Dane County Board Launches Debate over Future Conservation Funding
October 11, 2010
Supervisor Bill Clausius (825-1465) Supervisor Kyle Richmond (251-3171)
The Dane County Board of Supervisors last week launched debate over one of the county’s most successful yet controversial programs: The Dane County Conservation Fund, which spends up to $5 million a year to purchase and preserve land for parks, recreation, wildlife, agriculture, pollution control and tourism.
The fund, which has purchased 8,460 acres of land for $59.7 million over the last 20 years, saw its annual funding cut by 80 percent last year – and debate is already beginning on its future for next year.
In addition, the county’s Parks and Open Space program, which determines which lands the Fund should purchase, is up for its five-year renewal – and debate began on that as well last week.
“The Conservation Fund is an enormous value to the county,’’ says Sup. Kyle Richmond, who chairs the board’s environmental and agricultural committee which held its first hearing last week on the county’s conservation programs.
“Dane County grew by 60,000 residents in the last 10 years -- the equivalent of plopping two Sun Prairies into the county. With that kind of growth, we have to protect our agricultural land and our agricultural economy; We have to preserve our cultural heritage. If we don’t, we’ll soon become another Waukesha County. And once it’s developed, we can never get this land back.’
Richmond said the committee received only positive comments during his hearing. But he said there will be strong debate among supervisors on future funding for the program in tight economic times as it’s been a long-standing debate on the board and on the campaign trail.
“This is not the time to be purchasing more vacant land,’’ Sup. Bill Clausius, Sun Prairie, told the Wisconsin State Journal during his election campaign this summer. “These properties can wait until the future when the economy is strong and the county is on better financial footing. If there are key, environmentally sensitive properties available, we can consider them on a case-by-case basis.”
This month, County Executive Kathleen Falk proposed restoring the fund from $1 million back to $5 million per year through 2019. Richmond said some supervisors will favor cutting her request, while he’ll argue it should be increased as real estate prices have dropped dramatically and there are willing sellers.
And he said he believes voters in Dane County strongly support the Conservation Fund, noting that the fund was a major issue in his re-election campaign for his district that covers northern Fitchburg and parts of the city of Madison. Yet he said he was re-elected by two thirds of the voters – and he noted the modern fund was created 10 years ago by a $30 million referendum that voters approved by a margin of three to one. “
“People support this because it’s a matter of equity. Not everyone can afford to build a swimming pool or buy 40 acres of land. This is a program that purchases land so that everyone can enjoy it,’’ he noted.
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