Janesville56.6°

County debates cash use

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ANN MARIE AMES
November 7, 2008
— Should the county spend its greenbacks on green space or concrete?

That's the discussion du jour as the proposed 2009 Rock County budget lumbers toward approval.


The county board could approve the $171.6 million budget at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the boardroom in the Rock County Courthouse, 51 S. Main St., Janesville.


Despite the weak economy, the 2009 budget proposed by Administrator Craig Knutson maintains a rainbow of county services—support for mentally ill and developmentally disabled residents, sheriff's deputy patrols, jail and court services, road paving and plowing and economic support for unemployed or dislocated workers.


From that mix, the county parks system has risen to the top of this budget season's debate, thanks to a one-time, $1.8 million payment to the county from the American Transmission Co.


The county parks committee has requested that the payment be set aside for parks and conservation project. But Knutson's proposed budget would spread the money to many departments, including parks and conservation.


Finance committee member David Diestler favors setting the transmission line money aside for parks and conservation projects. Parks and open space are a kind of "construction" that anyone can enjoy, Diestler said.


"I favor giving it to parks so everybody can use it, not just putting it to the jail," Diestler said. "I look at it as a capital improvements."


But finance committee chairwoman Mary Mawhinney said that the county should make every attempt to avoid spending sales tax money on operating costs. That's what Knutson said would be necessary if all of the $1.8 million goes to parks.


If the parks department wants money for capital projects, Mawhinney said, it should apply for some of the money being saved for construction.


Some say Rock County isn't doing enough to support its parks compared to other counties. Rock County spends less per resident on operating and capital improvement projects than eight other counties with populations between 112,000 and 195,000, according to department of health services data.


Rock County provides more parks but less park acreage than other counties, according to the data.


That information was combined with a survey as the county works to update its Park, Outdoor Recreation and Open Space Plan. The plan must be in place by Jan. 1 for the county to remain qualified for federal and state funds.


According to the survey, 48 percent of respondents said they would be willing to pay more taxes to improve county parks.


A consulting group hired to help with the parks plan recommended the county acquire more park land and find financial partnerships to improve its park system.



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