Little controversy in first Janesville budget session

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Marcia Nelesen
Friday, October 11, 2013

JANESVILLE-They weren't singing kumbaya, but Janesville City Council members went through their first 2014 budget study session, generating little controversy.
Most agreed the 2.48 percent increase in the tax levy was acceptable, especially because it maintains services and uses less reserves than other years.
Council President Kathy Voskuil had ruled that any council member adding expenses had to cut the same amount from the budget immediately, and that stopped the discussion and creation of lengthy wish lists from previous years that were inevitably abandoned.
A municipality can only increase its levy on a formula based on new construction. That means Janesville's net increase in operating levy is 0.56 percent, or $163,978.
The budget calls for a general fund totaling about $43 million, or an increase of 0.49 percent.
Water and wastewater rates would remain the same. Stormwater rates would decrease.
Bus fares would increase 25 cents to $1.75.
A planner would be added but the position of community development director would not be filled.
 “We're seeing a fairly significant uptick in commercial development … and residential development has started to tick up a little bit,” said acting City Manager Jay Winzenz.
The most important discussion at the next study session will likely concern accelerated street repair.
 “That's what people remember,” Councilman Douglas Marklein said. “What citizens feel every time they drive across town, it's as important as the fire department, police department … to have good roads.
If it costs $10 a year, residents might gladly chip in to get better roads, Marklein said.
The money would come from borrowing or from the wheel tax.
Winzenz set aside $932,652 in the general fund and another $950,000 in borrowing for street maintenance in 2014
Council members seemed to agree with closing the Riverside Park Wading Pool and replacing it with a splash pad to reduce operating costs.
No one argued about a suggestion to charge users of the Palmer Park Wading Pool. The suggested fee is $1 per time or $5 for a season pass.
Possibly, the only group of residents that should be put on notice after Tuesday's discussion are lap swimmers.
Councilman Matt Kealy wants to beautify the city and create public/private partnership to plant flowers on medians. He would find the money partly by cutting lap swim.
 “While I value the importance of indoor swim, based on the 75 users per annual basis, that's a $337 subsidy per swimmer,” he said.
 Other items that could be discussed Tuesday include:
—Ending spring courtesy notices warning those late in paying utilities that the payments would be rolled onto property tax bills. Savings would be $2,800 in mailing costs. The notice warns landlords their tenants are not paying their utilities, Winzenz said.
—Returning more of the hotel room tax to the visitor's bureau. Kealy suggested increasing the current 42.5 percent by five percent.
“I feel we're shooting ourselves in the foot here if we're being outspent by communities around us and not filling the hotels,” Councilman Brian Fitzgerald said.
—Night bus service, which is losing money.
—Seasonal help beginning earlier in the spring so Oakhill Cemetery could be in good shape by Mother's Day. Parks Director Tom Presny said the city would likely look at workers other than the traditional college help to accomplish that.
—More energy conservation to reduce utility bills.
Councilman DuWayne Severson was the only council member to push for a lower increase in the levy. Severson said he didn't think most Janesville residents' budgets increased more than 2 percent this year.
He also said he believed the suggested wage increases beginning at 2 percent and going as high as 5 percent also are higher than many in the private sector.
 “I don't think 2.4 percent is really an onerous tax increase for the amount of services we get in the community,” Councilman Jim Farrell said.
“I don't like paying taxes any more than anyone else does, but I want to live in a first-rate community and 2.48 percent is not a difficult one to absorb.”
Kealy said he is happy with the proposed budget because it uses less reserves.
“As a young citizen of this community … the sustainability aspect of the budget is more important to me than the modest tax increase.”
Voskuil said her priority was maintaining services, and she is pleased the budget does that with less use of reserves since 1996.
While 2.48 percent “may not be easy for everybody to swallow, I think they're getting their money's worth,” Marklein said.
Voskuil said the council could finish its study of the budget Tuesday, two sessions less than what had been scheduled.

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