By Dawn Kiefer
A variety of issues were discussed on Sept. 21, when Wisconsin State Senator Howard Marklein of District 17 conducted a listening session at Brewer Public Library in Richland Center.
The informal session lasted about 45 minutes, with several attendees addressing the senator.
Metco Fuel Systems CEO/President Paul Knower asked Senator Marklein to not co-sponsor a bill that would repeal the Unfair Sales Act, which guarantees a 6% profit on fuel that is sold.
Knower said, “It you repeal it, we believe the big companies would (sell) below cost, run the ‘Ma and Pas’ out of business and then raise the price. The Unfair Sales Act helps small businesses.”
Senator Marklein asked Knower how he would respond to criticism that government shouldn’t guarantee a profit or restrictions.
Knower said, “The law has been in place for 70 years. It prohibits unfair marketing practices.” Knower said that, if small gas stations are run out of business, it could result in no gas stations in between Richland Center and Madison.
Aging & Disability Resource Center of Eagle Country Regional Manager Becky Dahl discussed the need to support people with memory loss, by providing services and support to communities.
“There are misconceptions about our services,” she said.
Marklein said, “You’re a gateway to a whole array of solutions and services.”
Dahl said, “The misconception is that we’re getting everyone into long-term care. We try to delay the need for public benefits. We are here for everybody.”
Marklein said that his wife is a Registered Nurse who works toward keeping people in their homes.
Richland County Sheriff Jim Bindl said that Richland County needs $150,000 to purchase and install (Next Generation) NG911 emergency reporting equipment. “I’ve hit on everyone but you (for funding),” Sheriff Bindl said. “Every county is asking for the same thing.”
Marklein said, “In the state budget, I tried to get money allocated for the 911 system. I asked for $6 million to provide the nucleus. Fees on our phone bills were gobbled up years ago. We need to come up with the money to fund these projects.”
Sheriff Bindl said, “We don’t want to get too behind new technology. It’s already available. A couple counties are already trying it.”
Several attendees discussed the impact budget reductions are having on public education.
A local woman stated that she perceives negative impacts on UW-Richland from the huge cut to its budget. She said that the local economy will be hurt due to there being so many fewer employees at UW-Richland; people who had been paying property taxes and spending money in the area. She said that the consensus in Richland Center is that the drastic budget cut to UW-Richland could lead to its demise.
Another local woman asked what is the vision for public education among legislators in Madison.
Marklein said he would share his own vision.
“I’m a product of the public school system and my wife and kids are,” he said. “The public school system is critical to our communities. We need to keep supporting that. The biggest challenge is enrollment. Budgets are based on the number of students…Economic development is so important for our rural communities. Jobs are the lifeline. Everything is based on jobs…Businesses are looking for employees. They want people to stay here…”
A third woman asked for Senator Marklein’s opinion on voucher schools. He said that Milwaukee has a failing school district and that the voucher program has about half the cost. When asked why the voucher system has only half the cost, he said that is largely due to lesser administrative costs.
Carol Stevenson said, “Everyone pays taxes. Everyone should have the choice; whether public or private school.”
Studio Art Supply owner Susan Price discussed what seem to be unfair regulations imposed on small business owners and the need for financial incentives to revitalize the downtown area.
Marklein said that he would direct her to WEDC or another appropriate source.
“We can put in a pitch for you,” he said. “The bias has been to larger employers.”