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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Local Water Project Faces Opposition

The water project district proposed by petitioners at Lakes Madison and Brant has drawn some public opposition. Last night's Madison Daily Leader carried a letter to the editor critical of the project from Steven Kant, resident of Wentworth Park on the north shore of Lake Madison. His reasons for opposition:
  1. Geography: The district encompasses just the Lake Madison and Lake Brant Sanitary Districts. To be successful, claims Kant, the district needs the cooperation of everyone within the watershed—i.e., nearly everyone in Lake County.
  2. The district is an unnecessary layer of government in a county where folks like Kant and his neighbors already pay taxes to five governing agencies (county, school district, township, fire district, road district).
  3. The district would be able to tax up to 1% of taxable value, plus possible special assessments.
  4. Non-resident landowners—and that's possibly a majority of the weekend "cabin" owners on Madison and Brant—have no vote on the creation of this taxing entity.
On geography, well, you could argue that our lakes are part of the Lower Big Sioux Watershed, so any water project district here should reach from here to Sioux City. But you've got to start somewhere. If the water project district comes into being, it will have the power to work on improvements with landowners upstream.

Of course, no matter how broadly the boundaries might be drawn, Kant's second and third points would still apply. I can see where separate governing entities for separate public functions spreads out political power and may allow each board to develop more specialized expertise. But Kant gets me thinking: is there any reason, at the county level, we couldn't replace these overlapping and autonomous districts with one overarching administration at the courthouse coordinating all the roads, fire services, sanitary districts, and water projects?

As for non-residents being taxed without representation, I've certainly heard that argument before, and it's a reasonable one. It's an argument that helped found our country. Of course, taxation without representation happens everywhere. In my own quaint little governing entity, the Lake Herman Sanitary District, we have several non-resident landowners who can't vote on the taxes they pay. Same in Madison and likely everywhere else. Of course, the problem is of a much greater magnitude at Lakes Madison and Brant, where a much larger percentage of the land is owned by out-of-towners and even locals who may spend most of their time at the lake but maintain their offical residence in town (Rod? Jeff? better check that out!).

The water project district has obtained the petition signatures necessary to move the project forward for approval by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. By the book, the project is likely to pass muster with the DENR and the eligible voters. But Kant brings up some worthwhile questions about the complicated web of government we make for ourselves in Lake County.

1 comment:

  1. Comrade:

    Taxation withour representation...Sound familiar?


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