Get to know the Mount Horeb Village Board candidates
There are three seats up for grabs in the Spring Election. The top two vote-getters will earn three-year terms, while the other winner will earn a two-year term. The candidates are Nate Gauger, Ben Jones, Cathy Scott and Tim White
What are your top three priorities, if elected to the board?
Nate Gauger: With burgeoning economic activity within our borders and surrounding us, growth is literally constrained by our geography and also by less tangible socioeconomic factors. With this challenge is the expense and difficulty of expanding village services. Finding a way to grow responsibly, sustainably, and ethically is the most pressing issue for the village.
Secondly, there is an important social component of growth that must be considered as well. I want to ensure that our village’s plans are inclusive and benefit residents of all incomes, professions, abilities, and cultures.
Third, Mount Horeb residents are proud of the slightly quirky character of the village, engendered by its history, community festivals, and cultural resources. It is important to help maintain a sense of local pride and cohesion, while also embracing diversity.
Ben Jones: Economic Development: The Village’s businesses provide employment and services while also contributing to our unique culture. They also provide the commercial tax base which allows the Village to have high quality services with comparatively low taxes. Economic development will require a multifaceted approach. I would take a flexible attitude toward land use regulation, support limited and targeted assistance of businesses, and recruit and reach out to potential businesses and entrepreneurs.
Fiscal Responsibility: The village is financially healthy, with relatively low taxes (for Dane County). However, I have seen how quickly governments and nonprofits can drift towards wasteful spending or short term thinking. It is important that our elected representatives maintain vigilant oversight of the Village’s spending decisions and consider long-term implications.
Affordability: Housing in Mount Horeb is expensive for the upper midwest, with higher prices than Madison. This prices out many people who would make fine long-term residents for the village, including people who work in the community. I would work to increase and diversify the community’s housing stock to help serve residents in different financial situations. This growth needs to be measured and in line with the community’s character, but open to appropriate change.
Cathy Scott: My top three priorities are:
1) Continue to bring my engaged and curious self with new ideas in tow to the village board and staff
2) Review our housing stock after the current approved and in-process developments are completed before committing to more housing proposals.
3) Complete the extraterritorial land use map with our neighboring communities
Tim White: #1 Good government welcomes citizens to the table, is inclusive, and values each resident, and is accountable and transparent in its actions. Each resident has a unique story. Collectively the village is chock full of fascinating and talented individuals. The residents are what make Mount Horeb not only a defined village but a community. If elected, my priority would be to keep the public in public service.
#2 Good government is proactive not reactive. Mount Horeb has gone through an extensive process of planning how the community will grow and prosper. The Comprehensive Plan is a tool to guide the town in realizing its future promise based on a vision of how the village wishes to evolve. However, a plan is only as good as the resolve to use it for guidance. I would advocate making decisions in keeping with the vision outlined in the Plan.
#3 I learned how we have continuously reinvented and redeveloped Mt. Horeb for decades to meet the challenges of our times, thanks to my 15 years of researching and helping produce events and newsletters for the Mt. Horeb Area Historical Society. I have served on the boards of two local nonprofits and for 18 years have led our local Southwest Wisconsin Area Progressives. I will network, coordinate, cooperate and collaborate as a Village Trustee as well. I will be an advocate for greenspace, and always weigh environmental concerns when making decisions as a Village Trustee.
Some of the village board’s most interesting debates in recent years have not revolved merely around specific local issues, but also the very nature of policy governance itself. Some trustees feel that county, state and federal issues (like gun control, gerrymandering etc.) are outside the purview of municipal government, and the local board should instead hone its focus on things happening here. Others feel local elected officials have an obligation to take a stand on these topics, because larger issues could impact local citizens? Where do you draw the line between “local” and “non-local”?
Gauger: Municipal government is about doing what is best for the health, safety, security and well-being of its citizens. And sometimes, county state or federal issues most certainly will affect how the Village can do its job effectively. While the Village Board is non-partisan, it is an elected body. When considering something like gerrymandering, it is a heinously undemocratic activity. It has ushered in years of minority rule at many different political levels. While it should not unduly burden the board, the consideration of issues considered “non-local” should be in the scope of the board. As for the “Wear Orange Weekend” for raising awareness about gun violence, that request was brought to village administrator for consideration by the board. It was a not unreasonable request that didn’t have a distinct partisan agenda, so I don’t think it was inappropriate for the board to consider this request. Anecdotally it appears that these requests for consideration of non-local issues are uncommon, so addressing them on an occasional basis does not burden the day-to-day responsibilities of local governance.
Jones: I believe strongly that our village board should be non-partisan “in-spirit,” as well as by letter. I think part of being truly non-partisan requires us to keep to our lane. State and Federal policy is important, and I strongly encourage citizens to speak out and vote in State and Federal elections, but it simply is not something the Village Board has control over. Hot button issues like gerrymandering and gun control are not directly connected to village governance. Having local elected officials argue and have the Village take official positions on these issues not only distracts the board from the issues that they can influence, but fosters divisiveness for no clear purpose.
Scott: As I write my answer, I find myself smiling as the board has a meeting scheduled for mid-March to discuss this exact issue. What is the board’s role? Should its depth and breadth devoted to local concerns be transferred equally to county, state, and national issues? I look forward to our discussion and ultimate decision.
