Dane County is scaring people.
Its Lakes and Watershed Commission has been developing the Dane County Waterbody Classification Project, which some fear will bring draconian regulations.
Phil Salkin, a former county supervisor and Verona mayor who represents real estate interests, is fighting the project. He warns that the regulations would restrict any new construction within 1,000 feet from a lake or pond and 300 feet from a stream.
"The isthmus is about 3,000 feet wide," Salkin says. "The county would have the right to regulate 2,000 feet of that. We're not saying they're going to make you tear down your house. But let's say you want to build a deck and you live 300 feet from a lake. They have the right to say, 'You could affect water quality.'"
Salkin is especially concerned about provisions relating to esthetics and habitat. "Someone kayaking on Lake Mendota should see as little building structures as possible," he says of the county's philosophy. If new construction violates these standards, the property owner would be required to undertake mitigation efforts, like installing rain gardens or planting native vegetation.
"Here's another kicker: These practices are going to be a permanent feature of your property," Salkin says. "If the vegetation dies in two years because we have a bad drought, guess who pays to put it back in? Not the county."
Madison city officials have raised similar concerns.
"We question the imposition of a set of esthetics geared toward natural, largely undeveloped waterfronts similar to what might be found on some northern Wisconsin lakes or on portions of the lower Wisconsin River," wrote Brad Murphy, city planning director, and Larry Nelson, city engineer, in an April 17 letter to the county.
County representatives say these fears are overblown. "Change makes people uncomfortable," says Brian Standing, senior planner with Dane County Planning and Development.
He notes that property on so-called urban waters like Monona and Mendota lakes are exempt from habitat requirements. And properties near rural or developing waters could opt out of any mitigation projects by simply following minimum setbacks and design guidelines.
Mitigation projects would be needed only if construction goes beyond accepted standards, and don't have to cost a fortune. "In most cases you're spending in the $500 to $2,000 range," says Standing.
Finally, Standing notes that the recommendations, which will be finalized over the next several months, are just that. The County Board will have a chance to weigh in, and it could decide that state standards are sufficient.
County Board chair Scott McDonell says the quality of the county's lakes "is directly linked to the quality of our community. It's important we take measures to protect the water quality and protect against flooding."
Using $450,000 of federal stimulus money, Dane County is starting a revolving loan fund to help residents and businesses here become more energy-efficient.
The program will initially make loans to nonprofit groups but will eventually be available to anyone, including businesses and homeowners.
"From a simplicity point of view, we decided to start the loan fund with nonprofits, because we can get that money out quickly, and those are good projects that will serve our nonprofits for years to come," says Supv. McDonell. "When we start getting that money back, we can look at lending it out for private individuals."
The loans could be used for energy-efficiency projects like insulation or for green energy, says Supv. Matt Veldran. He hopes the first loans will go out in a few months. "There will be a cap [on the loan amount], but we haven't established it yet."
In all, Dane County is slated to receive $2.3 million in stimulus money for energy-efficiency projects. McDonell says the loan fund will "mean our stimulus money will continue to be used for years to come."
Overture sees red
With its finances already in disarray, the Overture Center on Tuesday ended its special six-month budgeting period $275,000 over budget.
On Monday, it cut two staff positions - vice president of communications Jonathan Zarov and promotions coordinator Anna Hahm - geared toward balancing its 2009-2010 budget, which runs from July 1 to the end of next June.
In 2008, the Madison Cultural Arts District, which manages Overture, was $836,000 over budget. The picture for the first six months of this year wasn't pretty. Wages and benefits were $100,000 more than projected, artist fees $50,000 more, ticket sales down more than $100,000, interest income down $77,000.
But Overture president Tom Carto remains upbeat, saying ticket sales for upcoming shows are up over last year. He expects Overture to break even for the year.
"The 2009-2010 budget is looking very good right now," Carto says. "Lion King is going to be a big help with that. And we already see our [ticket] subscriptions are really moving quickly."