Chuck Erickson thinks it's about time Dane County got serious in its efforts to become more sustainable.
"We're trying to have a more coordinated approach," says Erickson, a county supervisor. Being green "should become part of the culture."
Together with Supv. Robin Schmidt, Erickson has proposed several amendments to the 2009 budget. One would establish a committee to oversee sustainability projects. Another would allocate $500,000 in the capital budget to create a "Green Energy/ Green Jobs Project Fund."
This fund would subsidize sustainable projects by county departments. "In a lot of cases, [green building] is more expensive," says Erickson. "We make a higher purchase upfront to achieve a sustainable goal and maybe in the long run save money on utility costs."
Topf Wells, chief of staff to Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, questions the need. "There's a ton of sustainability stuff in this budget," he says. "The county executive worked hard to make a real effort there."
Falk's 2009 budget allocates $8.5 million for green initiatives, including $28,000 for a Hybrid SUV, $187,000 for solar water heating, and nearly $300,000 for new bike/pedestrian trails. Falk also wants to spend $2.3 million for a manure digester project, to convert waste into fertilizer or electricity.
But Schmidt believes that while the county has "made a good commitment to going in the right direction," more can be done.
Earlier this year, county department heads were trained in "The Natural Step," a program that teaches employees to always consider the environment when making decisions. The city of Madison has been training its employees in the program for several years. Schmidt wants the county to spend $25,000 to train managers and staff.
"For this to be effective, we have to have buy-in from everyone," she says. "The staff themselves have a broader knowledge base from which they could identify sustainable activities."
Because the county's budget is tight, Schmidt and Erickson have offered to scale down the initial seed money for the green fund from half a million dollars to less than $100,000.
"If there is a demand for it, we can always increase the funding next year," says Schmidt. "This is a much more reasonable amount of money to be playing with."
No rest for weary in Fitchburg
The city of Madison has a policy of not scheduling meetings on Election Day. Dane County has "an understanding," says Board Chair Scott McDonell. "We have had trouble with quorum."
But the city of Fitchburg has no such policy. So on Tuesday night, at 7 p.m., Fitchburg's Plan Commission held its regular meeting. Because it was Election Day, Mayor Tom Clauder vowed ahead of time to keep the meeting short: "We're not going to be there all night." (True enough, the meeting adjourned at 9:20.)
Clauder considered canceling the meeting, but "people seemed to want to meet, so I left it alone."
On the Plan Commission's agenda were two controversial issues: Fitchburg's Southdale Neighborhood Plan and a presentation on the Drumlin Garden. The city wants to remake the mostly low-income Southdale neighborhood into a mixed-use urban development, with a commuter rail stop. The plan also calls for relocating the Drumlin community gardens, which will be plowed under as Randy Alexander develops Novation Campus, a $120 million, 70-acre office park.
About 25 people showed up at the meeting, to testify in favor of the gardens. Clauder says the election night meeting was not done to sneak the controversial redevelopment through: "There's nothing done deliberately to get people not to talk."
But the commission ultimately voted to refer the issue for 30 days, says Clauder, "so it would give us time to talk to Alexander."
Making polls accessible
During the 2004 presidential election, Disability Rights Wisconsin sent out an army of volunteers to survey the state's polling places to see if they were accessible. Volunteers found a host of problems, including a lack of accessible parking and doorways too narrow for wheelchairs.
This year, the state's Government Accountability Board took over. The board surveyed polling sites throughout the year, and on Election Day, sent out 13 people statewide to spot check polls' accessibility. Thirteen is not a huge number, acknowledges Dotti Milner, an elections specialist with the Government Accountability Board.
"It's all we have for staff," she says. "We require them to be trained. We don't want them to be from advocacy groups, who might have a conflict."
The staffers visited multiple polling locations, "from Superior all the way down to the far reaches," says Milner. "We were all over."
Alicia Boehme of Disability Rights Wisconsin says municipalities around the state have made "significant improvement" in accessibility. "But that doesn't guarantee every site is accessible. We view it as an ongoing process."
In fact, some people with disabilities who tried to vote early ran into problems. In some areas, clerks had failed to set up accessible voting machines. "We got calls from folks who went in to use the machines, and they were not turned on," says Boehme.
On Election Day, few people reported any problems with accessibility, says Boehme. "In Madison, I haven't heard of any problems that weren't easily resolved." She thinks the state's efforts to improve accessibility has paid off. "It's good news."
That's a wrap
Former Ald. Ken Golden, in a recent listserv posting, clucked about the city's plan to hike bus fares to $2, after it recently made permanent the use of ad wraps to generate revenue: "I thought the wraps were to prevent fare increases - guess someone has a memory problem."
Someone does. According to Ald. Robbie Webber, it's Golden. "I do not remember that," says Webber, a member of the city's Transit and Parking Commission. "My recollection is that's not what was said."
The ads, which cover entire buses, including the windows, are expected to generate about $300,000 next year for Madison Metro. "It helps offset the deficit that is there," admits Webber. "But with rising fuel prices, everything costs more. The wraps weren't enough to keep up."
Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has said money from the proposed 50-cent-per-ride fare increase could be used to restore routes cut in years past. But Webber says the Transit and Parking Commission, which makes the final decision on fares and routes, will look at other options.
"It might not be additional routes or times," she says. "It could be for better security at the transfer points."
Though she's not happy about a fare increase, Webber calls it inevitable, since the Common Council likely won't fund Metro the way it does other basic services.
"If we need to provide additional funding for brand-new roads or parks or anything else, we figure out a way," she complains. "I think Metro is a basic service too. But I don't seem to be in the majority."