White: I have been an advocate for progressive change, and have been instrumental in petitioning local government to include referenda on local ballots. Wisconsin has a process for ballot initiatives. Wis. Stat. § 9.20 requires a circulating petition to get enough signatures to trigger a ballot referendum (15% of the citizens in a municipality which voted in the last gubernatorial election). The advantage of the petitioning process is that it fosters a dialogue throughout the area it is being circulated.
Including a referendum on a ballot takes the pulse of the community that sponsors it. In Wisconsin these ballot referenda are non-binding but are intended to present to legislators the resolve of their constituents on important issues. This type of direct action bypasses local government by automatically triggering the ballot question.
Another way local government may choose to initiate a referendum without the signatory process is for officials who sit on the governing body to present a resolution of resolve.
One of the issues alluded to in this question is redistricting reform--how politicians in power map their districts’ boundaries. This winter I joined other Mount Horeb citizens to petition our Village Board to adopt a resolution in favor of redistricting reform. The political districts being adopted this year will be in place for the next decade. The placement of district lines in states that are politically gerrymandered has been shown to severely curtail competitive elections. I believe the Board handled the questions fairly, providing a spirited discussion on the issue. Citizens spoke passionately, and the Board discussion centered on why it should concern itself with a statewide issue, and whether this issue affected local governance. Many good points were made in the process. The Board voted, the suggested resolution was adopted, and the results were sent to legislators and the Governor.
I believe gerrymandered districts do have a local impact. On numerous occasions funding or state regulations directly affect municipalities. Numerous bills deal with local control and self-autonomy. If one political party provides itself with a guaranteed majority by manipulating of district boundaries, it shuts down the valuable dialog which competitive elections provide. Our community does not exist in a void. What happens at a state level can absolutely affect us, negatively or positively. With that said, an issue which is crucial solely in another jurisdiction will not necessarily apply to Mount Horeb and vice versa. The bottom line for me is that citizens have a right to petition their government, and government has a responsibility to be transparent and respectful.
What are your views on development? How, when and where should the village grow?
Gauger: Development in Mount Horeb should focus on economical, ecological, and socially sustainable growth. The most recent report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a dire warning on the ramifications of rising global temperatures. There must be an emphasis on energy efficient construction techniques, promotion of infill development to repurpose underdeveloped or unused parcels, especially for smaller-scale multifamily buildings, and also on higher density larger development projects. Many, if not all of these recommendations are in the Mount Horeb Housing Task Force’s report. While not explicitly stated, promoting these development guidelines do represent a more sustainable model of growth. That said, this development must also consider local character and citizen input. Infill development that is clearly not appropriate for its site will benefit no one.
Jones: I support the general growth plan that the village has followed, and which is reflected in the proposed update to the comprehensive plan. The city should focus on continuing to maintain and expand their commercial base and allow multifamily housing on the major village corridors. Less dense development of single family homes, and sometimes duplexes or townhomes, can continue to be developed in the areas between the major thoroughfares.
Scott: Our updated Comprehensive Plan recently was presented by Vandewalle & Associates, our planning consultant, at a well-attended open house, outlining the scope of our planned growth, both within the Village and in the outlier areas. I am not a fan of growth simply for the sake of growth. I believe each proposal, whether for housing, commercial, or industrial should be viewed with the mindset “how will it benefit our residents, our tax base, and our existing businesses?”
White: The Mount Horeb Comprehensive Plan lays out a vision for growth in the village. Mount Horeb has a unique topography and a portion of our village is not suitable for building sites. The plan considered those limitations when assembling the document. The plan authors also address changing demographics of those moving to the village.
The idea that one size fits all does not work for communities. Our charm is the diversity of housing as well as a diversity of homeowners. Our challenge is ensuring that there are options for all in the housing market. Median priced homes in Dane County cost $350,000. Affordable housing is unobtainable for many, and options need to exist. Planned communities with a mix of commercial space and housing should be carefully thought out. A great idea would be to connect our communities with pedestrian paths, with an emphasis on integrated green space.
I believe the strength of our community lies in local businesses. They feed our local economy and have a direct stake in the community. Big-box and national corporations feed their corporate headquarters in far off communities or overseas. Many communities define themselves by being dominated by indistinguishable corporate chains and garish signage. What makes Mount Horeb unique and attractive for villagers and visitors alike is not a homogenized business scene, but the hometown entrepreneurs. It is important that these risk-taking business owners be supported by residents and local government. The big box and commercial chains are able to fend for themselves. Personally, I believe guiding commercial development to prevent becoming a clone of every other highway on and off ramp is important for the integrity of our community.
Nearby homeowners need to be considered when approving of commercial property. Noise and light pollution along with traffic issues directly affect the quality of life and property values of residents. Neighbors need to be notified of any proposed commercial development and be afforded a seat at the table in the discussions.
If Mount Horeb annexes land from surrounding communities, turning farmland into subdivisions and commercial developments, will the community lose some of what makes it special? Or is outward growth beneficial and/or unavoidable?
Gauger: Mount Horeb can grow responsibility through the process of annexation, but its use should be scrutinized. Contiguity should be an emphasis of future growth. Any future developments should be integrated as much as possible into existing road networks, they should be walkable, and they should not feel like an isolated exurban appendage awkwardly lopped on to the existing boundaries of the village. Haphazard annexation can also be expensive due to the need for expanded town services in previously undeveloped areas. I think annexation is a useful statutory tool that will be used again to expand Mount Horeb’s footprint, but the focus should be on revitalizing existing underdeveloped areas of the village, promoting dense urban infill, high-density housing projects, and alternative housing options such as accessory dwelling units, etc.
