May 04, 2023
Slinger is home to a community of good neighbors
This article was first published by MEUW Live Lines, Volume 72, Issue 5.
For officials in the village of Slinger, a municipality of more than 6,400 residents in Washington County, one common factor bolsters its growth and success: good neighbors.
“Slinger has been very generous,” said Public Works Director Jim Haggerty. “The city is full of community-minded people.”
Even in operating the municipally owned Slinger Utilities, the village works closely with neighboring Hartford, the city more than double the size of Slinger just five miles west along Highway 60, for support with its electric services.
“The relationship with Hartford Utilities has definitely been important,” said Village Administrator Margaret Wilber. “We’re both public power utilities, and they’re a great partner.”
Hartford Utilities electric technicians can commonly be seen around town. More so after beginning a systemwide electric meter upgrade throughout the village this year. The project will take up to three years as technicians work to update 2,600 electric meters with smart meter technology.
Slinger oversees its own water service, stormwater management and wastewater treatment, which are also under the umbrella of its utility.
The partnership between Hartford and Slinger has several benefits, Haggerty said. Because Hartford Utilities double orders supplies with Slinger in mind, the commonplace problem utilities now face of supply shortages has been eased. Haggerty said current supply chain issues can cause utilities to have to wait up to a year for materials.
The village had problems during past outages because of its limited circuits, Haggerty said. With new switchgear, sectionalizing is possible, and an outage can be isolated to a smaller area instead of affecting the entire community. Which means power can be restored to most residents within the service area more quickly.
Over three years, the utility installed five new switchgears. They completed the work in 2022, Haggerty said. An outage in early March, not long after the switches were installed, highlighted the positive effect this change has created. While the power remained out for roughly 20% of users, 80% regained their electricity immediately. Prior to the installation of the switchgear boxes, 100% of electric customers would remain without power until the issue was fixed.
“It was terrific to see that actually work the way it was supposed to,” Wilber said. “There were members of the community who called to specifically provide positive feedback about how quickly it came back on.”
The new setup helps workers more easily locate the problem, Haggerty said. That means they can more quickly deal with the issue as well as keeping the lights on for most of the people living in the area.
“It works out on a lot of levels,” Wilber said.
Community support is something Wilber and Haggerty both said is common in Slinger. The village is the fastest growing town in Washington County. Part of that is due to the public embracing projects of all kinds and creating spaces for themselves.
One such space is the Edward H. Wolf Schleisingerville to Slinger Historical Museum established in 2020. Excitement from a year spent celebrating the village’s 150th anniversary in 2019 bolstered a group of citizens to develop a museum to highlight Slinger history and subsequent development. Historical pieces outline the history of the area from 177 years ago, when Baruch Schleisinger Weil founded the original village in 1845. The more than 3,000-square-foot building is the former village railroad depot built in 1911. A piece of history itself, the museum houses exhibits from past lives and industry that developed the village. With a Storck Brewery display of the business established in the late 19th century, a fully functional 1926 Schaefer Theatre Organ originally played within the Hartford Opera House and a model railroad club with more than 700 cars and 1,000 feet of track, the village considers the museum “a new treasure” of its “cultural and education inventory.”
The village has a semiannual magazine which highlights the community as well. “Discover Slinger” brings together all the goings on within the “Owl life,” as Slinger Utilities Energy Services Manager Brett Backhaus described the togetherness of the village’s residents. Owls are the school mascot. Magazine issues provide input from local leaders like the village president and school superintendent, highlight new employees within the school district and offer park updates.
There are many recreational opportunities within the area, which is part of the reason village officials feel Slinger is such a fast-growing community. Other reasons include a successful school district and the village’s proximity to larger metropolitan areas.
Growth is also, in part, because of the support of village residents. Rather than stand in opposition to growth, they embrace it, Wilber said. The village parks and recreation department is supported by a nonprofit group called Friends of Slinger Parks and Recreation, which consists of volunteers. They aim to raise money and awareness of natural resources within the area, facilities and several parks department programs.
In its 12 years of organizing, the group contributed more than $54,000 to support the department — collected as donations in lieu of tax revenue.
One addition the village is excited to see is the 80-acre Breuer Park, which will host playing fields, playground space and trails in the northwestern part of the community. The first phase of the sprawling park was already being worked on in the fall.
Current parks boast a trove of opportunities in the summer and winter months. A 3,200-square-foot splashpad at Rotary Park abuts a large playground where children and families can gather at no cost. The park serves as a sledding hill for all local children when snow covers the ground.
