Some Questions On Housing

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a conference session right here in Fort Atkinson, held by representatives from WHEDA and WEDC, as well as the JCEDC (Jefferson County Economic Development Consortium). Attendees included people from nearby communities, prospective developers, and others. Discussions included programs the agencies have to assist home buyers and local companies, housing development opportunities, and more.

This was all very timely for me, as I have been thinking about housing a lot lately. It has recently come to by attention that some of our housing deficiencies in Fort Atkinson may be larger than I had known.

Anecdotally, I have heard of people staying in hotels because they cannot find rentals. I am also hearing more and more about people who cannot rent because of bad credit history, or because they are starting out in the job market and cannot afford to pay a market rent.

I have some strong feelings about what I think our housing needs are. But I’d like to hear from the Fort Atkinson community. What do you think we are lacking? What demographics and age groups are being underserved? Do we have enough housing stock? Do we have enough rental stock?

Please comment below. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your thoughts publicly, please email me at

I want to make sure we have a community that serves the housing needs of everyone, whether young or old, lower income or wealthy, homeowner or renter.



About that pesky local road maintenance issue…

Sometimes I feel compelled to write things to various members of our state legislature. Sometimes I get responses, often times I do not.

pothole road

Photo of what we’re trying to avoid having in Fort Atkinson (picture from the Transportation Development Association website).

The Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee had a hearing yesterday. I was not able to attend that meeting due to work, but I emailed the following letter to all the members of that committee. Here it is, for your reading enjoyment/amusement/criticism/whatever. Feel free to comment below!

Click here to read my letter: AB 361 opinion

As always, thanks for reading my blog…I hope all of you are enjoying a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday season!



Why don’t more people run?

Thought for your weekend: This is the time of year when nomination papers get taken out for spring elections. I have had a bit of involvement with trying to recruit people to run in local elections (which are non-partisan). It’s tougher than it may sound to get people to run.

The vast majority of local incumbents will again be unopposed in our area. I would venture to guess that will also be true statewide.

Have you ever thought about running for a local office? Maybe your local school board, city council, or county board? What has held you back from running? Why do you think more people do not choose to run?

Ghost Town?

A brief thought for a busy Friday morning:

Every once in awhile, mainly on social media, I’ll see someone state that “downtown Fort Atkinson is a ghost town”, implying there are lots of empty buildings, etc. I even heard a comment about that this past Monday night, at the local candidate forum I participated in.

downtown fort atkinson

(Image of downtown Fort Atkinson, via

Just to get an exact idea of the reality of the situation, my wife and I counted empty storefronts on Main Street yesterday, between 3rd St and Sherman Ave. We counted a total of four empty storefronts on Main Street (one of which is the building where Bent Kettle has their tap room below street level). Yes, four total.

While there’s always some room for improvement, I’d say this makes the case that we’re doing pretty well overall in our downtown area. Any city is going to have some turnover in its downtown district. We’re definitely not immune from this.

If you’re a Fort Atkinson resident or a visitor, what do you think? Share your thoughts below!

Our Economic Development Commission

Fort Atkinson recently passed an ordinance creating an Economic Development Commission (EDC). I was part of the initial process, working with our city manager and others. I had gotten input from the previous Jefferson County Economic Development Consortium director, who suggested our city should examine the idea. We looked at several different models, and decided this route made the most sense for our city right now.

My desire to start an official Economic Development Commission in our city came from wanting to ensure that we continued working on the tougher economic issues, while leaving a broad scope in place for individuals on the commission to bring forth their own ideas and goals. I also wanted the group to have official authority and accountability under our city government.

Earlier this week, our city council approved the following individuals to serve on the EDC:

  • Bill Camplin, owner of the Cafe Carpe, 1 year term.
  • John Mielke, Fort Atkinson Industrial Development Corp. President, 1 year term.
  • Scott Housley, W&A Distribution Services Inc. CEO, 2 year term.
  • Mike Wallace, Fort Healthcare President, 2 year term.
  • Mark McGlynn, IPEC President, 3 year term.
  • Margaret Bare, Fort Tax Service Inc. owner, 3 year term.

I’m proud to say I was selected to serve as the city council representative on the commission. The city manager and Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce director will serve as ex-officio (non-voting) members.

