Alder David Ahrens
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
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Alder Ahrens’ Updates
Store closings, Water Rates and Small Wins
Commercial Upheaval: In one week, many members of the community were sad and/or angry and/or perplexed that many old and favorite stores in the area would soon close.
First, we learned that Ace Hardware on Cottage Grove Rd. would close on July 21st because it could not reach terms for a lease with the new owner of the strip mall. Ace has been a real rock for the Eastside of Madison and much of Monona. Unlike the Big Box stores, Ace is a place where a staff member will help you find just the right washer- even if you're only going to buy two. Another store may move into its space, but nothing will be able to replace it.
Shortly after the news about Ace, we learned that the Ben Franklin Store on Monona Dr. had also lost their lease and will close at the end of June. The Franklin Store, operated by the Retzloff family, had been an anchor of the neighborhood for about 60 years! I've met folks well into their sixties who remember buying their first notebooks and crayons for Allis School at the Ben Franklin Store. It is one of the few Franklin stores left in the state. The owner of the mall, who faced quite a bit of flack over the closing, said that the space will be leased to a women's fitness club, Burn Boot Camp.
About the same time, the news came that Michael's Custard will close when the property is sold. It has been a landmark on Atwood Ave for well over 30 years. It's likely that the Culvers on Cottage Grove Rd. and the incredibly popular Chocolate Shop on the other end of Atwood have had a dire effect on their sales. It will especially be missed by all those folks doing the Lake Monona Bike loop.
There's also a "For Sale" sign at the strip mall on Monona Dr. that features the Viet Hoa grocery store. It is not known if the store will continue business at the site until the property is sold.
Looking at the closings or proposed changes in ownership on an individual basis, it appears that each of the closings had different circumstances and that this doesn't constitute a pattern or trend other than that current commercial property owners believe that their holding now has greater value and want to sell or lease at a higher price. Nonetheless, these establishments have been an important element to the vitality of the community and will be missed.
Water Bills: Last October, the Water Utility announced that it would seek a 26% increase in water rates for approval from the Public Service Commission (PSC). Now, the Utility has reviewed its plans and forecasts and will likely seek a rate increase of 32%. I'm a member of the Water Utility Board and am concerned that Madison's long-standing practice of low-cost water may be in jeopardy if these increases continue.
There are some good reasons for the big increase. First, rates have not increased for three years. Second, they will not increase for another three years. Still, that comes out to a 10% increase each year. Third, the water mains in much of the city built before 1960 are in dire shape and need to be replaced. The Utility is investing about $20 million per year in replacement of older infrastructure and building additional capacity as the city expands.
The change from what was once "the water bill" to an appropriately titled, "Municipal Service Bill" has helped clear some of the confusion about the real price of water. Usually, the "water" portion of your bill constitutes about one-third of the total charges. There are charges for sewer service, stormwater, fire protection (hydrants) and forestry fees. If the water portion of your bill is between $15 and $24 (high end) the 32% increase will mean an increase of $5-$8 per month.
Next month, I will write about how a little-known "tax" called the PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) plays a major role in the cost of many city services.
Parking Utility Users Paying for....what?: On June 1st, rates in many of the city's parking garages will increase. The campus ramp will increase from $1.20 to $1.50 per hour, the Brayton Lot will increase from $1.80 to $2 per hour and so on.
As a member of the Commission overseeing the Parking Utility, we are often told by managers that these increases are necessary to establish sufficient reserves to build and replace old operations such as the Government East garage on East Wilson St.
That's why I was surprised and skeptical when the Mayor proposed that the Parking Utility spend $11 million to pay for the construction of a building foundation, retail stores and parking garage for the (now, the third version of the) Judge Doyle Sq. project.
It turns out that the developer overseeing the project does not have the financing to complete this part of the project and wants the city pay for it. The City, in turn, would rather have the users of the Parking Utility pay for it. Even if, they may not get all of the funds paid back. There is also the basic question, why are parking ramp users paying for the foundation of a privately owned building?
For more information on this, you can read my op-ed in the State Journal:
"Small" Wins: Much of the quality of life in our communities is determined more by what some call the "little" things such a well-kept garden in a traffic median, getting a giant pothole filled and recently, for one street, a few stop signs.
Turner Ave. has been plagued by speeding vehicles (largely coming from the LaFollette parking lot) for years. After the road was repaired two years ago and the potholes and bumps were eliminated, speed increased.
In response to this problem, one community member, Marilyn McWilliams, took on the job of going door to door from Pflaum to Buckeye Rd. and collected over 60 signatures requesting stop signs on Turner.
The Traffic Engineering Dept. responded by conducting a speed study and found high rates of speeding vehicles immediately before and after school.
This week, a city committee voted to install stop signs along Turner Ave. This is a "little win" that can make a big change in the quality of life for the residents.
Eastmorland Community Meeting: The annual meeting of the Eastmorland Community Association will be held this Saturday, June 2 (1:30-3:30) at the Lakeview Moravian Community Church at 3565 Tulane Ave.
Ride the Drive: On Sunday, June 3rd, from 11-3, John Nolen Dr. will be for "bikes-only" in the annual Ride-the-Drive event. This year there will additional activities, food trucks, etc. at Olin, Law and Brittingham Parks. For more: http://www.cityofmadison.com/parks/ridethedrive/
If you have any questions or concerns about city services or policies, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 334-1156.
Hope you are having a great summer.
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