About a half-dozen members of the public and a similar number of Ladysmith administrative staff and officials attended a “District Day” event Friday for Wisconsin State Assembly Rep. Jim Edming.
During the district day on Oct. 18, Edming made several stops around the area including a question and answer session at city hall. The representative fielded numerous questions on issues like jobs, roads, vocational training, farming, the environment and the increasing cost of state regulations on municipal government. The hour long discussion also touched on other topics like teacher pay, need for more skilled workers and fair legislative map boundaries.
Ladysmith City Administrator Al Christianson asked about perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly called PFAS, in response to growing concerns over their impact on public health. The substances are often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they don’t easily break down in the environment, and Christianson said cities like Ladysmith cannot afford up to $25 million in wastewater treatment plant upgrades if the state Department of Natural Resources imposes new PFAS enforcement standards for drinking water and surface water in addition to groundwater quality standards.
“I am certainly all for cleaning it up,” Christianson said. “I would hope this is not a mandate to these communities.”
Christianson said the city could not legally comply with any imposed rules, stating the city’s borrowing capacity is currently less than $4 million and any new DNR rules should include a financing mechanism.
Farming was also addressed, citing the high cost of equipment, inflation and rules placed on Wisconsin farmers.
Edming noted bills he has signed onto including $8.8 million for the new University of Wisconsin Dairy Innovation Hub in the 2019-21 budget to UW-Madison, UW-Platteville, and UW-River Falls. It allow for hiring dozens of faculty and researchers, creation of an Advanced Dairy Management Academy, improving research labs and farms and purchasing equipment. The hub will enable stewarding land and water resources, enriching human health and nutrition, ensuring animal health and welfare and growing farm businesses and communities
“I don’t think we can afford to lose a farm regardless if it is big or small,” said Edming who added he has also signed onto bills addressing truth in labeling that call for regulations on plant-based beverages and foods that claim to be traditional dairy or farm-related products.
City resident Joe Baye said there are legal, economic and scientific factors in farming. “One of the aspects can be how can we support our local dairy programs in the state,” he added.
“I would prefer to see small 4- acre farms,” Ladysmith resident Linda Detra said.
Ladysmith Mayor Alan Christianson noted the city was able to leverage Community Development Block Grants and low-interest Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources loans to help fund a large portion of street projects this year on Fritz, Worden and Summit avenues. He added finding the city match to this federal and state road funding is difficult given state-imposed borrowing and levy limits.
“With all the services we provide doesn’t leave a whole lot to redo roads,” Alan Christianson said. “I am sure it is not unique to us [but we will be] trying to seek out additional aids or creative ways to update our infrastructure.”
Edming told the audience he often hears about the poor condition of roads due to not having enough money in the local tax base. He cited the powerful veto capabilities granted to the governor in criticizing Gov. Tony Evers for cutting transportation funding by $15 million and diverting another $75 million from roads to bike paths and a Milwaukee Streetcar project.
“There are more people paying taxes and working than have ever worked in the state of Wisconsin so we threw that money in there to do that, and what are we doing with it? Bike paths and Milwaukee, and that is the reason why these townships do not have money to take care of [roads],” Edming said.
Ladysmith resident Chrysa Ostenso said multiple forms of transportation should be developed. She added young people in big cities prefer bicycling over driving cars.
“Why does one thing have to be bad. We really need both things. We need roads, of course. We also need methods of transportation that don’t require cars,” Ostenso said.
Baye told Edming Wisconsin ranks 33rd in average teacher pay, paying less than the national average. He said teachers can make up to $10,000 more by moving to Michigan or Illinois.
“We have to be able to pay people, and it has gotten in some cases where there are no people trained in the area,” Baye said. “We can’t afford to have our good teachers leaving our areas and not being able to get people in at specific areas.”
Baye also spoke against the state’s school voucher program, saying it diverts $349 million to private education.
“It is my belief, and I believe it should be the belief of the state of Wisconsin, that if you support private education be it private or religious that you should pay for it, not the general taxpayers of the state of Wisconsin,” Baye said.
The discussion then turned to technical college education, citing training to be a mortician. Edming said there is also a shortage of morticians, citing less than 20 graduates last year from Milwaukee Area Technical College. He cited a mortician apprenticeship program to get training instead of going to college.
“Undertakers make a lot more than what I make. They make a lot more than what school teachers make, and they still can’t them to go there,” Edming said.
Ladysmith City Attorney Allen Kenyon told the audience schools for years have encouraged students to go to college. In the meantime it has become difficult to find skilled workers like plumbers, electricians and furnace installers. He said there is money to be earned in labor.
“My generation has been told you have got to go to college to be something. Well, maybe you don’t,” Kenyon said. “Where we are short in America today is in people who know how to do something.”
Edming called the Ladysmith High School fab lab “unbelievable” for its abilities to teach tech ed skills like welding. He added FoxConn last year offered a $100 million match to the University of Wisconsin to put toward a computer programming center with UW-Madison also planning to raise $100 million under the agreement.
So far, UW has received $700,000 of the Foxconn pledge.
“The metals Foxconn is going to use is going to come from up here,” Edming said. “It is going to be good, trust me.”
Members of the audience also spoke in favor of fair legislative maps.
“Why don’t we have an independent body that sets up all of our districts that is not politically oriented?” Baye said. “We have an excellent example in Iowa where there is an independent group that does their redistricting.”
“There are quotes that are given from the leaders of the Republican Party in Madison [that] say [it was] set up for the benefit of the Republican Party. That is not the way it should be done. It should be set up for what is best for the people of Wisconsin and the fairest for the people of Wisconsin,” Baye said.
Detra said 48 of 72 county boards in the state have voted in favor of fair maps including the Rusk County Board. She added 75 percent of people in polls also support fair maps.
“I hope you will be open minded when that issue comes up,” Detra said.