Historical research of Waunakee’s waterworks system brought to light one constant in community during these past 150 years: controversy.

Back in 1927, the big issue was whether the village should install a public sewer and water system. Albert Roessler, the Waunakee Tribune’s founder, supported the move, publishing his own and others’ editorials in favor.

When the Tribune interviewed his son, Franklin, nearly 60 years later, the waterworks conflict stood out in his memory, as well.

He told the newspaper in 1986, “I remember my dad was working in the garden, and one old guy came out and told him, ‘Stop your lying paper….’ That was a rough time.”

Over the last quarter century, Waunakee residents have disagreed about a number of initiatives, often improvements like the waterworks that some feel are vital for the community. Others opposing such projects fall into two camps: they either have a better plan in mind, or they simply don’t want their taxes to increase.

In the late 1990s, a referendum to build a new high school divided the community. The naysayers to that referendum plan fell into both categories.

Then came the ill-timed downtown tax incremental finance district, passing just prior to the Great Recession. The challenging financing package to redevelop an underperforming downtown required some payment from the general fund for a few years, but in the end was successful.

Remember the roundabout? Those attending big meetings at the Waunakee Village Center remember some unruly outbursts. Village Administrator Todd Schmidt had just joined the village staff then, and I remember telling him later that this was not a typical meeting for our “fair and pleasant valley.” I think most would agree that the roundabout moves traffic far more efficiently through the village’s center.

Then, as the Waunakee Public Library was built, many griped about the high cost, the lack of transparency, and the village board’s decision to forego a referendum. The board’s reasoning was, because the library was not a new facility, just a replacement of an existing one, no referendum was needed. Still, former Village President John Laubmeier told me then the library controversy kept him up at night. The roundabout did, too.

Likely, as community and village board begin to consider building a public swimming pool, many will feel strongly on both sides of the issue.

Franklin Roessler said about his father that he supported “anything that’s for the benefit of this town.” The Tribune has since editorialized in favor of school referendums, the roundabout, the downtown TIF and the new library, all because they bring an enduring benefit to the community that future generations will appreciate, as well. And though the community has suffered its divisions, the chasms eventually close.

Recommended for you