Our Views: City of Janesville's strategic plan a proactive plus

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Some Janesville residents were surprised by and concerned about The Gazette’s story last Sunday on the city’s new five-year strategic plan.

Why is this the first time we’re hearing about this, and why so many pie-in-the-sky ideas?

Why include wants as well as needs when we can’t keep potholes filled?

Why would we want bypasses? Look how the bypass has hurt Milton’s commerce.

Why buy land for more fire stations when we can’t afford the new central station?

Take a deep breath.

A five-year strategic plan is a smart idea. Many communities have them. New City Manager Mark Freitag was wise to swiftly push Janesville into drafting and approving one. It includes 33 pages and 420 wide-ranging ideas and price estimates.

For example, resurfacing East Milwaukee Street from Sumac Drive to Wright Road is earmarked for 2015 at between $250,000 and $500,000. The same price range applies to rebuilding the Milwaukee Street bridge in 2018. That long-awaited skatepark is identified for construction in 2015 for between $50,000 and $100,000. Repurposing Monterey Park for a better and more suitable use would cost between $100,000 and $250,000 in 2016. Building a new northeast water tower and well for north of $1 million are scheduled for beyond 2020. Eastern and western bypasses have similar long-range dates and costs.

Other items are vague concepts. For example: “preserve and celebrate downtown Janesville’s historic architecture, where appropriate.” That’s slated for 2015 and beyond. The plan doesn’t include a cost estimate but rather says expenses will be handled “in house.”

If last Sunday was the first time you’ve heard of this strategic plan, you haven’t been paying attention. The city met and discussed it over several months and sought comments online and at three community forums.

These projects aren’t etched in stone. This is a flexible document, much like a plan for your family’s future. If money is tight, that raise doesn’t come or the furnace unexpectedly falters, you might put off that newer car or dream vacation a year or two. If your employer lays you off, you might delay retirement.

The city will adjust its strategic goals, as well. Changes will start with 2015 budget talks. If officials decide they can’t afford items scheduled for 2015, they can slide them back a year or two. At least with everything identified, this plan will guide them so they don’t ignore maintenance too long.

That’s why residents who complain the city neglects infrastructure should applaud this plan. It puts everything on the table so the city isn’t caught in a constant circle of reacting to the latest roofing or road reconstruction crisis.

Also, if the city can buy land in growth areas someday soon at reasonable prices and spots for future fire stations, it might avoid much of the anger it stirred this year when it announced plans to demolish up to 12 homes for a new, larger Fire Station No. 1.

“This plan gets after the reactive piece,” said Freitag, who has heard complaints about the lack of proactive spending. “We are being proactive. We’re thinking ahead.”

Rather than reacting with alarm and criticism, residents should applaud the strategic outlook.

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