After fire, cat shelter near reopening

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Jefferson welcomes Harry Potter Festival USA

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UWW officials explain parking policies

By JAMES KATES / Webhawk News

The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater rolled out its top brass Tuesday, Oct. 3, to explain its controversial new parking policy and to mend fences with the city’s Common Council.

Chancellor Beverly Kopper, Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs Grace Crickette and UWW Police Chief Matt Kiederlen assured the council that the university does not want to hurt the “town and gown” relationship with the new plan, which requires UWW permits for parking on Prince and Prairie streets.

Citizens have complained that the plan deprives them of parking spaces near UWW and imposes “double taxation” for anyone who parks on streets that already are paid for in the city budget.

“Our parking assets are getting more and more stretched,” Kiederlen said, noting that the university will lose an additional 200 parking spaces in Lot 9, on Warhawk Drive near the Kachel Fieldhouse, when construction of a new residence hall begins.

Lots on the south side of campus routinely are 90 percent filled on weekdays, Kiederlen said. He added that the university is trying to ease the parking crunch by, among other things, allowing students with north-side commuter stickers to park anywhere on campus after 5 p.m.

Crickette explained that UWW wants its parking operation to be “self-sustaining” so the university can devote its money to its core mission of educating students.

The cost of most annual parking permits went up $20 this year. Daily permits rose from $3 to $5, and parking tickets went from $15 to $25.

UWW is paying the city $45,000 a year for rights to control the spaces on Prince and Prairie streets, and is reaping at most $30,000 a year in revenue from the related permits, Crickette said. Both she and Kiederlen said parking fines are not a moneymaking scheme but are meant to ensure that the rules are followed.

No immediate action was taken, but the UWW officials and the council indicated they were open to future talks to change the agreement. Council member Stephanie Goettl asked that the matter be placed on a future council agenda for possible action.

City budget

In other business Tuesday, City Manager Cameron Clapper presented a first look at the proposed 2018 city budget, which calls for spending about $30,000 less than this year.

The budget – which still is subject to committee meetings, a public hearing and approval by the Common Council – envisions spending of $9,174,846 in 2018, compared with $9,204,722 in 2017.

About half that money is intergovernmental revenue, mostly from the State of Wisconsin, and about 37 percent comes from property taxes. The rest comes mostly from fines and fees.

City employees will get a wage increase of 1.5 percent, but they will have to pay more for health insurance, covering 15 percent of the cost of coverage as opposed to 12 percent currently.

Clapper told the council that the budget picture is not as smooth as it might first appear.

“To the average person there is not much evidence of financial trouble,” but holes are being plugged with money that really should be set aside for long-term maintenance, he said.

In the long term, the city is hamstrung by state revenue caps that sharply limit increases in property taxes, Clapper said.

He said the city must look to alternate revenue sources, such as economic growth that would generate more tax revenue. The city’s news financial consultant, Ehlers & Associates, will help with planning, he said.

After a series of Finance Committee meetings on Thursday nights, the full budget will be presented to the council at its Nov. 7 meeting. A public hearing and a vote of approval are set for the meeting on Nov. 21.

Landmarks Commission

Also on Tuesday, a protest outside the Municipal Building portended a possibly explosive debate about designation of city landmarks, but the tension fizzled as soon as the issue was more fully explained.

Voting 6-0 with member Carol McCormick absent, the council approved an ordinance proposed by member Christopher Grady that would require the city Landmarks Commission to notify the city manager and Common Council when considering conferring landmark status on any city-owned property.

Grady explained that the Common Council had been caught off guard when the Landmarks Commission declared the city-owned Walton Oaks Park a landmark in August.

Grady said landmark status might impose some excessive costs on the city if, for example, a landmark was destroyed in a storm and the city was required to rebuild it.

Other council members expressed skepticism about this concern but voted for the ordinance because they said it would make the designation process more open and clear.

A second ordinance introduced by Grady would have allowed the council to strip landmark status from any city-owned property. That ordinance failed. Grady moved for its adoption, but his motion was not seconded.

Before the meeting, about 20 protesters had gathered outside the Municipal Building with signs reading “Protect Cultural History” and “Save Our Landmarks.”

 

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Watching the solar eclipse

IMG_5680About 200 people gathered Monday at the UW-Whitewater Observatory to view the solar eclipse. Skies were only partly sunny, but the clouds parted several times to let observers view the eclipse through dark glasses and homemade projectors. Click here for a short video of the event.

 

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Podcast: Detecting ‘Fake News’

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‘Splash’ canceled; party will go on

By JAMES KATES / Webhawk News editor

Trucker-Splash-WhiteBlueRed_1024x1024Spring Splash is officially “canceled,” but Whitewater city officials acknowledge that the annual celebration will occur again April 29.

