Janesville City Council nixes water tower
Members voted 4-3 to stop seeking stimulus money to build a $7-million water tower on the city's northeast side.
"It's like looking into a store and seeing a tremendous sale, but (you) may not have the funds to pay for the remainder of the balance," council member Yuri Rashkin said. "Do we have any business being in the store?"
Rashkin, Tom McDonald, Kathy Voskuil and Bill Truman voted against seeking stimulus funds. Dan Lynch, utilities director, said the city's chances of getting the funding was excellent, and he estimated the amount could have been more than $2 million.
Council member Russ Steeber said it would be irresponsible not to take advantage of the stimulus money. He urged the council to direct staff to seek bids so the city could be ready to accept the funds if they became available.
Voting with Steeber were George Brunner and Frank Perrotto. The three said a tower would improve water service quality and safety.
Lynch has frequently said a water tower on the northeast side is needed to improve service for existing customers and also to assure continuing service in case of a system failure. All of Janesville's water is stored on the west side.
Lynch also said the city would eventually have to stop growing once it reached a certain elevation without another tower.
"As time goes by, it will only get more expensive," Lynch said.
McDonald said he felt comfortable pulling the plug on the project.
"This is a very tough economy," McDonald said, noting the city is already spending $32 million to upgrade the sewage treatment plant. "I have a hard time raising people's rates right now in this economy.
"This is a time of slow growth or no growth," McDonald said, adding he didn't believe the tower is necessary right now. "… We probably wouldn't be talking about this if not for the stimulus money. Just because there is a potential carrot out there doesn't mean we have to go after it."
Voskuil asked Lynch if there were some system to measure the water service, but Lynch said that is somewhat subjective.
Rashkin said the council soon will consider spending money to repair the historic Tallman House, and that is an example of the "unpleasant choices" the council will have to make. But Steeber said comparing funding for the Tallman House to a water project is like comparing apples to oranges.
Getting the bids just means the city is moving forward to keep itself in the loop, he said.
"We always have the option to review it when it comes to actually putting the money out there," Steeber said.
"In the long run, this is going to happen, whether it happens in two years or seven years. I'd rather do it as cheap as we possibly can."
City Manager Eric Levitt recommended against pursuing the funding, saying he believed the stimulus money was driving the project.
Levitt said the difference between getting the stimulus money would mean a savings of about $1 a quarter for the average household, and he didn't believe that savings was worth moving the project forward.
He also noted there already is a water rate increase planned this year from $160 to $180 for the average customer.
"This would be a second increase in less than 12 months," he said.
"Lear and LSI people will be losing their benefits … and that includes me," Truman said, noting utility rates and school and property taxes are all going up.
"That's a real concern of mine."