stewardship appropriation he proposed should be restored. He’s right. The full Legislature should reject the budget committee’s cuts.

    Land conservation isn’t cheap. So far, it has cost the state $527 million to buy and protect about 500,000 acres of land under the stewardship program. This prompted State Rep. Dan Knodl to call the program “bloated” in an op-ed piece published in Ozaukee Press two weeks ago. It is no such thing.

    With stringent state oversight, including that of the Joint Finance Committee, which can veto purchases over $250,000, the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund spends money raised by issuing bonds wisely and gives Wisconsin taxpayers incalculable value in return—measured in terms of recreational opportunities, habitat for wildlife, natural beauty, appeal to tourists and new residents, support of the state’s economy and protection of Wisconsin’s most important asset, the gorgeous pieces of nature it calls its own.  

How to be a good small-town police chief PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 05 June 2013 16:21

Saukville Chief Bill Meloy’s 40-year career stands as a lesson in the value of relating to fellow citizens as part of effective community law enforcement

It’s tempting to call Bill Meloy the quintessential small-town cop, but that would be an incomplete description of the man who was the Village of Saukville’s police chief for the past 40 years.

    As far as it goes, the description is about right. Saukville is a small town for sure, with not quite half the population of Port Washington. And Meloy fits the image by being friendly and approachable, even a tad folksy.

    What “small-town cop” misses, however, is that over the years Meloy’s job has morphed from policing a sleepy village to dealing with some of the law enforcement problems often associated with urban areas.

    In terms of the demands on its police force, Saukville is a bigger place than its population suggests, thanks to the freeway that runs through the heart of the village.

    As readers of the police reports on the Ozaukee Press Saukville page know well, a week’s work for Meloy and his officers can include encounters with a variety of bad actors, including fugitives wanted for felonies.

    This is not to say that Saukville is crime ridden. Far from it—it’s a safe community that is dealing with the realities of a shrinking world. It’s a credit to Meloy that he has been able to make that true while still being that friendly small-town police chief.

    He explained how he manages that in a story in last week’s Press: “You have to like people. Be willing to look them in the eye. The key to this job is remembering you are here to serve the public.”

    Those could be words to live by for police officers in small towns everywhere. Yet in some communities these days, citizens interacting with local police get a thousand-yard stare through dark wrap-around sunglasses accompanied by monotone statements ending in “sir” or “ma’am,” terms that may or may not be intended to convey respect.

    This no-nonsense, by-the-book, hard-core police persona may be engendered by the unfortunate truth that no community is too small to be afflicted by grotesque crimes that were unthinkable in another era but are now part of 21st century life. We have only to mention the words “New Town” to know that.

    That is, of course, something for which police must be prepared, but it not a reasonable rationale for ignoring the need for community law enforcers to be friendly and understanding when possible in their encounters with their fellow citizens.

    There is good advice for them in Chief Meloy’s comment that “you would be surprised how easy this job can be when you make a point of relating to people.”

    He proved that time and again after being appointed Saukville’s first full-time police chief in 1973. And he also proved that when the job wasn’t easy an empathetic police officer could still be an effective guardian of the public’s safety.

    Bill Meloy retired Tuesday as a public servant who was a good small-town cop and quite a bit more.

A benefit veterans can count on PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 29 May 2013 14:02

While an overwhelmed federal agency is failing to provide timely help to veterans, Port Washington comes through year after year with a meaningful gesture of appreciation

Some of the men and women who retire from careers in the military have to wait years for the benefits they were promised when they enlisted. Some of the soldiers wounded in Afghanistan have to wait many months for the approval of disability claims needed for long-term treatment of their physical and mental injuries. Everyone claiming veterans benefits has to wait too long.

    This is wrong, but not unexplainable. The Department of Veterans Affairs is utterly overwhelmed. It has more employees (300,000-plus) than any federal agency except the Department of Defense, yet it still can’t get its job done.

    There is outrage about this in Washington, but not a lot of blame, because everyone understands the job is so enormous it defies efficient handling. American has more than 25 million living veterans, three-fourths of whom have served during a war. Counting veterans’ family members, more than one-fourth of the country’s population is eligible for veterans’ benefits.

    That explains the problem, but it’s not an excuse. A country that creates veterans at the rate the U.S. does by putting its citizens in harm’s way in a seemingly unending series of wars and armed conflicts has a moral obligation to see to the well being of those who served.

    The VA’s failings are out of character with the way the nation’s citizenry regards military veterans. America reveres its veterans. We name parks and buildings for them, honor them in our schools, applaud respectfully when aging color guards pass in parades and give to veterans’ causes as diverse as the spring poppy drives and the Stars and Stripes Honor Flights.

    Folks in Port Washington go beyond that and do something for veterans that may be unique in the nation and is certainly one of the most basically nice gestures you will find anywhere. They take veterans fishing.

    That may sound like a small and simple thing, but it is neither. It is a big thing for the veterans because they are disabled, being cared for at the VA Medical Center in Wood, Wis., and fishing is one of the pleasures of life their disabilities usually put out of their reach. Going fishing on Lake Michigan is complicated because many of the veterans are in wheelchairs and getting them on and off boats for the outing requires the efforts of many volunteers.

    This year’s Disabled Veterans Fishing Outing will be the 40th edition of the event started by a Port Washington charter fisherman in gratitude for the care he received at the VA Medical Center.

    The volunteers and the charter fishermen and other boat owners who make their boats available and the men and women who treat the veterans to a fish boil at the American Legion clubhouse work hard to make the day enjoyable and find joy themselves in knowing their efforts are successful.

    Here’s how Mary Schuknecht, who has coordinated the outing for 35 years, put it: “The  veterans love the atmosphere of the city and how they’re welcomed into the community. They have the greatest time.”

    Some 120 veterans are expected this year. When the late Tom McQuaid held the first outing in 1973, he took six disabled veterans fishing. It was an act of kindness he felt moved to offer after barely surviving an explosion aboard his boat.

    The explosion, traced to a gasoline leak, blew McQuaid out of the boat and into the west slip of the harbor, where he would likely have drowned had a passerby not saved him. Seriously burned, he was treated at the VA hospital, and he did not forget the care he received from the staff and the companionship he received from fellow injured veterans. McQuaid was an Army veteran.

     Over the years many in Port Washington have followed McQuaid’s lead in sharing the enjoyment of lake fishing with veterans, and more are needed to aid that cause this year. The outing needs boats, helpers of all kinds, donated fish and homemade desserts. Call Mary Schuknecht at 284-9144 to offer to lend a hand.

    By the time June 19 rolls around, we’re sure there will be plenty of help and this very nice day will go on as it has for four decades. Port Washington’s Disabled Veterans Fishing Outing is one benefit veterans can count on.

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