Jones: Mount Horeb has been growing steadily for many decades. Many of the community’s iconic features and institutions have come from part of this growth. While the Village should be careful to be measured in where and how it develops, I believe continued growth outwards at anticipated rates will only improve the village.
Scott: Outward growth happens only if a landowner/developer meet with Village staff to discuss and propose annexation of the property. Annexation does not happen quickly. It’s a big deal to both a landowner and the Village for different reasons. Typically, the landowner/developer need Village utility services to make the conceptual plan a reality and the Village needs to determine how the project fits with our Comprehensive Plan as well as if our utilities can bear the added use of its systems.
Regardless of outward growth, Mount Horeb will remain special for as long as we continue doing what we are already doing. Our downtown business district is thriving with a variety of shops and locally owned restaurants serving residents, tourists, and business travelers. Our Chamber offers events throughout the year that draw many tourists and vendors to town, some of which are repeat attendees. Our school District attracts families to town who proudly call Mount Horeb home. Our Village staff goes beyond the call of duty to keep municipal operations running smoothly. We are a destination, something that oh so many small-town communities strive to become. This gem we have did not just magically happen. It took and will continue to take work by the Village, Chamber, and School District. It was and is an intentional effort to continually improve. Simply settling with the way things are because they are good is a sure-fire way to slowly become stagnant.
White: A large part of what makes our village desirable, both as a place for residents to live and tourists to visit, is the buffer supplied by our neighboring towns. The carefully crafted Land Use Plans which are employed in the surrounding towns help preserve the idyllic setting for the village. Exterritorial jurisdiction needs to be used prudently, and with an abiding respect for autonomous towns.
I think communication is key and that transparency of intent must be shared with towns. Likewise, the village has a responsibility to be cognizant of what is happening within its extraterritorial jurisdiction. The jurisdiction is a legal tool for managing growth. It also needs to be a tool pulled out when the situation requires it to be invoked.
Before moving to the village, we lived in the Town of Springdale. I was a resident in the town in 2002 when it addressed smart growth and developed its land use plan to guide the town’s growth. I watched as the plan slowly took shape, and respect both its motivation and effect.
There was some, er, spirited debate last year about the state of economic development in the village. Do you believe Mount Horeb is on the right track, in terms of economic development? What benchmarks should the village use to gauge its progress in this area?
Gauger: I think Mount Horeb is doing many things right in terms of economic development. The release of the draft Comprehensive Plan in January of 2022 is well-balanced between considering economic growth, housing needs, social needs and all of the other complexities of a healthy village. Despite the Covid19 pandemic, the local economy appears robust, at least on a superficial level. New senior housing on the east side is under construction, the 51 unit building near the bus garage is still under development, and housing starts throughout the village are up. Many local businesses are expanding or developing new buildings, and new businesses are coming to town. I support the work of the Community Development Authority, and based on the draft Comprehensive Plan I feel that the many factors influencing Mount Horeb’s growth are being considered appropriately.
Jones: The truth is, the effect of the pandemic on the last few years has made it extremely challenging to measure how well the Village is performing towards its economic development goals. I think it is vital that the village regularly examine how the assessed property value has changed over time in the village as a whole, and in defined areas of the village. The direct and opportunity costs of our economic development must be compared against this growth. I do not believe this can be condensed into a single metric, but must include examining the performance of peer communities and tracking spending on staff and capital costs.
Scott: Economic Development can be a nebulous term, a catchall phrase, used by all government entities. To me, Economic Development for Mount Horeb equates with providing our community with an intelligent, well thought out blend of commercial, industrial, and housing units. All three are important. With a healthy balance of each, our developments will enhance the lives of residents, existing business operations, and our property tax coffers. To succeed, we need pro-active leadership by the Director, together with our Community Development Authority (CDA). The CDA members are tasked to actively pursue commercial and industrial business development for investment and relocation to the Village. I believe the Director and CDA members should discuss a potential project, weighing its pros and cons. Once that is accomplished, a project should be brought to the Planning Commission for review and then to the Village Board for consideration. To make the Economic Development track smoother, accountable, and more efficient, more focus needs to be given on the front end of the process with the Director involving the members of the CDA, utilizing their collective talents, experiences, and knowledge base. Gauging the progress of Economic Development accomplishments is done by comparing the total new tax base from year to year with collections from both commercial, industrial, and residential property owners.
White: Spirited debate can take many forms; personal admonishment should not be one of them.
Covid has tested the resiliency of all communities. Mt. Horeb was certainly no stranger to economic hardships. The most susceptible businesses were those whose livelihood required personal interaction. Building up a business involves a certain amount of risk, and through creativity Mount Horeb’s businesses soldiered on. One restaurant started food deliveries, thus helping households which chose to isolate. Many created carry out menus. With help from the village, eateries developed al fresco dining. Businesses recognized the health crisis and diligently limited shoppers and practiced distancing and mask mandates. However, Covid has taken a toll economically. Hopefully, we have turned the corner on the Covid.
There are valuable lessons from the pandemic we can carry forth, and for lack of a better term, build back better. People can continue to look out for their neighbors as well as our hometown businesses. The Community Development Authority can continue to attract new business ventures to Mount Horeb, while working to retain those that are already established.
