Conservation with common sense

Published April 1, 2002

Several years ago, Citizens for Responsible Zoning and Landowner Rights warned that Wisconsin state agencies were proposing an expensive new sewer code. Thousands called legislators and agencies to protest. The code was dropped, the law changed. That’s People Power.

Now there is a greater threat to Wisconsin citizens–“smart growth”–described as “one of the most comprehensive pieces of land-use legislation considered in this state during the last 50 years.”

Although smart growth was approved by the state legislature, it was not “considered” by the legislature. It was developed by special interest groups and quietly slipped into the 1999 budget. Smart growth wouldn’t have passed the legislature. It had to sneak in the back door.

Under the smart growth law, every Wisconsin township must complete a comprehensive plan, so detailed it will require hiring a consultant. The state will determine whether township plans meet the letter of the law. That’s not “local control,” as advertised; it’s state control: state management of private land.

Most townships expect little growth and have little need for elaborate planning. At a meeting in Baldwin, consultant fees were quoted at $40,000 to $80,000, and even that was just a beginning. How many townships can afford a fraction of such costs?

Now, Governor Scott McCallum has announced he wants to “force basic change.” By 2004, he intends to withdraw all state revenues from local governments. Townships won’t survive. It looks like he intends to eliminate township government. Will counties be next?

Town government provides basic services to every property owner. This, thankfully, is done with no frills, as most town officials are frugal. If the Governor wishes to reduce debt, he shouldn’t do it at the lowest level. We already pay exorbitant county and state taxes. Start reducing debt at the county and state level: They spend the really BIG bucks.

The state mandates many expensive programs; now they want to pull the plug. If the state is going to withhold funds, why should towns follow the state’s smart growth dictates? Fortunately, most townships are holding back, not rushing to implement a plan.

Once again, people of Wisconsin must speak up. Tell your legislators they must address the smart growth issue. They have authority to make changes to protect property owners and townships.

You have the power: People Power. Please use it.

Marilyn F. Hayman is chairman of Citizens for Responsible Zoning and Landowner Rights, based in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin.