Conservatively Speaking

State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.

More concerns raised about roundabouts


A respectful audience turned out Thursday night at a state Department of Transportation (DOT) information session at Muskego City Hall about roundabouts. The proposed $6.5 million reconstruction of the Interstate 43/Racine Avenue interchange  includes reconstruction of Racine Avenue from College Avenue to Julius Heil Drive, ramp reconstruction, a new deck for the Racine Avenue bridge over I-43 and two roundabouts to be constructed for the on-and off-ramps of the freeway. Work will begin during late April or early May 2009 and projected to be completed during November 2009.

Thursday night’s crowd in Muskego may not have been as large as the one that attended a recent DOT information session in New Berlin, but residents once again expressed concerns about roundabouts planned for their community. Following a discussion by Mark Lenters of Ourston Roundabout Engineering, citizens posed questions.

One resident asked specifically about speed limits.  Mark Lenters responded that there would not be posted speed limit signs at or inside the roundabouts.  Instead, signs for the roads leading to the roundabouts will govern the speed limit. Lenters said the geometry of the roundabouts slows people down, and that the average speed for roundabouts is 15-20 miles per hour.

When the citizen asking the speed limit questions reacted, stating a concern about increased accidents, Lenters responded that roundabouts are not perfect, but they are safer. The citizen submitted that just as much emission of greenhouse gasses will occur at roundabouts as at controlled intersections. Lenters answered that though it would seem that way, studies show otherwise. Lenters concluded his answer saying that roundabouts are worth any delay in traffic if they save lives.

There were also questions raised about snowplows, tractor-trailers, combines and their ability to negotiate the circle.  Mark Lenters said roundabouts are designed that tractor-trailers driving the inside lane may drive over the lines and toward the median of the roundabout.  Residents that use the area planned for roundabouts daily are also concerned about the construction schedule and the effect on homeowners and businesses in the surrounding area.

I asked Mark Lenters whether the proposed Muskego roundabouts would be like the questionable design of the roundabout at 1-43 and Moorland Road in New Berlin in that motorists will be confronting a roundabout with access coming off an expressway, and theater, restaurant, or other commercial traffic in close proximity. Lenters said no, and I told him that while the proposed Muskego roundabouts are not likely to be as problematic as the one in New Berlin, the feedback I have received on this issue from constituents is overwhelmingly negative.

I also asked about legal issues raised by the disabled and their concerns about roundabouts and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Lenters was aware and conceded that visually impaired have obvious difficulties and that signals must be placed at roundabouts, not all of them, but where requests have been made by blind residents living near, and impacted by, such roundabouts.

Prior to Thursday night’s information session, I spoke with a state transportation official in neighboring Illinois. I was informed Illinois removed their traffic circles in the 1940’s and are cautionary with roundabouts because of design concerns. During our conversation, the Illinois official explained that roundabouts increase safety; however, they are very sensitive to small changes in design.  He explained that roundabouts must be properly designed and that design knowledge and expertise about small changes is in very few hands.  He said the information is not in books, and not available to learn, one has to learn about designing roundabouts from someone that knows the knowledge.  He mentioned proper design depends on not having stoplights nearby.   He said that stoplights create platoons of traffic and that roundabouts work best with an even flow of traffic. He mentioned Barry Crown of the United Kingdom. Crown is considered the world’s best authority on roundabouts.  I asked Mark Lenters whether he had ever heard of Crown.  Lenters smiled and said, “He’s my mentor.” The Ourston Roundabout Engineering website says, “Lenters began collaboration in 1999 with Barry Crown of England, the best roundabout designer in the world, and in 2002 with Leif Ourston, the most experienced roundabout designer in the United States.”

Lenters spoke about a roundabout disaster in Clearwater Beach, Florida. Lenters’ mentor, Barry Crown wrote about it in a response to the Wall Street Journal during January 2002. Buried in Crown’s article is this line:

“The lesson to be learnt is not that roundabouts are bad for the US, but that design faults lead to failure while good design produces roundabouts that are safer than any other type of at-grade intersection in the United States.”

Brown says, “Design faults lead to failure.” Precisely, I continue to have serious concerns about the design at the Moorland Road roundabout in New Berlin.  Some roundabouts are not ready for prime time and the state should slow down the pace of its construction plans so that designs can be improved, particularly at locations similar to Moorland and I-43. Maybe it would not be a bad idea to consult with Mr. Crown about Moorland and I-43 and any other planned roundabouts that are near commercial development and have stoplights nearby.  Single lane roundabouts seem to function much better than dual lane roundabouts.

The state DOT has offered to work with me about signage and I appreciate that; however the DOT position is clear. Though staff are friendly and responsive, their standard answers seem to be that roundabouts are safer, studies prove it, more education is needed, they will take time, motorists have to be patient, and in time they will grow to accept and appreciate roundabouts. Thus far, the DOT’s efforts to reassure have not been very persuasive.

Congratulations: Greendale, you’re in glorious full bloom!

Good news from Senate District 28

During June, I blogged that one of the great communities that I represent in Senate District 28, Greendale, was participating in this year’s America In Bloom competition. America In Bloom is a national campaign and contest devoted to promoting beautification and community involvement through the use of trees, plants, flowers, and other environmental enhancements. I am happy and proud to report that Greendale is the America in Bloom winner in the 10,001-15,000 population category! 

Village of Greendale President John Hermes and Greendale Park and Recreation Director Jackie Schweitzer travelled last week to Columbus, Ohio to attend the National America in Bloom Symposium and got the exciting news about Greendale’s impressive victory.

During the 7th Annual Competition held this past summer, Greendale went up against communities of comparable size across the United States. Judging was conducted in eight categories: floral displays, environmental awareness, landscaped areas, tidiness, urban forestry, heritage preservation, turf and groundcover areasand community involvement.

Greendale residents cleaned up neighborhoods, planted flowers at schools, held garlic mustard pulls, and raised funds to place trees at schools. The hard work and community-wide commitment paid off.

Greendale received the National Criteria Award in the Urban Forestry category, a competition involving all participating 30 communities in all population categories. The Urban Forestry award is given after communities are judged on municipal policies, bylaws, and regulation plans; distribution of trees, variety, suitability; new plantings, main street programs, new survey developments; preservation of heritage trees, woodlots, and re-planting procedures; and proper maintenance practices. Within Greendale’s population competition, the village received special recognition for their heritage preservation and was selected as the community of the year.

Greendale compiled outstanding scores. To achieve the 5-Bloom Award, a community must receive a score in each category of at least 90 points out of a maximum 125. Here is how Greendale scored in the various categories:

Tidiness (112); Environmental Effort (112); Community Involvement (119-isn't that awesome!!); Heritage Preservation (118); Urban Forestry (118); Landscaped Areas (116); Floral Displays (112) and Turf & Groundcover Areas (109).

That is truly amazing! Greendale scored 5 for 5 in 5-Bloom awards!

Greendale America In Bloom co-chair Mary Helen Block says a community celebration is in the works, to be held either sometime soon, or the village may wait until spring blooms next year.

I congratulate the entire Village of Greendale for your award-winning efforts and bringing wonderful civic pride to your community. It is an honor to represent Greendale in Senate District 28!

Here is more information from GreendaleNOW.

Information session Thursday about roundabouts

News you can use, Roundabouts

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Congratulations to the New Berlin Lioness Club on their 50th anniversary!

I am proud to be a member of the New Berlin Lioness Club.  It was a very special and heartwarming celebration of the Club's 50th Anniversary Sunday evening.  A nostalgic display of items over the last 50 years was an amazing walk through history at Klemmer's Banquet Center.  The photographic appearance of the Lion's Corn Roast stand of yesteryear was a sight for a lot of smiles.  The New Berlin Lioness Club conducts fundraisers at the Lion's Wisconsin State Fair Corn Roast, at Fourth of July activities, and a special champagne breakfast every April. Money raised at these special events goes to numerous worthy causes. 

I had the honor of presenting a state citation to the New Berlin Lioness Club at a ceremony Sunday, October 5, 2008. The citation reads:

WHEREAS, The New Berlin Lioness Club, chartered as the New Berlin Lionettes July 8, 1958, and as the New Berlin Lioness Club September 30, 1977, celebrates fifty years of service; and

WHEREAS, New Berlin Lioness Club members through volunteerism, dedication, and commitment maintain ongoing support for club projects that secure funds to enhance others lives; and 

WHEREAS, New Berlin Lioness Club members maintain a history of outstanding service at the Club’s noteworthy projects of Champagne Breakfast, Fourth of July, Wisconsin State Fair, and numerous other projects; and 

WHEREAS, The New Berlin Lioness Club has secured and donated significant monetary sums to numerous Lion projects and community projects including, Lions Camp at Rosholt Wisconsin, Leader Dog, Hearing Fund, Sight Conservation, Youth Exchange, Blind Outdoor Leisure Development, Campaign SightFirst II, the Eye Bank, Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Badger Association of the Blind, Wisconsin Council of the Blind, Wisconsin Braille, City of New Berlin Police, Fire, Library, Park and Recreation, Fourth of July Commission, New Berlin Veterans Memorial, New Berlin Historical Society, New Berlin Scholarship Fund, New Berlin Senior Taxi, Waukesha Women’s Center, Waukesha County Mental Health Association, Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, Red Cross, The Association for the Rights of Citizens with handicaps, Interfaith, Special Olympics, and numerous other projects and programs; and,

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Wisconsin taxpayers lose in Ho-Chunk settlement

Gambling, Taxes

Wisconsin’s dispute with the Ho-Chunk Nation might be over after a four year battle, and Wisconsin taxpayers got the short end of the stick in the gambling compact settlement.

The Ho-Chunk stopped making payments to the state in 2004 after signing a compact with Governor Doyle in 2003. The tribe argued that because a 2004 state Supreme Court ruling invalidated a similar compact agreement with the Forest County Potawatomi, it owed the state nothing.

Since 2004, Ho-Chunk halted payments with the exception of a one-time $30-million payment during 2006 it claimed demonstrated good faith bargaining. Here are the details of the recent settlement that should have taxpayers quizzically shaking their heads wondering, is that all there is?

The state contended the Ho-Chunk owed $72 million. Ho-Chunk has agreed to pay $60 million. That is a $12 million jolt to Wisconsin taxpayers.

Terms of the old compact had the Ho-Chunk paying the state a six percent tax of its take. Under the new compact, the Ho-Chunk will make payments of five percent if net earnings are below $350 million and 5.5 percent if earnings exceed $350 million. The reduced percentage means a loss of millions of dollars to the state. By contrast, the Potawatomi pay 6.5 percent of winnings.

The new compact also allows the Ho-Chunk to make reductions in their annual payments to the state:

  • Beginning May 1, 2010, the tribe can deduct payments made to counties totaling $1,000 for every acre of land owned by the U.S. government in trust for the tribe located within each county’s jurisdiction in July, 2003. The LFB informs me that during July 2003 the Ho-Chunk had approximately 2,300 acres of trust land that could result in a reduction in their annual state payment of $2.3 million.
  • During a 10-year period from May 1, 2009 to May 1, 2019, the tribe could deduct the amounts it paid for public works projects that benefit both the tribe and the state. Deductions would be limited to no more than $1.0 million in any one year and the total deductions for the period could not exceed $5.0 million. That means there could be an average annual deduction of $500,000.
  • The  tribe can also deduct any additional amounts paid by the tribe for projects that the state and the tribe agree provide a substantial public benefit in areas of economic development, infrastructure, health, safety, or welfare. These deductions would begin May 1, 2019, would be limited to a total of $4 million, with annual deductions limited to a maximum of $1 million. 

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