There are many villages throughout the State which have not fared as well. However, I do believe our village is on the right track. I would say our benchmarks should be how we are doing compared to other communities in the face of state-wide challenges. Many future factors will determine our economic prowess in the future. Hopefully Covid will not be on the list.
What is the biggest threat to current residents’ quality of life?
Gauger: The availability, affordability, and quality of housing is the biggest threat to current residents’ quality of life. The Mount Horeb Housing Task Force report from June 2021 shows that the village has been pro-active about identifying demographic trends and how housing needs will change over time. It is clear from this report that the amount of cost-burdened households has increased, the need for senior housing will only grow, and many people who devote their time and energy to working in this village simply cannot afford to live here. The village must continue to devote resources to exploring ways to make living in the village affordable and accessible.
Jones: Looking at the news when reading this should remind you how interconnected our society is, and how some of the biggest threats, pandemics, war, or climate change affect the whole world. Thankfully, the factors over which the village government has control are smaller scale. Among those, I think the biggest threat here is increasing housing costs. increasing unchecked, This could make the community too expensive for even more than there is now, which will have many harmful second order effects in the village. Thankfully, I believe the village is well positioned to institute a policy environment which will avoid that fate.
Scott: Now, I would say the potential of the Cardinal-Hickory transmission line running through the southeast portion of the Village.
White: I would have to say the single biggest threat to the residents’ quality of life are transmission towers planned for ATC’s Cardinal Hickory Creek transmission line. As of this writing the lines are stalled due to a legal challenge regarding environmental concerns at the Mississippi River. Regardless of the project’s failure to secure a permit, it is proceeding to cut a swath for a right of way through Mount Horeb. It is presently a line to nowhere. The150 foot towers will dramatically change the character of the village and our unique Driftless Region.
Opposition to the lines has come from many sources: Driftless Land Conservancy, Driftless Defenders, The National Wildlife Refuge Association, Western Dane Preservation Campaign, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and Defenders of Wildlife. Resolutions by our local Village Board and School Board, Dane County Board and neighboring municipalities, lawsuits and public opposition have failed to slow the corporation’s ambitions driven by the return on its investment whether needed or not. Aesthetics and the destruction of natural areas aside, the $2-billion project will guarantee utility bill increases for rate payers.
I have continued to oppose the line, testified before committees, organized a fundraiser, and supported a local group which has brought legal action to stop the lines. If elected I will work on ways our village can promote and perhaps incentivize solar power in the village. The best and healthiest option for energy is homemade, there is no meter on sunshine.
How can village government promote walkability and sustainability?
Gauger: The village can promote pedestrian scale and non-motorized infrastructure development by requiring sidewalks in new developments, incorporate bike lanes into street redevelopment, and consider traffic calming devices. Thoughtful planning and development itself can enhance walkability, and limiting sprawl and discouraging discontinuous development itself promotes sustainability. Over time, the village could also look at modifying local building codes to emphasize “green” building. This can include items such as siting, life cycle analysis, water management, and more. Inherent in this method of construction is that sustainability is addressed not only in the form of cost and material savings, but also that the development aligns with community growth objectives and is appropriate in scale and placement.
Jones: The village can promote walkability by continuing to promote economic development, especially of small business in the major corridors. Having continuous networks of shops, restaurants and other businesses does a great deal to encourage walking. Additionally, the city should ensure that new residential development has proper connectivity, including sidewalks, to the village.
The key to promoting sustainability is to have a little openness to change and clarity the trade-offs involved with the choices we make. Innovation continues to increase our society’s ability to build in a sustainable fashion, and the village should not let surface considerations prevent us from taking full advantage of these improvements.
Scott: Consider using some of the federal funds we received under the American Rescue Plan Act to provide sidewalks leading to our largest and most frequently used Grundahl Park for community events. There are no sidewalks leading to it. None. A major oversight by the Village in working with developers on their housing projects during the days of yesteryear. Our zoning code now requires all housing developments to include sidewalks. When I ask (or gripe!) about the older sections of town, especially those directly leading to the schools, I am told the lack of sidewalks is due to the topography. My cynical response was that if the topography was so bad, how were roads even considered for the areas where many, many homes stand? I recently noticed the lack of continuous sidewalks and curbs on Front Street between Blue Mounds Road to First Street. A lot of money was spent last year on completely re-doing Front Street, burying the electric lines, replacing curbs and gutters, etc., yet it does not include sidewalks from Blue Mounds Road to Washington, a big portion of the Street. Landsby Ridge, a large multi-family apartment complex, is under construction now. Front Street offers the most direct way by street to our downtown area. Using Front Street safely versus Military Ridge Trail will be a challenge for older people and those using strollers. Our intention for the entire Business District is to promote walkability. Another avenue to promote walkability and sustainability is to continue discussions with the DNR on upgrading the Military Ridge Trail, to include better grading with small night lights to encourage more usage from walkers and bikers to our downtown. Someday it would be nice to have trails completely around our Village to promote exercise wellness and encourage bikers to visit our shops and restaurants while taking a break. These last two items will take time to implement.
White: Communities that provide for walking, biking and other outdoor activities have healthier residents. Studies have shown that outdoor exercise improves mental health and happiness. Self-mobility also provides a more sociable and interactive community. Community appreciation increases when life is slower paced. Walking and biking cut down on traffic and conserve resources. In short, outdoor activity is a great thing!
