Bob and Karen Schauf’s decision to let Barron County build a 911 tower on their property instigated a $34,317 state penalty and inspired a bill that would make the fee disappear.
That bill is headed to Gov. Jim Doyle’s desk, and the governor’s staff has indicated he will sign it, said state Rep. Mary Hubler, D-Rice Lake. Hubler, who wrote the bill, said it would exempt landowners from a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fee when they violate their forest-management agreements with the state by letting a government agency build a 911 tower on their property.
There is a reason, Hubler said, that her bill targets the use of land for construction of a public safety communications tower.
“It’s so narrow,” she said. “There have been other bills in the past that tried to provide exemptions for agricultural purposes, and they never got anywhere because they didn’t maintain the integrity of the law.”
The bill is a relief, Karen Schauf said.
“My heart kind of dropped,” she said, “when I saw what the penalty was.”
Barron County officials, trying to improve 911 services in the northwestern part of the county, last year agreed to a $5,000, 99-year lease of 5.1 acres of the Schaufs’ town of Barron property. But those acres are within a 40-acre lot covered by the state’s managed forest law.
The law, enacted in 1985, reduces landowners’ property taxes in exchange for their agreement to protect private forests and make them available for such public uses as hunting and fishing. The Schaufs signed a forest agreement with the DNR 23 years ago.
Under terms of the managed forest agreement, the DNR found the Schaufs in violation for all 40 acres. The fee is based on a formula of property assessments, length of the agreement and tax rates.
When the Schaufs received the penalty, Karen Schauf said, they turned to Hubler, other lawmakers and Barron County leaders. She said Barron County’s former administrator, Duane Herbert, told her the county would pay the $34,317 bill.
“But he left last year to take a job in Minnesota,” Schauf said. “And I never got that in writing. So as all this was moving forward, we were nervous because we didn’t know if we could hold the county to that.”
The county’s current administrator, Jeff French, said if Hubler’s bill does not become law, Barron County will cover the expenses.
But Hubler said her bill is about principles; not money.
“It does not matter that the county was going to pay the money anyway,” she said. “It’s crazy to take that much when we’re only talking about five acres.”