At Slinger Community Park on the northeast side of the village, growers gather each Wednesday night in the summer to sell their goods during the farmers’ market. The coinciding Music in the Park Series that begins each May serves as entertainment nearby for residents spread out on blankets and chairs until early October, when it culminates in a tailgate Homecoming celebration. There is a parade for the occasion, which even the administration took part in last year, Wilber said. The local VFW Zunker-Held Post 3358 also holds an annual Memorial Day parade.
Outdoor recreation is a vital piece to life in Slinger, which sits at the southern portion of the Kettle Moraine region of the state. A chance to take in nature on a walk, run or bike ride was recently enhanced with the village’s addition to the Ice Age Trail. Local students even helped with some fixtures, like historical signage and benches.
“It really was a community effort,” Wilber said. “Everyone came together with the extension so that anyone, residents or visitors from other parts of the state, can enjoy the natural landscape of our community.”
Other opportunities to enjoy the outdoors include a popular ski hill by the name of Little Switzerland. The facility, just off U.S. Highway 41, was officially opened in December 1941, Haggerty said. Since then, it has grown. Most recently remodeled in the summer of 2012, there are three terrain parks and 15 ski runs. The mountain has a base elevation of 1,069 feet and an annual snowfall of 45 inches across 50 skiable acres. There are trails for beginners, intermediate and advanced skiers.
The ski hill isn’t the only place for sporting enthusiasts. The Slinger Super Speedway on the north side of the village was born in 1948 after a local county sheriff’s deputy became interested in racing roughly a decade earlier. At first, there was a small track in the backyard, but the deputy eventually began surveying a natural amphitheater on a hill and a one-fifth mile dirt track was created. The track opened in July to a crowd of 5,000, who paid $1 per person to see 35 cars compete over seven events.
From there, Sunday nights were built for speed. As time passed, the cars changed in size and shape. The last dirt race was held in 1973. A year later, the track reopened with pavement, looking much like modern raceways and shortened to a quarter-mile oval. The speedway now hosts the annual Slinger Nationals event in July, where drivers from throughout the country compete against one another. There have even been a few well-known NASCAR drivers who navigated the pavement of the Slinger speedway in the past.
The recent addition of new entertainment spaces, including a winery and distillery, ensures that everyone who lives there, or just stops by, has something to do.
While the village celebrated 150 years of existence in 2019, Slinger Utilities commemorated 110 years of its own operation in 2021. The community’s not-for-profit electric utility was recognized Sept. 16 of that year at an award ceremony held by its wholesale power provider WPPI Energy, of which Slinger is a member-owner. At the time, the village population was hovering right around 6,000 residents, a marker for how it has grown in a short amount of time.
Just a year earlier, the utility was acknowledged at the American Public Power Association Customer Connections Conference. Slinger Utilities received the designation of Smart Energy Provider in the fall of 2020, which is a recognition of public power utilities which demonstrate leading practices in energy efficiency, distributed generation, renewable energy and environmental initiatives. Applying requires the utility to undergo a rigorous and in-depth review in which it is compared to others nationwide. The designation lasts for two years, and Slinger again earned the prestigious title in 2022.
As part of the Slinger community forward ideology, the utility continues to pursue initiatives for affordable, reliable, and responsible energy.
Slinger Utilities also aimed to support its residents in recent challenges by dedicating “Community Recharge” funds in July 2020 to local grocery store workers. All 110 employees of Piggly Wiggly within the village, one of the longstanding and biggest users of the power supply, were given $25 gift cards to aid in the purchase of groceries locally. Fox Brothers’ Piggly Wiggly is a family owned franchise which was voted by its team members as a top workplace for five years before the recharge funds were provided by joint action agency WPPI Energy.
Both Hartford and Slinger are members of WPPI Energy, which was formed in 1980 by the utilities it serves. Wilber and Haggerty said that as a WPPI community, Slinger Utilities workers believe that public power strengthens their community and by partnering with other utilities, the village can share resources and lower costs for its residents.
Slinger Utilities is currently looking to slightly bump up its rate for residents, which was last increased in 2007. Wilber said the 7% increase will help ensure that the utility remains cost-effective and maintains its reliability.
“A manageable increase like this will help support projects the utility may undertake or is currently working on while keeping costs as low as possible for everyone,” Wilber said. “Slinger Utilities will remain affordable and safe for years to come as we continue to provide the best.”
Connection with community members leads to progress for the better, Wilber said, like the recently established Slinger Business Network. The group was formed by residents who wanted to bolster business and make the village better. That goal is shared throughout the community.
“By being involved, everyone helps,” Wilber said. “Especially because of the awareness. If people have the information because they’re aware of current projects or topics, they are better at sharing it to ensure everyone is informed. Slinger Utilities can also be a better partner in programs and exploring new ideas with the community as a result.”