The Military Ridge State Trail is a vital community hub. Not only is it convenient for residents, but it also serves as a destination for out-of-town bikers, thus feeding our local economy. Increased side trails onto and off the Military Ridge Trail would give helpful access from different neighborhoods. The village should make sure that trail crossings are safe by using good signage and by carefully locating parking. In cooperation with the State DNR, trouble spots susceptible to erosion should be monitored and maintained.
Adjacent to Stewart Lake County Park are many miles of trail for residents and a fair number of places in the village to access the park. Between the state trail, the county park, and established paths in the village, Mount Horeb is truly blessed! We can add to these resources and create an even more vibrant mobile place to live.
New village planning should always consider including walkways and off-road biking options for residents. Planning also needs to include consideration for village access by disabled individuals. A village bike route which uses roads with less traffic can be established as an alternative to getting in one’s car. Many other villages have promoted themselves as biking meccas. Mount Horeb would be wise to capitalize on its unique recreation resources as a main attraction as well.
What are the village’s greatest assets moving forward?
Gauger: Mount Horeb has so much going for it right now. Its citizens are vigorously engaged in civil discourse, the school district’s objectives are well funded, and economic growth is being guided by a thoughtful perspective. We must not forget that Mount Horeb must be welcoming to diverse populations, and in fact, actively work to enhance diversity. Great attention must also be paid to making Mount Horeb livable for all people, which means that village plans must be inclusive and benefit residents of all incomes, professions, abilities, and cultures.
Jones: The village has a number of great assets that leave it well positioned for the future. The Village’s geographic location on Highway 151 between Dodgeville and a growing Verona (with Madison just beyond), gives our residents the ability to easily commute to many employment opportunities. The village’s unique culture and established tourist-friendly businesses bring in money and employment opportunities. These established assets when combined with our friendly residents, leave us well positioned for the decades ahead.
Scott: Almost ten years ago I moved to Mount Horeb to return to my home state after a twenty-nine-year absence. From an outsider point of view, the greatest asset I received is the warm welcome from establishments I visited and residents I met along the way. Not all communities are like this. Another wonderful asset of Mount Horeb is how our residents and business owners (who may or may not live in Mount Horeb) come together in times of adversity. It is amazing how people join forces when someone is in need with a financial need due to a health issue or a tragic event that unexpectedly arises. From an aesthetic standpoint, most businesses and homeowners take pride in their plot of property by keeping it up. Visitors always comment to me how well kept our neighborhoods are with nice landscaping and flowers.
White: Our village is one of a kind! While many small villages languish with shuttered storefronts, Troll Town has a vibrant business and social scene. With an abiding respect for history, culture, and the arts our village has found itself an attractive place to live and destination for visitors. We are known for our trolls and roundabouts, but there is so much more that defines us.
The open spaces, parks and a state trail running through the middle of the village adds to our quality of life. We have our own public utility, telephone company, community garden and a community foundation. We are blessed with a first-class police and fire department providing for public safety. An outstanding public works department keeps all the components of the community in good order and running smoothly. The local churches remind us to love our fellow humans, and community food banks and clothes closet serve those needing a lift. Added to the mix are a wide assortment of community clubs and organizations that keep residents engaged.
And Mt. Horeb takes care of its own! A first-class school system boasts an amazing staff and facility. Viking Pride bring us success at sporting events, music, and theater. Seniors have a center with a passionate staff to assist older adults. Our public library hosts community events, offers thousands of literary and AV options, and is housed in a stunningly beautiful building. The Mount Horeb Historium preserves our shared heritage and is ranked as a premier museum in the state. We have all this and an independent village newspaper, the Mt. Horeb Mail to report it all.
What did I miss? Plenty! Each resident has a unique story. Collectively the village is chock full of fascinating and talented individuals. The residents are what makes Mount Horeb not just a defined village but a community.
What is village government currently doing right?
Gauger: Mount Horeb has been proactive with the revision of its Comprehensive Plan and has identified the numerous challenges there will be in the face of significant cultural, economic, and demographic changes. The village provides many resources to citizens to keep them aware of the activities of the board and committees, and village staff is very responsive to citizen needs. Village services are exceptional. The luxury of curbside pickup of brush is not a common thing in most towns. Our public works team works diligently to keep our roads and infrastructure safe and is proactive with road maintenance and future redevelopment plans. All of this is achieved with a tax rate lower than many comparable communities in Dane County.
Jones: Fundamentally, the village is well governed. The Village’s quality public safety department helps keep crime low, the streets are plowed and repaired, and our taxes are relatively low for the area. Additionally, every encounter I have had with the organs of government has left me impressed with the friendliness and efficiency of village staff and institutions.
Scott: Our Police and Fire/EMS Departments are charged with keeping us safe, putting out fires and providing medical assistance. I believe both departments do their best by attending continuing education courses, hiring the most qualified candidates, and loving their profession. To successfully work in either of these fields, one must have a caring heart. Our Public Services, Water, Electric, and Wastewater personnel deserve a big thank you for keeping our streets in excellent driving condition, the storm sewers free of debris, our fire hydrants working and our wastewater going exactly where it is meant to go. Many of the department personnel have non-traditional hours, working overtime during the worst of conditions as their priority is to maintain efficient operations. Our administrative team at Village Hall is tasked with keeping the Village running safe and smoothly, complying with State and County laws, and greeting each customer who walks through the door with a smile.
