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Where’s a new Teddy when we need him? PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 13 December 2017 16:03

Good old Teddy Roosevelt.
    Government officials love to publicly praise the charismatic 26th president of the United States. If only more of them would act like him.
    In his letter to the editor in last week’s Ozaukee Press announcing he would not seek re-election, Port Washington Mayor Tom Mlada cited Theodore Roosevelt as his inspiration in serving his city. Roosevelt is a fine exemplar for public servants, even small-town mayors, but it is a stretch to think he would have approved of Mlada’s relentless effort to sell public land overlooking the water for a commercial development called the Blues Factory.
    Roosevelt’s legacy, after all, is his saving of millions of acres of America’s land from commercial development by protecting it in the public trust.
    On a national scale, even officials who are attacking that legacy grasp for some of TR’s reflected glory. Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the interior, frequently compares himself to Roosevelt and in an asinine display of self-aggrandizement rode a horse to his first day of work in the Trump administration in imitation of the great conservationist who took office as president 117 years ago. Now Zinke is leading his boss’s assault on public lands that were designated as national monuments under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which historians consider one of Theodore Roosevelt’s greatest achievements.
    President Trump, who Vice President Mike Pence has said is “reminiscent of President Teddy Roosevelt,” last week withdrew two million acres of land precious for its majestic landscape and Native American antiquities from two national monuments in Utah. Other national monument lands are on a list compiled by the interior secretary as candidates to be stripped of federal protection.
    No justification would suffice for abandoning public lands as valuable for their unique and irreplaceable natural and cultural features as these, but the Trump administration’s attempt at a rationale is remarkably flaccid—that America needs the fossil fuels buried in the lands.
    It is true that business interests in Utah have lusted for years for the coal and oil buried in the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bear Ears monuments that Trump has now made vulnerable, but with many energy producers rejecting coal as too dirty and the country awash in cheap oil and natural gas, there is no benefit to the nation in mining and pumping these modest reserves, especially at the cost of damaging nature in some of its most beautiful manifestations.
    There are no national monument lands or waters in Wisconsin, but there is much in the environment of this state—long considered the cradle of the conservation movement—that needs protection.
    Like Trump, Gov. Scott Walker has been busy weakening environmental protection under the sham argument that complying with regulations is a hardship for business.
    Seeming to take a page out of the Trump environmental protection dismantling manual, Walker this month appointed an outspoken political foe of the Department of Natural Resources, former Ozaukee County Board member Jake Curtis, as the agency’s chief legal counsel, a move reminiscent of Trump’s appointment of Scott Pruitt, who proposed doing away with the Environmental Protection Agency, as the agency’s administrator.
    Walker topped his already dismal environmental record earlier this year by making the Foxcon electronics plant to be built in Racine county exempt from the environmental protection rules every other business in the state is required to follow.
    Foxcon will not even have to file an environmental impact statement for a plant that is expected to be three times larger than the Pentagon under the free environmental passes Walker threw in to sweeten a pot that was already full with $3 billion in taxpayer subsidies for the company.
    At least Walker has not, as far as we know, named Teddy Roosevelt as one of his personal heroes. Thank goodness. The name of the legendary protector of America’s natural assets has already been taken in vain far too often.

 
Wheel tax push invites spending questions PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 06 December 2017 20:16

