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Janesville city budget calls for 2.6 percent levy increase

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Marcia Nelesen
October 2, 2013

JANESVILLE--Janesville residents will notice no changes in services and few changes to fees in the proposed 2014 city budget that calls for a 2.6 percent increase in city property taxes.

The proposed budget would increase the city's share of property taxes on a $120,000 home by about $25--from $945.74 to $970.71.

The budget would raise the tax levy to the maximum permitted by state caps, an increase of 0.56 percent or about $164,000.

The bottom line? Existing services would remain at current levels, Acting City Manager Jay Winzenz said.

Trash fees already have been raised and are set to kick in Jan. 1. Those have been increasing incrementally the last few years to eventually cover the entire cost of the service, which the yearly fee of $95.35 is expected to do in 2014.

The budget also calls for imposing a fee for admission to the Palmer Park wading pool.

The proposed 2014 budget was released to the Janesville City Council on Wednesday. Study sessions are scheduled throughout October.

Winzenz said the budget would lessen the city's reliance on one-time revenue by about $347,000 but maintain infrastructure and services, including public safety.

A windfall from the Wisconsin State Retirement System will save the city more than $550,000 in 2014.

The reduction in the retirement system disability rate for public safety employees likely is the result of the statewide claims experience, said Patty Lynch, comptroller for the city.

The reduced rate should continue beyond 2014, Winzenz said.

“The big story in this budget is just trying to deal with some of the structural issues that we've had in prior budgets,” Winzenz said.

For example, the budget would not transfer money from the city's insurance fund or vehicle operations fund, something done other years.

It also would decrease use of reserves by about 27 percent—from $926,435 to $670,000—something requested by the council. The city in 2013 figures to return all but $30,000 to the reserve fund. City reserves have increased by about 40 percent the last decade, Winzenz said.

Eliminating transfers and reducing the use of reserves totals almost $600,000, Winzenz said.

“This is a basic services budget,” Winzenz said. “I'm very pleased that we've been able to address some of the structural issues in the budget without substantially affecting service levels.”

The proposed 2014 budget includes:

-- Full-year funding to hire a deputy fire chief at $72,985. That hiring has been delayed for three years.

-- Funding for an associate planner at a cost of $37,917 and a start date of June 1.

-- Eliminating the community development director position for a savings of $42,033. The position had been budgeted for half of the year in 2013 but was never filled.

-- An increase in building permit and other permit fees of $104,300, a signal the economy is picking up.

-- $100,000 in revenue earned by fire department service charges to transport people within the Mercy Health System.

-- Using $251,435 less in reserves, or $675,000.

-- Decreasing the forestry budget by almost $65,000. The city found it had “a lot fewer ash trees than expected” after a recent tree inventory, Winzenz said. The city plans to treat all its ash trees this year. That protection is projected to last two or three years.

-- Eliminating a secretary position in the engineering department for a savings of $48,237.

-- Saving $40,000 by replacing a quarter of the street lights with LED lights. The lights should be replaced by April. Yearlong savings are estimated at about $60,000.

-- Closing the Riverside Park wading pool for a savings of about $30,000.

-- Charging a fee at the Palmer Park wading pool for revenue of about $12,500. Daily admission is proposed at $1 per child, with no charge for an accompanying adult. A season pass would cost $5.

-- Increasing the proposed TIF tax rate by 26.16 percent because of a large increase in assessed values of TIF districts as recent new hospital construction comes on the tax rolls. Taxpayers must pay the money to pay for the TIF district increments. That increase is included in the overall levy increase.

-- Increasing wages and benefits by $325,207.

Police and fire salaries have been negotiated at 2.5 percent increase, but the city set aside savings from delayed increases negotiated in 2011 to help cover future costs. A total of $182,496 will defray the increase.

General administration employees will be eligible for merit pay effective July 1. Employees below the midpoints of their salary ranges could receive up to a 5 percent increase, depending on their performances, Winzenz said.

Those above the midpoint in their salary ranges could receive up to 3 percent.

The budget includes a 2 percent raise for public works department employees, who recertified their union. The pay raise, though, has yet to be negotiated. The workers also retain automatic step increases.

Transit workers also still have a union under federal labor law. That group of employees has not yet settled its 2013 contract. The city filed for mediation, but the transit union did not respond, so the city will file for arbitration, Winzenz said.

RIVERSIDE PARK FRIENDS FEAR LOSING WADING POOL

JANESVILLE--A Friends of Riverside Park member said the Janesville group sees “the writing on the wall” for its beloved wading pool.

Sandy Hendricks said the group likely would be willing to trade the wading pool for a splash pad, something she said city officials have suggested.

In the 2014 city budget released Wednesday, Acting City Manager Jay Winzenz proposes closing the wading pool.

Hendricks said Councilman Matt Kealy had warned her the recommendation was coming.

“My personal opinion is, it breaks my heart,” Hendricks said. “But I have to remember that this is 2013, not 1942.

“I understand that there's issues,” she said.

“We kind of see the writing on the wall,” Hendricks said. “As long as we get something, it's better than nothing.”

Friends of Riverside Park formed after the Janesville City Council closed the park's wading pool in 2002. Friends members had worried the pool closure was a first step toward eventually closing the park.

The group has spent countless hours repairing pavilions and bathrooms, tennis courts and shuffleboard courts. But the pool was symbolic to the group, and members considered it a needed draw.

Although the pool reopened in 2009 after the group convinced the council to spend the needed $50,000, flooding has routinely delayed the spring opening and added to the cost of upkeep, according to the city.

In addition, the pool continues to lag in attendance when compared to its well-known counterpart in Palmer Park.

In 2013, 4,580 people used Riverside Wading Pool compared to the 20,166 who visited Palmer Park Wading Pool. Riverside opened two weeks late because of flooding.

The wading pool operating budget at Riverside in 2013 was $38,137 compared to $58,231 at Palmer.

A splash pad might help attract new people to Riverside Park, Hendricks said, noting the city could put a splash pad elsewhere, such as Bond Park, leaving Riverside Park with nothing.

Estimated costs to build a splash pad are $300,000 with an annual operating budget of $10,000 to $15,000, said Shelley Slapak, leisure services director.

That money likely would be borrowed.



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