I believe the people selected represent a very experienced and well rounded group. Hopefully many different viewpoints will be brought to the table.

Our city seems to have turned a corner of late, in terms of new and positive business growth. Previously empty buildings are starting to fill up again, and a few new businesses have recently come in (such as Aster Assisted Living, pictured below). However, we still have some major issues to deal with. My hope is that the new EDC will help with different issues, both big and small, in Fort Atkinson.

Click this link for the full story our local paper did on the EDC: Daily Jefferson County Union story (Section on the Economic Development Commission is about halfway through the story).

Thoughts? Comments? Reply below!


Dark Store Legislation

Today I’m dusting off my keyboard to share a letter I wrote yesterday to my state representative and state senator. I wrote them to share my concerns about “dark store” tax loophole tactics used by some large “big box” chains here in Wisconsin to get their property taxes reduced, sometimes by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The League of Municipalities has a good page about how dark store tactics are employed by some businesses. You can read more here. Essentially, these businesses argue that their property tax valuations should be compared to similar sized properties which could be closed and no longer operating. If such argument is successful, it means a further property tax burden is shifted to other property owners in the community (including homeowners).


Yes, that shiny new store in your town could see a tax valuation similar to a property like this!

There is currently a bill circulating in the state capital which would preempt further dark store tactics. Here is the letter I wrote below (name removed, as I don’t want to turn this into a political commentary on our local legislators):

Rep. _________,

I am writing you to today to express support for legislation put forth by Rep. Brooks and Sen. Roth regarding closing the “dark store” tax argument that some companies are using to successfully argue for property tax reductions throughout Wisconsin.

I’m sure if you polled your constituents, overwhelmingly, most would feel they already pay enough in property taxes. Without passing this dark store legislation, homeowners could see an unfair shift of more property taxes going towards them. I’m sure that is something you and your colleagues would not want to happen.

Homeowners already pay their fair share of property taxes. Businesses need to pay their fair share, too. The difference is that the average homeowner can’t pay for high priced lawyers to argue in their favor. Please consider supporting this legislation, as it’s about simple fiscal fairness.

Mason T. Becker
Fort Atkinson City Councilman

Do you agree with the sentiments I expressed? Feel otherwise? Please comment below!

On building walls

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve written a post for this site, and it’s high time I get back to it.

I’m going to take a break from writing about directly local issues, to discuss something with national and global impact: building walls.

The topic of building a wall along the US southern border is once again top of mind in our media, with President Trump proclaiming that construction will begin within “months.” I’m going to set aside the huge logistical and financial problems presented by such an idea (numerous as they are), and talk about the historic implications of “build the wall.”

When I think of walls set up to keep people out (or keep them in, if looked at from the other direction), I’m reminded that we don’t need to go too far back in history to find an example of such a construct. We can look to the Cold War Era, and the Berlin Wall.

My wife and I had the chance to travel to Europe and visit Berlin back in 2005. Already by then, only a small portion of the Berlin Wall still remained. The main remaining section was a piece of concrete, less than a city block wide, and was covered in varied graffiti art. A weathered and broken testament to a failed ideology.

Seeing the Berlin Wall in person at that point, didn’t have much impact. However, the following display did, at least for me.

Near Checkpoint Charlie, there had been a memorial setup. This memorial didn’t honor any soldiers who had manned the Berlin Wall, or any government officials who had overseen either its construction or dismantling. Instead, it honored the victims of the wall.


Approximately 1,000 plain black crosses, set up evenly, with pictures of every person who died trying to cross this wall. I found it to be powerful and moving. The display is no longer there, in fact it came down later in the same year we visited, but you can read more about it here.

I think we need to all ask ourselves, what kind of America do we want to live in? Do we want to still be “the shining city on the hill”, which so many writers, politicians, and presidents have referred to over the decades? Or do we want to become a country that expends hundreds of billions of dollars throwing up barriers that keep those seeking refuge and opportunity out? Do we want our own monument to division and death? Or are there better ways of keeping our country safe, while still remaining a thriving melting pot that the rest of the world looks to?

All Americans, sooner than later, must decide how we want to move forward, and how we want to present ourselves as a country to our neighboring nations.