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Janesville's 2018 budget projections include surplus


Early projections for the 2018 budget include a $9,800 surplus—a big difference from the almost $1 million deficit officials expected for the 2017 budget this time last year.

Much of the difference can be attributed to new construction, such as the $56 million Dollar General warehouse. Such projects increase the tax base and give the city more property tax revenue, City Manager Mark Freitag said.

The Janesville City Council met with city staff Wednesday afternoon to review early 2018 budget figures ahead of October budget study sessions. Knowing they didn’t have an almost $1 million shortfall to address, council members directed staff to explore ways to save money so the city could hire new staff.

Janesville’s projected assessed value for 2017 is $4.6 billion. That’s an 11 percent increase from last year and the biggest increase since 1996, Freitag said.

A municipality can increase its property tax levy only by the percentage increase of net new construction. Projects such as Dollar General have contributed to Janesville’s 2018 net new construction increase of 2.73 percent.

“That’s the largest percentage the city’s seen in recent memory,” Freitag said. “What that tells us is economic development programs are working …”

Projections are early, and the numbers could shift through the budgeting process, but having a surplus—even a small one—is a position the city hasn’t been in for many years, said Max Gagin, assistant to the city manager.

“It’s a very encouraging position to be in at this time,” he said.

Administration has been told to reduce the workforce or freeze hiring to help save money, but those aren’t real solutions, Freitag said.

“We know that we operate extremely leanly compared to our peer cities,” he said.

The council agreed the city should look into saving about $63,000 by providing only emergency animal control services.

The existing animal control budget is $135,000 and allows residents or city staff members to turn in loose animals to the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin. By reducing the amount the city pays, the humane society may decide to accept fewer animals. City staff still would respond to animal control emergencies, such as rabid animals, Freitag said.

A savings of $63,000 would be enough to hire a new police officer, something administration and department heads prioritized in a personnel study. Other positions the city wants to add include a second IT helpdesk technician, a housing director, a human resources generalist and a firefighter.

When weighing animal control services against an additional police officer, choosing the officer is a “no brainer,” said council President Doug Marklein.

The council also directed administration to reexamine its cost-recovery options for recreational programs. Certain recreation department programs, such as aquatics, recover only a fraction of their costs, officials said.

With the city looking at raising fees to meet inflation and reach 100 percent cost recovery, the recreation department should try to do the same, Councilman Rich Gruber said.

“Consistency is something we need to strive for,” he said.

Councilwoman Sue Conley said increasing costs for pools and other programs could have a negative effect on impoverished residents but agreed it was worth looking into.

Marklein and Conley asked if there were any licenses, such as bicycle registrations, that could be eliminated to save cost and staff time.

City Clerk/Treasurer Dave Godek said the city last year increased bicycle licensing fees to help lower the cost to the city, but it wouldn’t be hard to convince him to eliminate the licenses.

Another idea was to shift utility expenses at the Youth Sports Complex, such as parking lot lights, to the various groups who use the complex. Doing so could save the city about $9,000, Freitag said.

State-imposed levy limits restrict the city’s revenue, and Janesville gets less state-shared revenue than it should because of an outdated formula, Freitag said. Administration pitched the idea of hiring a lobbyist to represent the city’s interest on such issues, but the council quickly shot it down.

State representatives wouldn’t take Janesville’s complaints seriously if they saw the city had enough money to hire a lobbyist, Councilman Jens Jorgensen said.

The Wisconsin League of Municipalities already acts as a lobbyist of sorts for the city. There’s more avenues Janesville can take with the league to fight for changes to state-shared revenue and levy limits, Marklein said.

Looking at the feasibility of constructing an indoor sports facility is part of Janesville’s capital improvement plan. A feasibility study would cost about $40,000, though the Janesville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau has expressed interest in helping pay for it, Freitag said.

The council said the study was worth looking into but not a priority.

The council will further review the budget in study sessions scheduled for Oct. 17, 25 and 30.

top story
4-H steer grand champion raises corn for scholarship


The area where Austin Lynd stood on a recent afternoon was once prime farmland located several miles north of Janesville’s downtown.