White: I believe our local government is doing a lot right. The new Comprehensive Plan builds on prior plans to provide a vision for our future promise. When one looks through the makeup of committees that deal with making the village run smoothly, it is obvious that there are many residents actively involved in local government. We have great public resources: utilities, schools, library, and parks department are all part of our shared commons. Citizens are the engine that drives the community, while local government steers. Working together, there is little we cannot accomplish!
What could it do better?
Gauger: I believe that Mount Horeb’s future relies on an informed citizenry that understands the context and consequences of Village Board decisions. As a Village Board Trustee, I will proactively cultivate community engagement throughout Mount Horeb. Listening to people before issues ever come before a committee or the village board is how local government can operate more efficiently and better serve its constituents.
Jones: Mount Horeb has had a very effective government in recent years, but even best run municipalities are not flawless. With the benefit of hindsight, the Village overextended with TIF district 3. I also think the Village could improve their efforts to make government accessible, including posting an up-to-date version of the Village ordinances on their website and make it easier to locate recordings of Village meetings.
Scott: Complete overhaul of its website, making it more user friendly. It’s in the process now, I’m just giving it a push! If Village meetings are going to continue being available via a video conferencing system in addition to watching them on Trollway TV, our current system needs improvement. And, lastly, since I am such a communication nut, I would like to see the Village publish an online quarterly or monthly newsletter with a word or two from department heads on current events in their respective area, recognition of employee anniversaries, a Q&A column to answer commonly asked questions by residents and board members alike, a list of upcoming community dates to remember, etc. Other communities provide this service, and I would like us to put in on the burner for consideration.
White: I think one thing we could do better is community outreach. Educational forums to connect residents to information on new homeownership, utilities, environmental concerns, and other subjects would be helpful. We have many talented residents in many fields who would be willing to share knowledge on a host of subjects. The University of Wisconsin Extension is a great resource for speakers as well. Our village’s Trollway TV is a wonderful asset, and forums could find new life and viewership by broadcasting them.
Perhaps a village-run Welcome Wagon would be helpful to new residents. The service could welcome newcomers with village information and coupons for businesses wishing to inform newcomers of their services. The village could produce an electronic newsletter which residents could subscribe to. These ideas would promote a more engaged community.
We have a world class museum and archives housed in the Driftless Historium. The Mount Horeb Area Historical Society does a wonderful job of preserving and disseminating our area’s history. The village would be wise to make preservation a priority as well. It is said, “you cannot live in the past.” That is true. But we would be wise to heed its lessons in the present. We can appreciate the different eras of architecture which define the village. And we can hold on to shared values which brought us to this place and time. I have a history with and applaud organizations such as the Historical Society and the Mount Horeb Landmarks Foundation. Our individual and community actions are writing the next chapter in Mount Horeb’s history book. Done together, it will be one we are proud of.
Mount Horeb has had some success using Tax Increment Financing in the past. It has also had some failures. How should village leaders use TIF in the future?
Gauger: Tax Increment Financing is a useful tool to support the development of projects that may not happen without village assistance, and anything benefitting from its use must be held to a high standard and conform to the village’s comprehensive plan. These projects should focus on in-fill projects and reuse initiatives, and must all improve the livability and quality of life for village residents. Establishing a TIF district solely for raw economic growth is not the desired outcome. Will the outcome of TIF enhance community cohesion? Is it responsible? Does it benefit multiple user groups. Like anything, start with the members of this community and see how they will be affected from the ground up.
Jones: As a whole, the city has successfully used tax increment financing to aid its growth in an effective way. To the extent that some, like TIF district 3, have had more trouble, part of the issue has been unfortunate economic timing that the Village cannot control.
However, I think two general guidelines should govern how the Village approaches TIF in the years ahead. One, the Village should beware of using TIF for large upfront projects. It is inherently challenging to forecast that far ahead, and the city should aim to encourage and aid market driven development, rather than initiate or jump start yet. Second, the Village should not view the statutory requirement that development only occur “but for” the use of TIF funds as a legal requirement to be surmounted, but one that Village should meet in spirit as well. Too many communities use TIF funds for growth that would occur with only moderate changes without governmental support.
Scott: I’m not aware of any confirmed failures of a TIF but do know the Village has kept a keen eye on TIF 3, North Cape Commons, in the southeast corridor of town. Although the property owner sets the sales price of the lots, the Village is on high alert for notification of any potential commercial businesses either interested in moving to Mount Horeb or relocating/expanding in TIF 3. Since inception, four businesses have opened in TIF 3, but more are needed to prevent both the property owner and Village from a pay-in to cover the debt service. I believe there are six or seven remaining industrial lots. Although the Village share of its pay-in is less than that of the property owner, it could result in a property tax increase. Before any reader gets up in arms, I’ve heard about this possibility since joining the board and, thus far, it hasn’t happened but, there is no guarantee.
White: Tax Increment Financing is meant to be a tool to increase the property tax base. However, it also is a wager that district financing will flourish. When deciding to invest here-and-now dollars to fund a new TIF, it needs to be well thought out and, in the public’s best interest. Two of the TIDs have suffered from operating in the (not so) Great Recession. However, both are in good financial shape and appear to be maturing in the expected term. The third TIF deals with the entire downtown area. It is apparent that much development has happened, most notably by Duluth Trading Company. In the future the village should carefully weigh the funding vs expected tax revenue. Consideration should be given to any negative consequences that may ensue from the development. Public green space and walkability should be a priority in any planning.
