Only two of the three fire stations on Madison's growing west side have ambulances and paramedic crews. When both are out on calls, 'It makes us all a little uncomfortable,' says Fire Department spokeswoman Lori Wirth. 'Everyone's on pins and needles, hoping nothing else happens.'
Wirth says the department has tried to place the city's seven ambulances 'strategically,' so that paramedics can reach people within five or six minutes. The east side has three ambulances for its four stations. And some west-side advocates feel shortchanged.
'The problem on the west side is there are neighborhoods that you just can't reach in five minutes,' says Ald. Paul Skidmore, noting that the entire Blackhawk subdivision and the Junction Ridge neighborhood are underserved. 'This area is going to grow a lot. Veridian is building two more subdivisions on the west side.'
Skidmore plans to introduce an amendment to the 2007 budget to add funding to acquire land for a new west-side fire station, to be built in 2008. And he wants an ambulance included. He's also re-introducing an amendment, which the Board of Estimates rejected last month, to buy a new city ambulance, at a cost of about $200,000.
Mayor Dave Cieslewicz does not support buying another ambulance, says mayoral aide George Twigg, who notes that the city just added an ambulance last year. And while Cieslewicz supports building a new fire station on the west side, Twigg says the Fire Department should decide whether the station has an ambulance.
'Just as they reconfigured their fleet after the seventh ambulance was added, they would go through the same process if an eighth ambulance was added,' he says. 'We wouldn't want to insert politics into that.'
An agreement formalized this summer among Dane County, Madison, Sun Prairie, Middleton and Fitchrona calls on ambulances to respond to life-threatening emergencies regardless of municipal boundaries. Twigg says this has done much to reduce response times: 'For instance, the Allied Drive neighborhood is benefiting from the proximity of Fitchrona EMS units that can respond to their calls.'
Skidmore says Madison shouldn't rely on other municipalities to take calls because they're not always available. 'It's a good idea, but we still need another ambulance because of the gaps in coverage,' he says. 'We're stretched way too thin.'
New and improved voting
This November, every polling station in Wisconsin will have a new voting machine specially equipped to help people with disabilities.
'Folks are pretty excited about it,' says Angela Bennett, the city of Madison's disability rights specialist. 'They can actually come to the polls and vote the same way everyone else does.'
The machine can supersize a ballot's text for easier viewing. It can even read the text out loud, over headphones, to the blind, who use a Braille keypad to vote. People with motor disabilities can choose candidates simply by touching names on the screen. The machine can also be hooked up to 'sip and puff' wheelchairs, which users power by blowing into a tube.
'This makes life a lot easier,' says Jeff Erlanger, who serves on the Commission on People with Disabilities. 'My hope is this will encourage people with disabilities to vote because they won't need their attendants.' In the past, people with disabilities relied on assistants or poll workers to mark ballots for them.
But Erlanger says not all poll workers know how to use the machines. The city clerk's office couldn't hook the machine up to his 'sip and puff' wheelchair, he says. 'That worries me.'
Dane County Clerk Bob Ohlsen says about 400 poll workers attended training sessions with the new machine. Ohlsen does not know how many poll workers Dane County has overall, but guesses that less than half came to the training.
Ohlsen also says that Election Systems & Software, which manufactures the machines, 'did a terrible job' training his staff. The trainer could only show them how to set up the machine: 'He didn't have any ballots with him.' The company knocked $3,000 off the county's $5,000 'training' bill after Ohlsen complained. 'We learned the best we could,' he says. 'We're basically self-taught.'
Humane Society gets relief
The Dane County Humane Society may return nine pit bulls to Robert Lowery. The dogs were among the nearly 50 pit bulls seized from Lowery's town of Dunn home this summer. Police believe Lowery used the dogs for fighting, although no animal cruelty charges have been filed against him.
The nine dogs showed no signs of fighting, so will not be kept as evidence. And an animal behavioral specialist decided the dogs were not dangerous, so they could be released to Lowery. (The remaining dogs, however, will stay at the Humane Society until the case is resolved.)
'It's not necessarily the way we would have liked to see the dogs go,' says Cathy Holmes, president of the Humane Society's board. 'But I don't see that we have any choice, since he's the owner.'
Meanwhile, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk has proposed $100,000 in her 2007 budget to help the Humane Society cover the cost of sheltering the pit bulls, which is expected to top $150,000. Falk also boosted funding for the group's work with stray animals and for humane officers.
Holmes remains adamant that the Humane Society will no longer take animals for impound when it signs a new contract with the county next year (Madison.gov, 9/21/06). Meeting with Dane County officials last month, she says, 'we all agreed the way we handled impounds in the past will not continue.' Instead, Dane County may rent space at the Humane Society for impounds. Says Holmes, 'It's a difficult problem to solve.'
This week, Republican Dave Magnum launched his fifth television ad in his bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin. Magnum is 'building name recognition,' says campaign spokesman Chris Lato. 'That's why you want to run TV ads.'
But Baldwin, with less than three weeks to go before the election, has not aired a single ad. Even Sen. Herb Kohl, who faces minor challenges from Republican Robert Lorge and the Green Party's Rae Vogeler, has been running ads.
Jeff Pertl, Baldwin's campaign manager, declined to explain why she hasn't done more, saying only, 'We'll be running ads later this week.' He says Baldwin, who has spent $1.1 million so far, is running 'an extensive field operation,' including three campaign offices: two in Madison and one in Beloit.
Pertl also discounts a recent study by the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., which calculated that Baldwin spent nearly $675,000 on political consultants in 2003-04. 'This covers much more than just consultant fees,' he says of these expenditures. 'It includes the cost of conducting any polls. It also includes all production costs of TV and radio spots, as well as the media time 'buy,' which can be a considerable expense.'