Home / Community Development / Cell leases make Wis. towns money, but some unhappy

Cell leases make Wis. towns money, but some unhappy

workers are seen at the construction of a cellular telephone antenna tower in Lakewood, N.J.. A Long Island township has imposed restrictions on the placement of new cell towers that are among the toughest in the country, and one phone company said, Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010, it effectively bans new construction. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)

A crew works on the construction of a cellphone tower in Lakewood, N.J., in 2008. Antenna sites around Wisconsin provide a steady stream of money, but some communities aren’t happy, particularly because of a state law that restricts their ability to manage the towers. (AP File Photo/Mel Evans)

APPLETON, Wis. (AP) — The Fox Cities are making easy money by leasing space for cellphone antennas on land and water towers, but some residents are upset that communities have little control over where the antennas are set up.

A Post-Crescent Media survey of 10 communities found that lease fees added up to nearly $1.2 million. That money is being used to offset property taxes and utility fees.

Appleton collected more than $250,000 through 14 leases. The town of Menasha brought in $246,000, and Neenah made $176,000.

The antenna sites provide a steady stream of money, with carriers willing to pay the fees rather than build their own towers. But some communities aren’t happy, particularly because of a state law that restricts their ability to manage cell towers.

As a result of the 2013 Biennial Budget Act, local governments can no longer prohibit cellphone towers in particular locations or limit their height to less than 200 feet. Nor can they deny a tower based on aesthetics or the availability of a more suitable location.

The cellphone industry lobbied heavily for the legislation, saying some municipalities were creating difficult hurdles or demanding exorbitant fees.

“They were holding the companies somewhat hostage, saying, ‘We’re not going to let you put these in our community,'” said state Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah.

But George Dearborn, the community development director for the town of Menasha, says the legislation undermines local control.

“The only thing that local communities can do now is charge a (one-time) fee for the placement of cell towers,” Dearborn said. “We cannot regulate placement through zoning or any of the tools we used to have to try to encourage them to be placed on water towers or more appropriate locations.”

He said he understands the need for additional cellphone towers, but said local residents should have more say in the process.

Kaufert said in hindsight, the law does lack the proper balance. He said it’s too late to make changes during the current legislative session but promised he’d revisit the issue in the next session if he returns to the Assembly.

Even then, he noted, overturning the law wouldn’t be easy.

“AT&T — these companies — they have big lobbying groups down in Madison,” Kaufert said. “They wanted it changed. To go back, I think there would be a fight on our hands.”

Information from: Post-Crescent Media, http://www.postcrescent.com

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