Then development crept up Milton Avenue and crossed Highway 14, turning agricultural soil on the city’s north side into commercial real estate for booming national chains.

But not every swath of land has been paved—not yet, anyway. Tucked between Sam’s Club and a subdivision sit 26 acres of corn that Lynd is growing to earn scholarship money.

The 18-year-old from Clinton earned the scholarship this summer from the Rock County 4-H Fair Alumni Association. It’s worth $2,500 and could jump to $4,500 if Lynd exceeds expectations, alumni association President Abe Arndt said.

In return, Lynd must manage these crops from planting to harvest.

He did not have previous crop experience. Besides a few acres of hay, the family primarily raises pigs and beef cattle on their farm, Triple L Show Pigs.

Lynd and his sister, Natalee, both excel with livestock. Lynd won grand champion steer, and Natalee won grand champion market lamb at this year’s Rock County 4-H Fair.

She also won grand champion steer at the fair in 2016. The siblings are both competing in pig, steer and showmanship events this week at the Wisconsin State Fair.

So Lynd is familiar with animals. Crops are something new.

He thought managing the fields would be difficult, but he’s gotten help from multiple farmers this summer. The farmers have been a sounding board for questions and have given him suggestions for contacting different seed and fertilizer companies, Lynd said.

While Lynd is responsible for tending the crops, much of his job involves phone calls. He calls local farmers not just for advice, but to find people who will volunteer their time and equipment to help him plant, fertilize and harvest.

“My job is I’m like a broker. I’m the person who connects the two pieces of the puzzle,” Lynd said. “I had to have DeLong’s come spray it to kill weeds off and get rid of bugs that could harm the plant. Now it’s just basically wait until fall.”

Lynd is about to begin his freshman year at Iowa State. He doesn’t necessarily need to return to Wisconsin this fall, but he must ensure the fields are prepped and ready to be harvested by local farmers, he said.

This is the first summer the fair alumni association is giving a scholarship to one person who must manage the cornfields.

Tying crop production to the scholarship funds encouraged farmers to donate inputs rather than just writing checks, Arndt said.

The scholarship is a way to connect fair alumni with kids who participate in animal shows and other events. It also helps Lynd network with agriculture businesses to potentially open doors for future jobs, Arndt said.

The organization did not do an application process. A selection committee chose Lynd.

“He’s always helping (at the fair). He’s hard-working. He has the desire to learn that a lot of kids don’t have,” Arndt said. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with him on our farm. He’s the type of guy who can work 12 hours a day and still do sports and school. That impressed me greatly.”

Lynd enjoys the challenges of farm life. Some problems can’t be fixed through an instruction manual, so he relies on trial and error to figure things out, he said.

Off the farm, his social life remains simple. He and his friends enjoy bonfires, going out to eat and riding four-wheelers.

Lynd plans to study agribusiness at Iowa State. It’s one of the top universities in the country for that field, he said.

When college is done, he isn’t sure if he’ll try to land a job in Iowa or return to southern Wisconsin. But Rock County is home, and it’s fertile ground for his future career.

“This is probably the place to be if you want to be in top-notch ag,” he said.


Mark Freitag

Tiny island in the crosshairs


After President Donald Trump threatened nuclear-armed North Korea with “fire and fury”—and after Kim Jong Un’s hermit kingdom replied with a bombastic warning aimed at a speck of U.S. territory in the vast western Pacific—many Americans got busy Googling “Guam.”

To the outside world, the tropical island is perhaps best known as a bloody battleground in World War II.

In subsequent decades, Guam, the largest island in the Mariana chain, became an outsized bastion of U.S. military might in a remote but strategic region—a role that probably placed it in the gun sights of an erratic and often paranoid leadership in Pyongyang.

And at a distance of about 2,100 miles, Guam lies closer to North Korea than any other U.S. territory.

For the island’s 160,000-plus inhabitants—who awoke Wednesday to news of the North Korean military’s announcement that it was weighing operational plans for a ballistic-missile strike on Guam—it was a jolting switch from concerns like the local scuba-diving conditions, a bird population beset by invasive tree snakes and warnings of the ills of chewing betel nuts.