Another interesting debate recently among some in village government has been who, exactly, the village board is supposed to represent. Much of the past few years has been spent pushing for more housing development to bring more residents to the village. A higher population bolsters the tax base, but it also comes with costs (roads, law enforcement, fire and EMS, schools etc.) So should Mount Horeb keep focusing on attracting new residents, or is there something it should be doing to increase quality of life for current residents, instead? Or does the village have enough assets and resources to do fully pursue both?
Gauger: There is room for both, and the two ideas are not mutually exclusive. I am not so naïve as to think Mount Horeb doesn’t need to attract new residents, new development, and new opportunities. I just want the village to be selective, hold developers to high standards, and always keep the needs of existing residents in mind. Mount Horeb benefits enormously from its position just off a major highway and proximity to thriving economic areas of Wisconsin. But, we also want to be a village where people want to work where they live, and vice versa. We need to balance robust economic growth with citizen-focused projects as well. It is clear that Mount Horeb is part of the nexus of suburban and exurban communities of Madison where there is rapid growth and a high quality of life. Mount Horeb must adapt to its position as a member of an economically vital area. And we must consider how to keep pace with local communities while not sacrificing our identity.
Jones: The village board represents the current voters and residents, not hypothetical future residents. However, I think I can speak for many residents that as a voter, I care about Mount Horeb as a community in its own right, as well as for the residents who may move here. I think measured growth is the best course of action for both potential newcomers and current residents. Many areas of the state and country are shrinking, and this shrinking forces hard choices and austerity. Continuing controlled growth will make it easier to provide services to current residents and will be good for everybody’s property values.
Scott: The responsibility of any government is to provide for the common good of the people in a fiscally responsible manner. Here are my thoughts for Mount Horeb. In the last two years we have approved 256 housing units, including single family, multi-family, senior housing, and income-based apartments. All developments are being done by repeat developers except for one. They like doing business in Mount Horeb. As I write this, two more multi-family market rate apartments are being presented by developers for an additional 103 units. Should they be approved, the total is 359 housing units. This is enough. I think it is fiscally responsible to get these occupied first and then re-evaluate if more housing is needed within the Village. To remain balanced our focus must shift to commercial and industrial projects. Our Economic Development Director and CDA members should engage with our existing commercial business owners one on one to get their feedback on doing business in Mount Horeb, where improvements are needed. Do they have plans now or later to expand and, if so, re-locate in town? And, lastly, ask for referrals of friends who own businesses who might be in the market to re-locate due to expansion or other reasons. Commercial projects have a much larger impact on our tax base and are far less burdensome on our schools, police, first responders, and our roads. I know there are residents who would love to have a large entertainment or sport venue and an outdoor community gathering spot. If we can build up our tax base with more commercial projects, including an industrial park, the staff, committee members and the board could discuss the feasibility of one or more of these ideas.
White: A very interesting question. How big is too big?
Mount Horeb’s location and the region’s scenic beauty make it a very desirable place to purchase a home. Growth brings tax revenue, but also further strains on services. One only needs to check property tax breakdowns to know that schools are a major portion of a homeowner’s property taxes. Yet it is important to recognize that an excellent school system provides excellent results, and future promise for those next in-line. Our school system is an investment in the future and we cannot allow it to be short-changed. However, the more families with children moving in, the greater the tax burden on all residents.
Single- or two-family housing does not impact the school district nearly as much. (Smaller families and single homeowners have been trending, and it will be interesting to see if that continues.) The proposed Comprehensive Plan has an emphasis on these types of housing options. Older adults also have less impact on schools, and many of the new housing options cater to that demographic. The village needs to be wary of approving infrastructure that directly benefits a housing development. The burden of improvements needs to be borne by the contractors who will benefit financially.
Mount Horeb will continue to grow and I expect it will have more than a few growing pains. Keeping the excellent quality of life we currently enjoy should be a priority. If we erode that quality of life, the village will lose many of the reasons it is so desirable. I believe that we need diversity in housing--one size does not fit all. The watchword for comprehensive village planning must be “smart growth.” The process will always be a balancing act.
The local utility has been experiencing some growing pains lately. There have been outages, one of the power substations isn’t working reliably, and a new substation is in the works. What can the village do to ensure its residents have reliable access to power in the coming years?
Gauger: Mount Horeb Utilities has responded to recent challenges at its substations in a very pro-active way. A new transformer has been ordered for installation at the new Military Ridge substation on the west side of the village, which will come online next year. This substation will provide significant redundancy to the system. As for now, existing facilities are or have been thoroughly inspected and tested, and repairs and updates have been made as necessary. There have even been improvements to the East Lincoln Street Substation to deter Mount Horeb’s infamous squirrels from their daring exploits on charged power equipment. While momentary power outages are frustrating, they are still rather rare, and the village has been very pro-active in addressing them. Once the new substation is online, the village’s consultant says that “life will get simpler.” But for now, much is being done about the problem. As alternative energy sources become more affordable and accessible, and green building objectives are more commonplace, there may also be a concomitant decline in energy demand from large scale utilities.
Jones: Utility service is a complicated and technical field. I am not, and will not, be an expert on utilities. However, I think the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that while subject matter experts are vitally important, equally crucial is that smart and hardworking generalists in government be able to synthesize that expert knowledge and balance it against wider concerns.
