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Property tax bills up slightly over last year; southern Wisconsin braces for major snow-maker; Reilly argues to keep WISC-NET, more briefs

Western Wisconsin residents traveling east or south in the next day or two can anticipate slow driving conditions as the largest snowstorm in two years hits the region.

MADISON -- The property tax bills that Wisconsinites are getting this month average less than one-percent higher than a year ago.

The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance said local net taxes throughout the state are about .7 percent more than last year and the increase is smaller than the previous two years, when they came in a 2.8 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively.

Tax Alliance president Todd Berry credits state-imposed tax levy limits by local governments but the group also notes that an increase or decrease varies widely among each individual community.

Property taxes are generally used for funding municipal and county governments, public schools, and technical colleges.

UW leader lobbies to keep WISC-NET versus private broadband

MADISON --UW President Kevin Reilly is asking legislators to reconsider parts of a law that forces campuses to buy commercial Internet service, instead of using a cheaper tax-funded cooperative.

Reilly says students and taxpayers would be left with higher bills unless something's done.

Majority Republicans said the government should not compete with the private sector so starting in July, UW schools will have to stop getting their high-speed Web service from Wisc-Net, a non-profit cooperative that also sends the Web to most public schools and libraries in Wisconsin. Reilly says it costs each institution about $500 per month for the Internet while private operators will charge about $1,100 a month for the same service.

On Tuesday, state auditors told the UW to clarify where it will get its Internet service once the new law takes effect. Republican Legislative Audit Committee co-chair Samantha Kerkman says it's important to offer high-speed Web service to public institutions, but not at the expense of private firms but Democratic co-chair Kathleen Vinehout sides with the UW and she says lawmakers must consider whether the Internet is a vehicle for public good, or a commodity that's only offered to make a profit.

Also, auditors said the UW might have broken state law by making over $2 million in pre-payments for future service. Laws generally prohibit state agencies from using current appropriations to pay for future services.

Reilly says the UW will recover the payments by the end of next June.

Ag agent picked as new Farm Tech manager

Calumet County Extension agent Matt Glewen has been named to run the state's largest farm show, Wisconsin Farm Technology Days.

Matt Glewen has been named to replace Ron Schuler as the general manager of Wisconsin Farm Technology Days. Schuler will retire after next year's show in Barron County.

Glewen has spent 32 years with the Extension service and he was the executive secretary for 1993 Farm Technology show in Calumet County.

Among other things, Glewen will work closely with local boards for upcoming shows, recruit new counties as hosts and maintain the show's financial records.

Farm Technology Days is a three-day show which highlights the latest in farm equipment and practices. It's held in different locations each year, in order to highlight various types of crops and agriculture. About 60,000 people normally attend.

Portage County will host the event in 2014, and Dane County in '15. It was held near New London earlier this summer and in Pierce County in 2010.

Southern Wisconsin braces for heavy snowfall, biggest in two years

SULLIVAN -- Southwest and south central Wisconsin could be the hardest hit, as a major snow storm is about to whiten most of the Badger State Wednesday night into Thursday.

The National Weather Service has posted blizzard warnings for much of the southwest from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., Thursday.

Falling snow is expected to be accompanied by wind gusts up to 45 mph.

Places like Mauston, Richland Center, and Platteville are due to get 10- to 16 inches. Twelve- to 17 inches are forecast for the Madison area and other parts of southern Wisconsin as far south as Monroe and as far north as Wisconsin Dells. A wide stretch from La Crosse through Stevens Point to Green Bay could get 5- to 12 inches. Four-to-six inches are forecast for the Wausau area, stretching north to Eagle River. Places like Medford and Eau Claire could get 2- to 5 inches.

Thunder-snow is possible tomorrow south of Janesville, and places like Edgerton could get some freezing rain as well. The Weather Service says a strong low pressure system will intensify over the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, and move northward to Lake Michigan tomorrow - and the system's supposed to keep getting stronger as the day goes on.

