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Janesville would hire police, firefighters with extra money

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Jake Magee
Friday, September 15, 2017

JANESVILLE—It's not the boon city officials were hoping for, but they said it's a start.

Pending final state budget approval, the city of Janesville will get $583,000 a year for the next five years to help offset what the city considers the unequal distribution of state-shared revenue.

It's the first result of the city's efforts since 2014 to fight for more state-shared income despite a formula Janesville officials call unfair.

In 2001, the state froze the formula used to determine how to distribute state-shared revenue to Wisconsin municipalities.

Since the formula was frozen, Janesville's equalized value has grown at a slower rate than its peer communities while its population has increased faster than its peers. If the formula wasn't frozen and didn't use outdated data, Janesville would receive much more state-shared revenue—perhaps $6 million more, said Maggie Darr, city management information specialist.

Janesville has hosted roundtable discussions with state legislators, and the Janesville City Council passed a resolution drawing attention to the issue. In the end, it was Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, who helped score a win for Janesville, Darr said.

Loudenbeck is a member of the state Legislature's joint committee on finance and brought the special $583,000 allocation forward, which the committee passed. The budget passed Thursday in the Assembly and is likely to get Senate and gubernatorial approval by the end of the month, Darr said.

"It was surprising," she said of learning the news. "We feel cautiously optimistic."

Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville; Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater; and Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, also have supported Janesville's efforts to increase state-shared revenue.

"Janesville has been getting the short end of the stick with regards to state shared revenue for too long," City Manager Mark Freitag said in a press release. "I appreciate the efforts of our representatives at the state level in continuing to fight for fairness for the residents of Janesville. While the proposed payments to Janesville do not fix the inequitable shared revenue system, I am pleased to see recognition of the problem and an attempt to remedy Janesville's situation."

The city will propose the council approve the money be used to hire additional police officers and firefighters. Janesville has the second-fewest police and third-fewest firefighters per capita compared to other Wisconsin cities, Darr said.

The city is still crunching the numbers, but $583,000 is likely enough to hire a six officers and firefighters. That's potentially enough for the Janesville Fire Department to operate a fifth ambulance, something officials have expressed desire to do.

Darr said the city wouldn't propose using the money to lower tax rates. Janesville still provides high-quality services, but the lack of state-shared revenue stretches staff thin, making hiring a priority, Darr said.

Under the formula, Janesville gets $81 per resident in state-shared revenue. The average Wisconsin municipality gets $179. Beloit gets $459.

"It just goes to show Janesville has been the anomaly," Darr said. "We've been suffering for a long time."

Despite the allocation, Janesville's fight isn't over. The formula is still frozen and unchanged, and it's unclear what will be done after the special allocations end in five years, Darr said.

"(The) $583,000 could go a long way to not making us maybe equal to our average peer city but getting us closer," she said.

The city council will meet for budget study sessions in October.



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