You’ll notice on the right side of this page that this is National Newspaper Week.
It began 75 years ago, around the time of this week’s 1940 Journal pictured on page 12B. Given what was looming thousands of miles away (Platteville’s Company M was called to active duty and men age 21 to 36 were reminded they needed to register for the draft), the front-page news of a corn husking contest, the first Dairy Day, two weddings, two obituaries, an 80th birthday, and the Homecoming game of “The College” against Milwaukee might seem inappropriate for the first page of a newspaper.
That, however, is what a community newspaper is supposed to be about (whether or not you are a corn husker), and that’s what The Journal has worked to provide readers for 115½ years. One can read the national or world news and forget that the things that affect you and the things you can control are usually much closer to you than Washington, D.C., or even Madison. (Except, in October 1940, for members of Company M.)
As you know or can tell from the last few weeks of front pages, the news tends to present itself to the editor of your favorite weekly newspaper. The past 10 days, for instance, included the transfer of Platteville’s EMS services to Southwest Health, with EMTs now employed by the hospital. It is the first such case in Southwest Wisconsin, though perhaps not the last given the difficulty two northern Grant County EMS groups had to put together one crew for a medical emergency Monday.
The transfer is being touted as an improvement in area emergency medical services, and it will be once Southwest Health EMS attains paramedic status. And yet the 31-year tradition of volunteer (that is, paid on call) EMTs ended as much as anything because the city doesn’t have any money to build a new EMS garage. As a result, Platteville EMS, which broke even, ended, and Southwest Health EMS will cost the city and towns within Southwest Health EMS’ service area more than $100,000 a year starting next year. This is a demonstration of how bad governmental fiscal decisions have unintended long-standing consequences.
Two days after the transfer, the Platteville Common Council went through the city’s 2016 Capital Improvement Plan, which always includes more projects (including but not limited to equipment and road-building) than the city has money to fund. The meeting wasn’t in the Municipal Building, but it perhaps should have been given that the meeting included discussion of both the Municipal Building and the street in front of it, North Bonson Street.
The meeting included discussion of something that as far as I know would be unprecedented in Southwest Wisconsin if it actually took place — a proposal for a referendum on funding improvements to the Municipal Building, fire station and museums. A referendum would be similar to the Platteville Public Schools’ November referendum for building improvements, though my early bet would be that a referendum on city buildings would not receive anywhere near the percentage of Yes votes the PPS referendum received.
My initial thought is that I don’t think the city should be putting money into the Municipal Building beyond what is absolutely necessary to keep the building standing, because city streets are a bigger funding priority. (Including, perhaps ironically, the street in front of the Municipal Building.) The Fire Department building may be in better shape, but the Fire Department building is, in the words of Common Council president Eileen Nickels, “woefully small.” City streets are used by everyone with either a car or bicycle. The Municipal Building is basically an office building.
I also think, in a general sense, that more thought needs to go into building decisions, including opportunities for governments or organizations sharing government buildings where appropriate. Page 9A includes a story about proposals to move the Grant County Sheriff’s Office and jail into downtown Lancaster. The story talks about the impacts to downtown Lancaster, but no one at the meeting apparently had anything to say about the impact on the rest of Grant County, about 46,000 of whose residents do not live in Lancaster, but who will be paying for whatever Grant County comes up with, at least $25 million or so.
I don’t know if it would be appropriate for any Grant County facilities to move from Lancaster, the county seat, to Platteville, its largest (though not centrally located) city. But in an era of diminishing resources for government, there needs to be creative thought about how to use those limited resources, including buildings. Perhaps that’s what a city referendum would do; at least it would give the voters a chance to weigh in directly on which city buildings deserve work.