By Doug Hissom Special to Published Jun 06, 2007 at 5:11 AM

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has set his sights again on equitable funding for the Milwaukee school voucher program. In his newsletter named “The Barrett Report,” Barrett called the funding plan -- which has city homeowners paying about $200 a year to allow students from low-income families to go to private and religious schools at taxpayer expense -- a “raw deal” and a “lousy deal.”

The state chips in $3,576 for each student in the program, while city taxpayers pay $2,925, says the mayor. For regular MPS students, the state pays $6,059 and city residents pay $1,954 -- less than if the kid was in private school. The mayor also points out that the students -- some 16,000-plus -- are also not counted toward the funding formulas for the city to receive state education aid.

But Barrett has a plan. He wants to fix the funding flaw by having the state pick up 5 percent more of the cost per year for the next four years, bringing it in line with the rest of the state’s education funding plans. That would cost $19 million and Barrett is using the state budget process to try and get his way. Not likely, but the mayor calls it “a fair and reasonable solution to a serious problem. Milwaukee taxpayers don’t deserve the short end of the stick.”

Mod Lofts Make Alderman Mad: While Milwaukee Ald. Tony Zielinski is feigning outrage over changes to a condo proposal in Bay View, it shouldn’t be a complete surprise. Zielinski says that changes in the parking plan for the so-called Mod Lofts project near Lincoln and Kinnickinnic could doom the effort.

The Mod Lofts is proposed for a city parking lot, which, like many others these days, is going at a bargain price for preferred developers to put up pricey condos. Part of these deals is that developers have to supply public parking in the buildings.

Mod Loft builders Vetter-Denk say they don’t want to pay for public parking anymore, which Zielinski says is a “deal breaker” for the $7 million project, even though it already has the official go-ahead.

Vetter-Denk, though, has consistently changed its plans for the building as it goes along in the process. The building has gradually gotten bigger and taller as the plans are disclosed to the public while the parking has gotten smaller.

Neighbors who have to live near the place are not thrilled with its size, but business owners on the commercial strip of Kinnickinnic welcome the potential for more customers. Vetter-Denk has pretty much gotten all the permission it needs to start digging, so it will be interesting to see that if they continue, the city would sue.

Uptowner Heads West: Steve Johnson, longtime bar owner and fixture in Riverwest, is expanding his empire. The Uptowner owner wants to open a “Downtowner” version four blocks west. The Uptowner -- at the corner of Humboldt and Center -- is probably one of the best-known corner bars in the city, being a regular hangout for such notables as columnist Art Kumbalek and sailing guru Dan Brielmaier. The Downtowner, 432 E. Center St., would be at the corner of Holton and Center. Johnson had long wanted to open a jazz club on Center Street, but was continually thwarted by an unrelenting alderman, whose name was Johnson. Nonetheless, this time around Johnson the bar owner had the support of the alderman named McGee, but because of bad timing, the Common Council is a tad skittish about giving out liquor licenses in McGee’s district these days. Johnson, meanwhile, will have to continue to remodel his new place and wait for the fervor to subside.

Hazards of Open Pit Mining: It was more than just a hole in the ground after all. The infamous Flambeau Mine, which renewed a lengthy debate about mining in the Northwoods when it was first dug near Ladysmith in the mid-1990s, is not going to get a clean bill of health anytime soon. When the open pit mine became Wisconsin’s first and only foray into modern metallic mining, its backers said the environment would be safe from whatever was left behind after the Flambeau Mining Company took all the copper, zinc and gold that it wanted from the ground.

Essentially what the company did was fill back in the hole that was dug despite warnings from environmental groups that more reclamation was needed. As a result, several groups, led by the Sierra Club sued the mining company asking for more years of monitoring for pollution since the site was leaking into the once-pristine Flambeau River.

An agreement between the groups and the state Department of Natural Resources calls for five more years of monitoring. The company had wanted a clean bill of health from the DNR.

“We conceded nothing and obtained a surprising and very positive victory through this agreement, no mater how (the mining company) may spin it,” says attorney Glenn Stoddard, who represented the Sierra Club. 

Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.