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McFarland balks at land buy
Will key parcel be lost because village won't kick in its share?
The 18-acre Schuetz property (orange) would join existing parkland (green), forming a critical link in a planned trail (red).
The 18-acre Schuetz property (orange) would join existing parkland (green), forming a critical link in a planned trail (red).

Ryan Quam says plans to buy the 18-acre Schuetz farm have 'been in the works for 11 years.' It's part of McFarland's community master plan, drafted with extensive input from village residents. The wooded parcel, surrounded by public land and overlooking pristine Lower Mud Lake, is seen as a critical piece of potential parkland and a key segment of a planned future trail that would run from Lake Farm County Park eventually all the way to Stoughton.

The farm has also long been coveted by developers who've made McFarland one of Dane County's fastest growing communities. And Quam, a former village trustee and one-time chair of its parks commission, thinks they may prevail, due to the failure of current village trustees to pony up some needed funds.

'It seems like they want it to fail,' says Quam. He notes that McFarland's share could come from $1.6 million in fees in lieu of parkland development expected by early next year. 'It will cost the village taxpayers nothing.'

In early 2005, the village negotiated a purchase price of $935,000 for the parcel from its current owners, a older couple who still live in a house on the land. This price, says village administrator Don Peterson, was 'supported by three separate independent appraisals.'

The state Stewardship Fund has agreed to pay half, or $467,500. And Dane County, through its conservation fund, has pledged $139,765. That leaves a village share of $327,735.

But a motion to approve the funds failed last month on a 3-3 vote (a majority was needed). The board then voted 5-1 to cover half the cost, or $163,867 ' provided that the other half is raised within six months, or by next February.

'That's not a lot of time,' notes Peterson, who is nonetheless optimistic. The county's latest conservation plan earmarks this parcel for acquisition, which means the village could snare another $93,000 in county funds. That leaves only a $71,000 deficit for a community that last year raised $1.1 million in private funds for a new public library.

Quam, however, calls filling this gap 'a monumental task' and thinks the village board's move is woefully shortsighted. McFarland needs parkland, this parcel is of regional importance, and the owners have purportedly gotten multiple better offers from developers. Says Quam, 'At some point, they're going to get fed up and sell.'

Village president Chris Klar, one of the trustees to vote against providing the full amount, scoffs at this. He says the fees in lieu of development might not be available in time, meaning the money would have to be borrowed. He adds that the village is already hard-pressed to care for existing parks and has other parkland-acquisition needs.

And while some think the three trustees want to see the Schuetz land developed, Klar is 'confident' this won't occur because it's actually still in the town of Dunn, which has strict zoning rules. He says any development plan would 'turn up a great hornet's nest.'

Klar says the trustees objected to the parcel's 'astronomical' cost, feeling the town and others should also contribute. 'The three of us felt if we couldn't get that minimal amount of support from the town of Dunn and the private sector, we'd have to question how important this really was to people.'

And if this means the parcel is not acquired as parkland, would the board be okay with that? Says Klar, 'For me personally, that would be true.'

Sheriff comes up short

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk this week unveiled $11 million in new spending for the sheriff's office in her 2007 budget, including funding for three new detectives. But Sheriff Gary Hamblin, who speculates that Falk spared him from cuts because 'she's running for another office [attorney general] that involves support from law enforcement,' says it's not enough to relieve staffing stress.

If Hamblin had his druthers, he'd also add 16 new deputies ' eight for the jail, four to facilitate inmate transfers, and four for the new courthouse.

He says the need for more bodies (there are now about 420 deputies and detectives) is critical. Roughly two-thirds of the way into 2006, his office has already exceeded its $1,219,906 overtime budget by $269,000.

Det. Dave Mahoney, a former deputies union president running to replace Hamblin, suggests it might be possible to manage some jail shifts with fewer staff. He also hopes programs that treat addictions and provide job skills could ease jail overcrowding.

Madison police officer Mike Hanson, the other sheriff contender, would seek 'efficiencies' in department operations and use the money now going to overtime to hire more deputies. 'Year after year,' he says, 'we're robbing the county's general fund to pay for overtime.'

DNR extreme, not Mark Green

State Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) would like it known why the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative rules, which he chairs, rejected the state Department of Natural Resources' proposed health advisory level for alachlor ESA, a groundwater contaminant that turns up frequently in Dane County ('Here's poison in your well!,' 9/15/06).

'The DNR tried to mislead us as to the reasonableness of the process,' says Grothman, explaining that most other states have not taken similar action and Minnesota adopted a level twice as high. 'They [the DNR] were once again on the extreme. The DNR is always so extreme.' He says opposition from Monsanto, the chemical maker, had nothing to do with it: 'What the hell do I care about Monsanto?'

Why, then, was this the first time the Legislature has rejected a proposed regulatory level for a groundwater contaminant? 'Maybe nobody's brought it [the extremeness of the proposal] to our attention.'

Grothman also reacted to Isthmus' cover story about gubernatorial hopeful Mark Green, a former state rep. The article listed various proposals, such as state bills to restrict welfare payments to mothers who have more kids, that seem to peg Green as more right-leaning than he is now trying to claim. Counters Grothman, 'When he was in the Assembly, we never even considered him conservative.'

Overworked clerk

Maribeth Witzel-Behl, Madison's new city clerk, would do well to learn this ain't Las Vegas: What gets said here gets spread here. She recently e-mailed one city resident that her office is so short-staffed she's 'working 80-90 hours a week,' which sounds incredible. She also related that Roger Price, the assistant superintendent for Madison schools, called her up and 'yelled at me.'

Price denies it: 'I don't raise my voice, I don't yell at anybody.' He says he merely asked Witzel-Behl whether her office would be registering groups taking sides on the upcoming school referendum, as in the past, and was told it would.

Witzel-Beth says Price 'would like us to make this a higher priority' but that she's more focused on readying voter lists, training poll workers and getting out absentee ballots. 'I squeeze in as much as I can,' she says. And, after all, there's only 90 hours in a work week.

Born to run

Bicycle riders, bless them, don't need encouragement to run red lights. They do it all the time. But now, in one circumstance, they have the law on their side.

A new state statute effective Sunday, Oct. 1, lets motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles run lights that remain red longer than 45 seconds, so long as they stop, conclude the light is vehicle-activated with no other cars present, and can proceed safely through.

The law was pushed through by motorcycle advocates, with bicycles added to gain support. Madison bike czar Art Ross is not thrilled with this response to vehicle-activated signals that miss lighter traffic: 'If there's a problem, I would rather have people call me so we can check it out and repair it.' After running the light, of course.

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