Native-born Guamanians are U.S. citizens by birth, and the island’s governor, Eddie Baza Calvo, took to YouTube early Wednesday to inform constituents that he had been assured by the White House that Guam would be defended as if it were the U.S. mainland should North Korea try to strike.

“This is not the time to panic,” he told reporters. “There have been many statements out there that have been made by a very bellicose leader, but at this point there’s been no change in the security situation here on Guam.”

More reassurance came from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who arrived on a previously scheduled refueling hours after the latest North Korean threat while en route home from diplomatic stops in Southeast Asia.

Declining to echo Trump’s belligerent tone, he played down the prospect of any immediate concerns that Kim would lash out at the island and said Americans “should sleep well at night.”

It wasn’t the first time the island has been on the receiving end of Pyongyang’s threats. There was similarly ominous talk from North Korea in 2013, making specific note that Guam’s sprawling Andersen Air Force Base, among other Pacific territories, lay within target range.

Still, many residents were worried about the unpredictability of North Korea’s leader, and by the warnings of “enveloping fire” emanating from Kim’s capital.

“It’s kind of scary, because we don’t know what this guy is capable of,” Rudy Matanane, the mayor of the town of Yigo, which lies close to Andersen, told the Pacific Daily News. “I hope our mother country does what’s right for us.”

For a place only about the size of Chicago, Guam is home to a good deal of heavy firepower, with the U.S. military presence taking up nearly one-third of its territory and some 7,000 troops stationed across the island.

In addition to Andersen, whose airborne arsenal includes B-52 bombers, military venues include Naval Base Guam, operating nuclear submarines and a U.S. Coast Guard station.

The 212-square-mile island, sometimes likened by military officials to a permanent aircraft carrier, is also shielded from ballistic missiles—at least in theory—by the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, similar to the one the U.S. is in the process of deploying, controversially, in South Korea.

Not unusually for a small, contained territory with a large military presence, there are occasional tensions between Guam’s civilian population and what can seem an overweening outside power. But the big U.S. deployment, together with tourism, is the island’s economic lifeline, and Guam residents join the military in disproportionately large numbers.

Though tiny, Guam has witnessed some dramatic historical upheaval. Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, on his way around the world at the behest of the Spanish king, arrived in 1521, setting the stage for three centuries of Spanish colonial rule, the remnants of which can be seen in a scattering of landmark forts, palaces and churches.

As was the case in so many colonial outposts, contact with Western powers came at a terrible cost to the island’s indigenous people. Smallpox burned a hellish path through the native Chamorro population, punctuated by natural disasters like typhoons and earthquakes. But Chamorros remain the largest ethnic group in Guam today, and have managed to keep their native language alive, using it alongside English.

Ceded to the United States at the close of the 19th century, Guam and its people fell captive to the Japanese soon after the Pearl Harbor attack in Hawaii in 1941, enduring more than two years of nightmarish occupation. Five years after the war’s end, the island became an unincorporated U.S. territory, by act of Congress.

Guam’s residents can’t vote in U.S. presidential elections, giving rise to some tart social-media commentary about how they did not elect Trump.

The territory’s nonvoting congressional delegate, Democrat Madeleine Z. Bordallo, put out a statement urging the president to show “steady leadership” in dealing with North Korea.


local • 3A, 8A

Two killed in ultralight crash

Registered sport pilot David Plambeck, 51, Edgerton, and Max Burlingame, 16, Fort Atkinson, were killed Tuesday night when the Pegasus Quantum ultralight plane Plambeck was piloting crashed into the Rock River in the town of Jefferson, according to a news release from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. The crash happened on County K halfway between Fort Atkinson and Jefferson just south of Lou’s Riverview bar, said Chief Deputy Jeffrey Parker.

state • 2A

Votes lacking for Foxconn?

The leader of the Wisconsin Senate said Wednesday he doesn’t know if he has the votes to pass a package of incentives for a Foxconn plant in the southeastern corner of the state, raising doubts about whether legislators will be able to meet a deadline for finalizing the deal. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald expressed concerns about some specifics of the deal with the Taiwanese electronics giant, which could decide to go elsewhere for its first U.S. factory if the $3 billion package isn’t approved by Sept. 30.