Spring 2014 Election

Janesville City Council to get at least one new member

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Marcia Nelesen
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

JANESVILLE—At least one newcomer will be seated on the Janesville City Council after the April election, which features four candidates seeking three, two-year terms.

Incumbents Jim Farrell and Matt Kealy are seeking second terms, while incumbent Kathy Voskuil chose not to seek re-election.

Challengers Mark Bobzien and George Brunner also are seeking election. Brunner has previously served on the council.

The candidates answered the following questions:

Q: Why are you running? Please mention any specific issues if you have any particular concerns.

Bobzien: “I want to continue serving the citizens of Janesville. I do not have any specific concerns, but it is imperative the city maintain its infrastructure. We have an obligation to those who come after us to leave our city a better place.”

Brunner: “I have the desire and the energy to serve the citizens of Janesville. I believe that I provide an in-depth understanding of how municipal government works, and I understand the role of the city council in setting policy for how the city operates.

“The city council must continue to focus on economic development; working to attract new business and industry, assisting existing businesses and industry to grow, and assist in the start-up of new businesses. Focus must also remain on continuing essential services and in maintaining the infrastructure, which includes street maintenance and reconstruction.”

Farrell: “Janesville faces many important issues such as economic development and the creation of good jobs, maintaining and repairing our infrastructure, maintaining core services at the consistent high level that we're used to and drawing more people to live, work, play and shop in the city.

“We need to work together to advertise our strengths, revitalize what we have and find new ways to approach old problems. I have experience in manufacturing industrial accounting. I know what it takes to balance budgets and make sure financial data can be used to manage costs. We can't afford to wait to move forward and improve our city. We need to be proactive in all areas of our city now, not down the road sometime in the future.”

Kealy: “I have decided to seek re-election to continue to help move Janesville into the future. I have been honored to have the opportunity to serve the citizens of Janesville for two years.

“I have the goal to make Janesville a better place to live, work and play. Janesville is my home and somewhere I wish to raise a family and continue to run a business. While on the council, I have and will continue to stand for budget responsibility. We must continue to reduce dependency on our (reserve funds) for general fund purposes. I will support using (reserve) capital and infrastructure projects.”

Q: The city is creating a detailed plan to rejuvenate the downtown. Some ideas could mean significant expenditures on the city's part, such as forming partnerships with private companies to develop blocks or buildings or even by creating attractions, such as previously mentioned whitewater rapids on the Rock River.

Do you support efforts being directed to downtown revitalization? If so, do you have any of your own ideas for the downtown? How willing would you be to borrow money—and how much money—to jump-start the rejuvenation?

Bobzien: “Downtown is the heart of Janesville and has much to offer its citizens, from the Hedberg Public Library and senior center to the farmers market, restaurants and specialty shops. In the past, the city has made serious investments and, I feel, should continue to invest in its future. I wholeheartedly support the Rock Renaissance Redevelopment and Implementation Strategy currently being put forth because it is the city's responsibility to take the lead in making the city center attractive for citizens and attractive for business.

“At a recent public forum, I heard many innovative ideas. Until there are any concrete proposals, it would be premature to say how much money I would be prepared to put toward these efforts. But it is safe to say the city will need to invest seriously to make revitalization happen.”

Brunner: “To be successful, there will need to be a significant investment from private investors. The city's role should be to support and subsidize those projects in which the city has a direct interest.

“Attractions may play a significant role in bringing people to the downtown … the idea of creating more affordable housing in the downtown area to increase pedestrian traffic will play a major role in any successful rejuvenation effort.

“Projects to attract professional and office-type employment or perhaps a satellite college or university in the downtown could also play a significant role to increase the pedestrian traffic, hopefully resulting in support of downtown businesses and restaurants.

“Until specific projects are identified and action plans developed, it is difficult to determine the level of the city's financial contribution to the downtown.”

Farrell: “I support the current Rock Renaissance Redevelopment and Implementation Strategy, and I applaud the efforts of city staff to get interested business owners (and) citizens … involved.

“Because this area includes brownfield sites that we need to deal with, we will not only be repurposing property but also cleaning up hazardous areas that are harmful to residents, businesses and our natural resources. The plan will also need to include parking reconfiguration, recreation development via the river or green space, entertainment options such as Irish Fest or the planned Holiday Fest, small business development and retention and simple ways to get people to and from this area, such as adequate signage.

“Some people have suggested condo developments, increased lighting and outdoor festivals. Traffic flow will need to be modified and rerouted to encourage a more user-friendly atmosphere.

Kealy: “As a member of the Downtown Revitalization Committee, it has been a pleasure to work with and hear from so many people regarding the history and future of our downtown.

“If re-elected, I will support private efforts to create a destination in Janesville's downtown. I will be willing to borrow to help fund efforts in this area and provide public/private partnerships—how much is still to be determined. We will have to take a look at the current plans and implementation strategy to see how they fit.

“This will take both efforts from the city and private parties. We will need to get new investors in this area, along with support from current stakeholders. Janesville's downtown has great potential to provide housing, recreation, work and entertainment.”

Q: Council members have agreed to spend $6 million over three years on city streets to slow their deterioration, but members haven't voted where they would get the money. Sources include borrowing or increasing the wheel tax. Current council members said they would not get additional money from property taxes because it would mean equal cuts in services.

Do you agree Janesville streets are in dire need of repair and, if you do, where would you get the money?

Bobzien: “With the current city council committed to $6 million for street maintenance, I think the best route is to look at the repairs as a capital improvement and borrow the full amount. The city's debt service is certainly not excessive, and with interest rates low, it is the best option.”

Brunner: “Funding is an issue since the city has borrowed funds for street maintenance for several years. The income from the wheel tax for 2014 is projected to be $535,000, which means that additional funding will have to come from borrowing or other sources. I would find it difficult to support increasing the wheel tax when considering the amount of funding necessary. I am concerned about increasing borrowing as that has an impact with increased cost over the term of the loan.

“Although interest rates have been favorable over the past several years, the cost of borrowing over the period of the loan must be considered. The council, when considering borrowing, must find a balance between borrowing for street maintenance and other projects and balancing the budget.”

Farrell: “Due to tight budgets, we have not been doing anywhere near what we needed to do to maintain the streets. However, the public needs to understand that with state cutbacks, we no longer receive the same amount of shared revenue that we have in the past. Not as much of our tax dollars come back to the city as once had.

“Street repair and construction are expensive. There is no magic solution to this problem. The next city council will have to find ways to finance road repair and maintenance using a combination of methods (that) most likely will have to include some borrowing. I am confident that City Manager Mark Frietag and Public Works Director Carl Weber and staff will suggest several recommendations to the council for its consideration.”

Kealy: “I support the idea of increasing the number of miles we repair. This plan will be much more then a three-year plan. Streets have a 25-year life, and three years is just the start.

“We will need to figure the proper balance of funding. The current budget doesn't have the available funds without reductions to essential services. With (state-imposed levy limits) that force the council to borrow … I would like to see a blend of (using reserves) and borrowing. While I am not a big supporter of the wheel tax, I will only support it if the plan specifically uses that tax for street maintenance.

“Residents repeatedly tell me streets need more repairs; this comes at a cost, I will listen to citizens on their suggestions, as always.”

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