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2005-04-06
Monroe, WI Wal-Mart Loses Referendum Due to Anti-Wal-Mart Hysteria.

The voters of Monroe, Wisconsin made what the local newpaper called a "clear choice" Tuesday night, handing Wal-Mart a decisive defeat at the polls. The retailer wanted to build a supercenter in Monroe, but city residents were asked in a non-binding referendum, "Are you in favor of the City of Monroe allowing the construction of a very large retail supercenter store?" That's right, Wal-Mart wasn't specifically mentioned, but everyone in Monroe knew the elephant in the room. The question was put on the ballot because of Wal-Mart. To approve the supercenter, the City Council would have to first annex the property from Monroe Township into the city of Monroe. Voters soundly rejected the Wal-Mart plan by a 68% vote. Of the 2,095 voters who cast ballots, 1,432 (68 %) voted against a supercenter, while 663 (32 %) were in favor. Mayor Bill Ross, who clearly wants the Wal-Mart, told reporters that 60% of the voters did not turn out (as was the case the same night in Bennington, Vermont). That tells me that 60 % of the people didn't care (to voice an opinion with a vote)," Ross said. Ross blamed "anti-Wal-Mart hysteria" whipped up by the local radio station for the defeat. A Wal-Mart spokeman said he was "disappointed" with the voters' decision -- but that his company still wants to build a supercenter in Monroe. Wal-Mart complained that they had not had time to fully present their plans. The public vote clearly caught the Mayor and some of his Alderman flat-footed, and they did their best to try and ignore the results. Alderman Keith Ingwell told the Monroe Times that the council is neutral on the proposal "because we don't know what's going on." He said aldermen are "chomping at the bit" to receive more information from Wal-Mart about its plans. Wal-Mart already has a 98,000 s.f. store on Monroe's west side. But they have proposed building a 200,000-s.f. supercenter on 25 acres north of Route 81. One Alderman said Tuesday's vote made it "vastly apparent" that she would vote against any request to the city from Wal-Mart for financial assistance in supercenter construction. "It cannot impact our tax dollars," she said. Local residents complained that the city is already suffering from closed malls, and doesn't need more. "In this city, there are a lot of empty boxes," Greg Fedders, president of the Green County Development Corporation, told the Capital Times. "The key for development in Monroe, if this thing is going to happen, is to keep it in the existing (business) corridor rather than in a new spot." The new store would have been less than one mile from its current store on 8th Street. "A lot of people fear that people won't come into town any more," one city council member said. "They'll go to Super Wal-Mart, shop, get lunch and gas there and go home." Mayor Bill Ross, however, was prepared to build a Wal-Mart just about anywhere. "If they want to build on 25 acres of farmland, we will annex that, because look at all the tax we would collect," the Mayor said. "The majority of the people in the city of Monroe would like to see super Wal-Mart come here because it does offer jobs and an opportunity to stretch your dollar further," the Mayor added. "We'll be able to collect more taxes and that will help us with personal property tax." Wal-Mart told residents the superstore would add about 300 jobs, but provided no data on how many jobs it would destroy, and how much sales and property tax would be lost. One city councilor summed up the opposition: "What's the use of living in a small town if you can't walk to the store?"

What you can do: Mayor Bill Ross sounds too much like a Wal-Mart press release. He has no economic impact analysis at all regarding the impact of a supercenter on this small town, yet he pledges confidently this the supercenter is worth taking 25 acres of farmland to cement over. Well-intentioned public officials are one thing, but shills for the company are another. Mayor Ross needs to start asking some tough questions of Wal-Mart about net jobs and net sales, before acting like the company's PR agent. Ironically, on April 5th, the voters in Monroe, Wisconsin were handing Wal-Mart a stinging defeat, at the same time that Bennington, Vermont voters were paving over their town for Wal-Mart. The door swings both ways.










 
 
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