Council delays 2014 sidewalk decision

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Marcia Nelesen
Tuesday, October 29, 2013

JANESVILLE--After 30 residents filled two hours of public comment at Monday's Janesville City Council meeting, council Vice President Matt Kealy delayed a vote on the 2014 sidewalk program.

Kealy noted the council had been diligent in the past to make sure all members were present for sidewalk votes, and President Kathy Voskuil was absent Monday.

The discussion will continue Monday, Nov. 11. A public hearing on the 2014 budget also is scheduled.

Three council members indicated Monday they would not support the 2014 sidewalk program, while two said they would.

Abutting property owners are assessed the cost of installing the sidewalks.

The people who attended Monday's meeting echoed the same comments heard the last 50 years. They protested the expense and possible loss of trees. They said no children lived on their streets and few cars traveled them. They don't want to shovel them. They wondered why people who don't have sidewalks don't have to pay for them since sidewalks are a public good.

The 5 miles on the 2014 program affects 274 property owners and is part of an original seven-year program. A former council with a goal of installing 63 miles of sidewalk to create a safe pedestrian system endorsed that program.

But after residents complained in 2012, a task force was formed. The task force recommended the scope of the program be reduced by more than half, and the council agreed. The remaining sidewalks received unanimous recommendation from the committee.

 “This is my third year on the council and this is the third time I've seen this room so full,” Councilman Sam Liebert said.

Liebert said he didn't support the seven-year plan but served as the council representative on the task force. Members hammered out a compromise that made sense, and he feels an obligation to support it, he said.

Councilman Jim Farrell said he would reluctantly vote for sidewalks because he respects the sidewalk task force and the compromise they came to after 22 painful meetings. He and councilman DuWayne Severson asked the council to create the committee.

“I really feel for many of you,” Farrell told those gathered Monday. “There will never be a solution that will please everybody in this community.”

Severson acknowledged he favored creating the task force, “but something doesn't seem right here.” He was concerned that some audience members said they were unaware they had to get sidewalks until two weeks ago.

“I can't support it at this time,” he said.

Councilman Douglas Marklein said he wouldn't support sidewalks out on principle.

Councilman Brian Fitzgerald called the sidewalk discussion “ridiculous … to burden taxpayers with this in the worst economy since The Great Depression and the exit of General Motors, it makes absolutely no sense.”

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