In my career, I often needed to quickly learn enough about different industries in order to make correct legal decisions. If elected, I will be working hard to come up to speed on utility issues to help understand the Village’s options going forward and weigh their costs and benefits for the community.
Scott: Until this past spring and summer, the Village has had very few electrical outages and when they did happen, electricity was restored on a timely basis. Causes were due to equipment malfunction as well as friendly squirrels. (First the squirrels were friendly, then they turned pesky, much like some neighbors.) And, yes, earlier this year there were more than usual outages which required more time to resolve. After meetings with our utility consultant, a visit from the manufacturer of the transformer in question, and many tests performed by staff, the Village staff is hopeful the issue at the Wally Road substation is resolved. As mentioned, a new substation is in the works which should relieve pressure on the other two substations. Residents need to keep in mind that electrical outages are part of life, whether due to Mother Nature, a pesky squirrel, or an unusual equipment failure. What is certain is that staff will go beyond the call of duty to quickly restore power to the affected area.
White: First off, I am happy to live in a village that has its own public utilities. We have one of only 81 municipal electric utilities in Wisconsin.
Last year Mount Horeb had a record amount of power outages. Our squirrels are fearless! One of our substation’s transformers was squirreled and out of commission for a month. Squirrels aside, one substation can maintain the load for the village, and a lease agreement with Alliant Energy provides an emergency backup if needed.
Our public utility has taken proactive steps to keep hot footed squirrels out of the Lincoln Street Substation. However, as anyone who has watched a squirrel’s acrobatics will know, it is a challenge. Besides insulating equipment to deter them, removal of nearby trees that produce nuts has been removed to stop the critters from burying their cache in our substation. Discussions regarding purchasing options for repair or new transformer are ongoing. The cost of a replacement would be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Regarding solar energy, I do not imagine squirrels are a problem. Forums and newsletters for homeowners regarding energy reduction and alternative sources could promote energy and lessen the load for the village.
Members of the village board don’t always see eye-to-eye, but their debates are (usually) respectful and fairly good-natured. At least, compared with many other government bodies. Explain how you would bring different ideas to the table, and even disagree, in a way that is productive, helpful, and does not detract from civil discourse:
Gauger: Certain topics will inevitably arise that will inflame the calmest of village trustee hearts… but I wish to engage with other trustees in a calm, rational and respectful manner. This does not preclude having strong convictions, presenting them firmly, and backing up statements with facts and science. That said, there are certain ideas that should not be constructively entertained. Ideas that are rooted in hate, intolerance, and anti-science I will firmly contest.
Jones: I am used to working with people who don’t see eye to eye. When I worked at the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the state had a divided government. To have any hope of getting anything done, we had to work with lawmakers in both parties and work to persuade people based on their values and perspectives. As an administrative judge who holds hearings with adverse parties every day, I am used to encouraging an environment where people can bring forward their cases effectively before making an informed decision.
Scott: I’m glad Village Board members don’t always see eye-to-eye. How unproductive, short-sited, and unengaged would that be? Yawn, yawn. All seven members are run-of-the-mill people saddled with their own perceptions, realities, strengths, and weaknesses. In my eight years of serving on the board, I do not recall any situation that got out of hand when one or more of the members disagreed with the matter at hand. Speaking solely for myself, when I have a stance on an agenda item that is in the minority, therefore doesn’t pass, I move on. Holding grudges is counterproductive, takes up too much energy, robs oneself of room to let innovative ideas sift in and, lastly, is immature.
White: Sadly, state and national politics have hit rock bottom in regard to common decency towards those outside their tribe. Local government can rise above that level. Perhaps it’s the non-partisan nature of the race, and candidates can park their partisanship while serving in office. Discussions must remain civil. A good civic parable would read, “listen to others, as you would have them listen to you.” Regarding debates, there is always room for disagreements. I have never been one to keep ideas to myself, and I am far from afraid to ask questions when I do not know an answer. As a board member I would remember that the public expects civility not confrontation. If they wish to watch a melee they can tune in C-Span.
What is your favorite thing about Mount Horeb?
Gauger: My favorite thing about Mount Horeb is how deeply involved members of the community are involved with local service organizations. Look at the current level of interest in our school board, the volunteers at the fire department, the Mount Horeb Area Community Foundation, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, and the list goes on and on. The level of talent and civic mindedness in this village is astounding. All of this makes it a safe, invigorating and appealing place to live.
Jones: In this age where there are so many “bowling alone,” I love the many ways that our village fosters community. This includes our many active churches, a very active chamber of commerce, our terrific annual festivals, and the omnipresent trolls (which my kids and I love!) at so many businesses. I really think Mount Horeb stands out in the area for our clear identity and great community engagement. I would still love a bowling alley in town though!
Scott: My favorite thing is simple – my decision in 2012 to move to Mount Horeb, increasing the population by one! Thank you to all the readers for making time to wade through my answers, and if you decide to vote for me, you may be assured I’ll continue to do what I’ve been doing from the start….being available, engaged, open to suggestions or complaints while continuing to remain appreciative of the trust you place in me.
White: An easy answer! Mount Horeb provides the advantage of being able to walk or bike everywhere; being close to natural areas such as Stewart, Blue Mound, and Donald Parks; enjoying XC skiing, hiking, biking, and camping; and having the benefit of the village’s many locally owned businesses and restaurants. It was these features that attracted us and, I imagine, so many others to the village.