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Waukesha Mayoral Candidates Face Off

Incumbent Nelson stresses regional cooperation to create jobs; challenger Scrima wants direct subsidies to court businesses

Mar. 24, 2010
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Although the city of Waukesha is typically thought of as a suburb of Milwaukee, it’s the seventh largest city in Wisconsin, and has come into its own in the past decade. On April 6, voters will be asked if Mayor Larry Nelson, 55, a former teacher, deserves a second term, or if real estate developer Jeff Scrima, 32, should take over City Hall. Nelson says that he needs four more years to expand policies he’s set into motion, such as the city’s request for water from Lake Michigan; Scrima wants the city to slow down its water request and study more alternatives. The Waukesha Common Council will weigh in on the proposed request on April 8, two days after the election.

Larry Nelson: “The Entire City Has Improved”

Incumbent Nelson said he’d like to serve another term because he’s “in the middle of things,” including, most prominently, Waukesha’s proposed water request to solve the city’s long-standing radium problem in its deep wells, which must be solved by June 2018. Nelson said Lake Michigan water is the most cost-effective and environmentally sensitive solution to Waukesha’s water problems. The request and any resulting agreement would have to be approved by Wisconsin as well as the seven other states that signed the Great Lakes Compact to protect the water resources of the Great Lakes region. The compact, signed by two Canadian provinces in addition to the eight U.S. states, promotes water conservation and aims to ban other states and foreign countries from tapping into the water supply of the Great Lakes.

“A successful Waukesha application would show that the compact works,” Nelson said. “And to be successful they’d have to follow Waukesha’s lead.”

Nelson said Waukesha has already decreased its water use by 11% over the last four years even as the city has grown. He said the other alternatives have been thoroughly studied for eight years, and Lake Michigan water is the best way to solve the radium problem and provide a cost-effective and sustainable water source for the growing community in the decades to come. He said that this example of regional cooperation, along with the steady supply of water, would help attract more businesses and residents to the community.

Milwaukee is one source of Lake Michigan water, although critics—like challenger Scrima—have charged that an agreement with Milwaukee comes with too many strings.

“Unfortunately, there are people in both communities that don’t realize that it’s in both communities’ self-interest to work in ways that benefit the region,” Nelson said.

Nelson said he’s proud of his economic development record, which includes new retail developments built on already existing commercial plots—“good examples of infill developments” that are environmentally sensitive, Nelson said—as well as the renaissance of the historic downtown area. He said the community’s support of the arts, as well as its diversity, have drawn more people to the city, both as residents and visitors.

The mayor said his tax increases have been lower than the increases of Waukesha’s three previous mayors, even though flat shared revenue from the state as well as the recession have taken their toll on Wisconsin municipalities.

Nelson said he’s campaigning hard to beat Scrima on April 6. He said Scrima has a lack of experience in government as well as concrete details about what he’d do as mayor. The former teacher said he’d like to serve another four years to continue building on what the city has set into motion during the past four years.

“I ask voters to compare the Waukesha of 2006 to Waukesha of 2010,” Nelson said. “I think they will agree that the entire city has improved.”

To learn more about Larry Nelson, go to nelsonformayor.com.

Jeff Scrima: “We Need to Take a More Proactive Approach”

Waukesha native Scrima launched Canterbury Realty seven years ago, which led to his involvement with the business improvement district.

“I’ve been able to see City Hall up close,” Scrima said. “And I realized that the things we were trying to do to promote business and bring people into the community would best happen if it was from the top down.”

Scrima said Waukesha’s relatively high taxes deter individuals and businesses from locating in Waukesha. He said he’d find efficiencies in the city’s budget, although he didn’t have specific proposals for cuts.

“My plan, once I get in there, is to do a careful evaluation from the inside,” Scrima said.

Scrima said he’d like to attract more employers to the city by providing more tax relief to businesses.

“I think we need to take a more proactive approach in reaching out to people in this community and business owners to see what their concerns and needs are,” Scrima said.

He said that Waukesha shouldn’t rush into an agreement for Lake Michigan water with, possibly, Milwaukee.

“We have multiple water sources,” Scrima said. “Lake Michigan is one of those sources, but there are a lot of unknowns as far as what it’s going to cost the citizens of Waukesha.”

He said that the 2018 radium deadline doesn’t have to be met by receiving water from Lake Michigan. The city already has radium removal devices on its deep wells; it could do more to conserve water; and the Fox River could be tapped for a source, he suggested.

He said regional water studies that advocate a water sale are not necessarily in Waukesha’s best interests. He said Nelson is close to people in Milwaukee, which has resulted in favoring Milwaukee as a source of water.

“Milwaukee has come out and said that they see this as a great opportunity to make money and they passed a resolution in which they want to attach strings to the water bill,” Scrima said. “I’m not necessarily opposed to Milwaukee water. But they need to tell us upfront that they’re going to sell it to us at a fair price and get rid of that resolution.”

Scrima said his business experience and studies of retail and economic development will help if he is elected mayor.

“We have tough problems in the city right now and the first step in addressing a tough problem is to ask a tough question,” Scrima said.

To learn more about Jeff Scrima, go to scrimaformayor.com, which is set to relaunch this week.


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