They aren’t exactly looking forward to the party.

In a sometimes acrimonious meeting Tuesday, the Whitewater Common Council debated how to prepare for and respond to the celebration, which last year resulted in vandalism, trespassing, underage drinking and public drunkenness.

The chief promoters of last year’s event, Kurt Patrick of Pumpers and Mitchell’s Tavern and Steve Farina of Wisconsin Red, will not participate. Whitewater officials persuaded them that sponsoring the event was a bad idea, City Attorney Wallace O’Donell said.

Seeking to mend fences, the city issued a press release this past Saturday stating that the promoters were not responsible for the mayhem that occurred after the 2016 party.

Wisconsin Red is an event-promotion company that stages parties and sells souvenir merchandise. It put on a DJ party on Saturday afternoon at last year’s Spring Splash. It had no connection to the numerous parties afterward and did not encourage the public misconduct that flared Saturday night into early Sunday, some council members noted.

Still, the aftermath of the 2016 event “was like the Wild West in Whitewater,” O’Donell said.

Sponsors or not, many people are planning to celebrate again on the last Saturday in April. Word already is circulating on social media, and the Police Department expects University of Wisconsin-Whitewater students and others to stage house parties that likely will spill onto the streets.

“How nobody died last year is a gift,” Police Chief Lisa Otterbacher told council members. She warned them that the city would be legally responsible for injuries caused to any law-enforcement officers from other communities who respond to mutual-aid calls.

City Manager Cameron Clapper said the city is not against anyone having a good time, but that officials must make sure that citizens enjoy themselves legally and safely.

Last year’s event seemed calculated “to get as many people as possible to do a lot of crazy, dangerous things,” Clapper said. “We want to discourage that.”

Most of the trouble was caused by out-of-town visitors, he added.

Still, Council Member Stephanie Goettl complained that other members appeared to be bashing UWW students. She said the city’s attitude could spark a backlash that would only increase this year’s troubles.

“This has been the most blatantly anti-student discussion I have ever heard,” said Goettl, who joined the council as a 20-year-old UWW undergraduate and now is studying for a master’s degree in business.

“This is not anti-student,” shot back Council Member Christopher Grady. “It’s anti-mob.”

Otterbacher said the Police Department has consulted other agencies, especially the Madison police, who deal with that city’s annual Halloween festivities and the Mifflin Street Block Party. UW-Whitewater authorities will discourage out-of-town visitors from staying overnight that Friday and Saturday in residence halls, she said.

In response to pointed questioning from citizen Larry Kachel, whose family is Whitewater’s largest private landlord, she said the city would set up treatment stations for intoxicated people and distribute ‘no trespassing’ signs to help property owners keep wayward partygoers out of their yards.

Police dog sold

Also on Tuesday, the Common Council voted to sell the city’s police dog, a black Labrador named Boomer, to his handler, former Officer Joseph Matteson, for $3,500.

Had the dog been of retirement age, Matteson could have bought him for $1, which is standard practice in such cases. But Boomer will retire in mid-career. Matteson trained with Boomer and was his handler since May of 2014.

Matteson is leaving the community, and his family will own Boomer as a pet. The sale agreement specifies that Boomer cannot be used again as a police dog.

Otterbacher acknowledged that the sale might upset the community donors who raised money for Boomer’s purchase and training. But there is no guarantee that Boomer would respond well to another handler, she told the council.

“This is an opportunity to start over with a new canine and a new handler,” she said. Trying to retrain Boomer with a new handler might fail because “dogs are very loyal,” she said.

Matteson spent 14 years with the police force and was an “outstanding law enforcement officer,” Otterbacher said.

Council members unanimously approved the sale but voiced hope that the city could reach a legal agreement – or at least an informal understanding – with any future handlers to prevent police dogs’ service from being cut short.

Otterbacher said she would send letters to the 100-plus donors who paid for Boomer to explain the situation, because “this program would not be here without them.”

In other action Tuesday, the council:

  • Was introduced to Kristin Mickelson, the city’s new public relations and communications manager. Mickelson, a 2008 UW-Whitewater graduate, is a Janesville native who formerly worked in communications and marketing for Blain’s Farm and Fleet.
  • Agreed to study the idea of placing speed bumps at the intersection of Cherry and North streets, the site of several recent accidents.
  • Approved the borrowing of $287,000, equally split between First Citizens Bank and Commercial Bank, for the purchase of a new ambulance.
  • Approved the 2017 pay plan, which will give 1 percent cost-of-living increases to city employees who are already at the top pay level for their positions. Under the plan, Clapper, who is the city’s highest-paid employee, will earn $94,572 this year. The police chief will be paid $92,334.

 

 

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