The mayor of Port Washington wants the city to join a very select group of Wisconsin municipalities—the fewer than 1% of them that require their residents to pay a wheel tax.
    Mayor Tom Mlada is urging the Common Council to impose a $20 per year tax on vehicles owned by city residents—$40 a year for a typical two-car family.
    Wheel taxes are levied by only 16 of the state’s 1,931 cities, villages and counties. The taxes are collected by the state Department of Motor Vehicles and have to be spent for street and road maintenance in the taxing municipality.
    Wisconsin’s limits on local tax levies and state transportation aid that has failed to keep pace with rising construction costs make it a challenge for most communities to meet their responsibility to provide well-maintained streets and roads. Yet barely a handful resort to a wheel tax, a move that suggests fiscal desperation. If Port Washington is really in those straits, taxpayers no doubt would like to know why before being burdened with another tax.
    Mayor Mlada’s proposal to levy a vehicle tax on top of the property taxes paid by home and business owners invites questions about the city’s spending priorities. One of those priorities was on display two weeks ago when the council voted to spend $85,000 to shore up the site for the Blues Factory entertainment complex. (Ald. Mike Gasper voted against it.)
    The expenditure, when previous payments for contamination mitigation and other costs are factored in, likely raises the bill to taxpayers to more than $100,000 to make the site suitable for a risky commercial development that has attracted furious opposition.
    Not a penny of that would have to be spent if the mayor and a previous council had not insisted, in the face of strong citizen opposition, on selling the publicly owned marina parking lot for the Blues Factory.
    There would be no structural and environmental issues if the use of the land remained parking or if, as has been suggested, it is improved as a combined harbor overlook area and parking lot.
    Considering the widespread opposition to the Blues Factory, it is safe to say that many Port Washington taxpayers would prefer that the $100,000 to be paid to prepare the site—an amount  equal to half of one year’s estimated wheel tax revenue—would be spent on repaving deteriorated city streets.
    The high cost of site preparation is not the only fiscal issue dogging the Blues Factory. In its generosity to the developer, the city government has agreed to sell the site at a 50% discount—$250,000 for public land appraised at $500,000. Further, it will take years to recover the $1 million in taxpayer incentives the city has agreed to throw into the deal, which has a closing date of Jan. 18, 2018.
    Concerning the wheel tax, Mayor Mlada has discouraged the idea of holding a referendum on the tax on the grounds that getting voters to say yes “would be an uphill climb.”
    Perhaps a similar fear of a no vote was the reason the mayor and council members ignored petitions signed by about 1,000 city residents asking for a referendum on selling the marina lot for the Blues Factory.
    Had that referendum been held, a no vote (a reasonable expectation) would have saved taxpayers at least $100,000—money that could be spent to fix streets—and saved Port Washington from the intrusion of a commercial building that many in the city believe does not belong on their lakefront.

 
Breaking news: City officials discover lake views PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 29 November 2017 16:05

Eureka!
    A remarkable discovery has been made at City Hall. Port Washington officials have found the lake views that would be destroyed by the Blues Factory.
    The discovery is significant because some in the city government seemed to doubt the views exist. Others said that even if they do exist they aren’t worth saving.
     Now Plan Commission members are saying there really are views from the Blues Factory site at the edge of the marina that should be preserved and, what’s more, the development should be modified to enhance them. Even an alderman who is one of the last surviving Blues Factory advocates on the Common Council (others having been removed by voters opposed to the development) agrees.
    How to account for this discovery? Developers led the city to it.
    Readers couldn’t be blamed for thinking this is further evidence that Port’s elected and appointed officials listen more to developers than to the public. It is true that many citizens have told Common Council members and the mayor the Blues Factory should not be built on the marina site because it would shut off public lake views, and there were few if any signs the elected representatives were listening as they bent over backwards to accommodate the developer of the entertainment complex.
    But the developers the city is now listening to are speaking the public’s language. In their plans for a 10-unit condominium building on the Port Harbor Center property, owners Jim Vollmar and Don Voight are proposing that the adjacent Blues Factory be scaled back to allow expanded visual and physical lakefront access between the two buildings.
    As the plan for the Blues Factory stands, the building, which in an unfortunate play on the name of the enterprise is designed to resemble a factory, would be built close to the proposed condos with only an alleyway in between.
    Drawings of the handsomely designed condominium structure show the space between the buildings widened to accommodate an expanded public area overlooking the marina.
    The proposal is a waft of fresh air over the yearslong controversy. It already seems to have opened some eyes and some minds. It could do even more good for the community by serving as the impetus for a move to end altogether the threat of a commercial building on the marina site.
    That site will soon be virtually surrounded by high residential buildings, making it more necessary than ever that it remain under public ownership as an island of open space from which to appreciate the fortunate proximity of the downtown to Lake Michigan.
    The land, now a parking lot, is an ideal candidate to be improved as a “pocket park” (while retaining some space for much needed marina district parking).
    The term was used at a recent Plan Commission meeting by member Brenda Fritsch in some thoughtful comments on the Harbor Center condo proposal for enhanced public space. “There has been a huge concern about green space there,” she said, alluding to the enduring  public opposition to the Blues Factory. “These pocket parks are essential.” Praising the idea of preserving space for people to enjoy the waterfront and its views, she added, “A view only exists if you go down there and sit.”
    At the same meeting, Ald. Mike Ehrlich contributed the statement, “The entry to the harbor is pivotal.”
    That’s another discovery, a welcome one by a council member who has at every opportunity heretofore supported a brick and mortar impediment to that entry to the harbor.
    It’s time for another discovery at city hall, time to discover what is becoming more obvious by the day—that the north slip lot beside the marina, with its views and intimacy with the water, should not be taken from the public for an entertainment business.

 
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