Local control has, for more than 150 years, been a bedrock of Wisconsin government.
It’s why, rather than a potentially more efficient metro-type system where full control of a wide area rests with one body such a county or a regional board of supervisors, we have multiple layers of local government including towns, cities, villages.
We also have in Wisconsin 72 county governments, more than 400 school districts, each with its own school board, and many other types of districts and boards that handle everything from the flow of storm water to emergency services to taxing a few hundred – or a few thousand — residents to pay for the upkeep of a single lake.
The state’s existing decentralized system can be messy, but it remains valued. It ensures that local residents have final say on as many local issues as possible.
And so, we were dismayed last month at the state Legislature’s attempt to wrest control of nonmetallic mining away from county and municipal governments, and to transfer that fully to Wisconsin’s Department of Safety and Professional Services.
It would have rendered mute the power now held by Dane County and municipalities like the Town of Deerfield, to set rules for quarries and to issue permits and licenses needed for them to operate.
For many years now, the Town of Deerfield and Dane County have worked together – and sometimes disagreed — on the best way to ensure that blasting at the Oak Park Quarry on Oak Park Road in Deerfield doesn’t harm nearby buildings like historic St. Paul’s Liberty Lutheran Church, just down the road, completed in 1859.
But then, we were encouraged by Gov. Tony Evers’ announcement on July 3 that he would use his partial veto power to remove the quarry provision from the two-year state budget.
We agree with Gov. Evers that who controls quarries is a significant enough issue that it demands a full public conversation.
That, we agree, should include well-publicized public hearings and thoughtful discussion about balancing the desire of aggregate producers to have more consistent, statewide regulations against the concerns of local governments like the Town of Deerfield, whose quarry blasting rules are far more stringent than the state’s because they are committed to protecting local properties.
“I am vetoing these sections because I object to this change to local authority occurring without the opportunity for public debate outside of the budget process. I recognize the upward cost pressures on road building caused by trucking aggregate long distances and the cost savings that could be realized, but these concerns must be weighed against the need for local control of land use. As such, I am vetoing this provision to allow for further public debate,” Gov. Evers wrote in a budget veto message.
We look forward to that conversation.