Southern Wisconsin got a small taste of what's coming. Anywhere from a half-inch to almost four-inches fell south of a line from La Crosse to Milwaukee.

Gas in border regions falls below $3

Gas prices have dropped below $3 a gallon in Wisconsin but for now, you have to drive close to the state's borders to take advantage.

According to, over a dozen stations are listed as selling regular unleaded between $2.96 and $2.99.

They're all located in Kenosha, Hudson, River Falls, Woodville, and Houlton where price competition spills over from neighboring Illinois and Minnesota. Fuel prices have been dropping for most of December as the result of steady crude oil prices and smaller demand.

A Wisconsin AAA spokeswoman has predicted that fuel will drop below $3 for the first time in at least a couple years. Minnesota has had some of the nation's lowest gas prices for some time now. Statewide, Wisconsin's average is $3.21, down slightly from Tuesday and less than two cents more expensive than a year ago at holiday time.

State veterinarian announces retirement

MADISON -- Wisconsin's state veterinarian for almost a decade will retire next month.

Dr. Bob Ehlenfeldt says he'll miss the work but "It's time."

He'll retire Jan. 25th as the chief veterinarian and the Animal Health Division administrator for the state Agriculture Department.

Ehlenfeldt joined the agency in 1985 after working in a private practice, starting as a district veterinarian for southwest Wisconsin. He was named the state vet in 2003, and was re-appointed in January of last year.

Ehlenfeldt helped carry out the nation's first tests to detect-and-control pseudo-rabies and led his department's animal health staff in creating the nation's first livestock premises registration program. It helps trace diseased livestock when outbreaks occur.

Ehlenfeldt has also overseen the moving of deer-and-fish farm regulations from the Department of Natural Resources to the ag department. Ag Secretary Ben Brancel will appoint a new state vet and animal health administrator.

Final 'Holiday Hunt' begins in CWD zones; bow continues

MADISON -- Gun hunters are about to get one final chance to bag a deer in Wisconsin this year.

The DNR says the "Holiday Hunt" will start Monday in the chronic wasting disease zone in southern Wisconsin - and it will continue until the ongoing bow and arrow season ends Jan. 6th. Officials say the hunt is designed to give hunters more opportunities, and to control deer populations in the zone were chronic wasting disease has been the most prevalent in the herd.

The zone looks almost like a triangle on a map. It follows the Illinois border on the south, and goes as far northwest as Vernon and Juneau counties.

State lawmakers propose added gun restrictions

MADISON -- If three Milwaukee Democrats have their way, all Wisconsinites who apply to carry concealed weapons would undergo psychological exams.

It's one of three measures proposed yesterday in response to last Friday's Connecticut school massacre. Assembly Democrat Fred Kessler and two incoming representatives - Evan Goyke and Mandela Barnes - also want to ban purchases of military-style assault rifles and hollow-point bullets.

Current owners of assault rifles would have to register them. Goyke said the psychological tests could be part of the classes that permit applicants must take on handling concealed weapons. He said those people already undergo background checks, and Kessler said it would be hard for a lawmaker to vote against requiring a mental health exam but Kessler admitted all three measures would run into opposition in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

James Fendry of the Wisconsin Pro-Gun Movement is against all three bills. Fendry said the criminally-insane can always get firearms, and the exams would only cause delays for law-abiding citizens who apply for concealed carry permits. He also said assault rifles are used in shooting competitions and it would be too expensive to ban the guns and certain types of bullets.

Earlier Tuesday, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he was against "knee-jerk" reactions by politicians to the Newtown tragedy but in a statement late in the day, Van Hollen said he'll remain open to "any and all measures that might protect the innocent" if they protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms.

Woman dead after 'Rapids-area crash

WISCONSIN RAPIDS -- A woman was killed Tuesday evening when the car she was driving crashed about 15 miles southeast of Wisconsin Rapids.

The State Patrol said the woman was the only person in her vehicle when it crashed around 5:50 p.m. at Highway 73 and CTH F in the Adams County town of Rome.

The victim's name was not immediately released.