Janesville50°

Council OKs staff priorities

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
March 17, 2009
— It doesn't seem like tax money if it's coming from the federal government.

Five council members said Monday they'd approve spending $672,000 to build the controversial bike tunnel under East Milwaukee Street if no local property tax money was involved.


The council met Monday to OK the priorities staff had given projects for which the city will request federal stimulus dollars. A first deadline is next week. Staff is readying projects that can meet the various deadlines.


Council members George Brunner and Amy Loasching were absent.


Three projects got the most discussion: the tunnel, two new police officers and a new water tower on the east side.


In June, the council voted 4-3 to approve a $672,000 pedestrian tunnel under East Milwaukee Street between Wright Road and Shannon Court.


The city has a $235,000 state grant to offset part of the cost, and the council was scheduled to approve the remaining money in this year's note issue.


But public anger at spending the money mounted over the months. Two council members who voted for the tunnelóRuss Steeber and George Brunneróboth hinted when they announced plans to run for re-election that they would reconsider that vote.


Council member Yuri Rashkin on Monday made a motion to remove the tunnel from the stimulus list.


But City Manger Eric Levitt said that even through the bike tunnel is controversial, it meets the stimulus criteria of being "shovel ready." In fact, the bike tunnel is the only "shovel ready" project the city can put forward for the first stimulus-funding deadline, Levitt said. If the city doesn't apply for bike tunnel funding, then it would miss out on the federal money.


"Why wouldn't we leave it there if it's not going to affect the property taxes?" Steeber asked. "It's probably the only way to accomplish it without putting it on the tax rolls."


The council would still have to approve the bids for the project. The federal government could require a 50/50 match, but Levitt said his sense from the discussion was that the council would spend little or no local money on the tunnel.


Police officers

County member Tom McDonald said he is wary of applying for money to hire two police officers. The city is operating two officers short of its authorized total of 104.


McDonald said he'd rather see the money spent on such one-time expenses as improving energy efficiency to save money rather than "stick it to the taxpayers three years from now when the stimulus money runs out."


But Steeber said the positions could be removed after three years by attrition if another council so chooses. A goal of the stimulus package is to create jobs, he said.


Water tower

McDonald also said a new, $1 million water tower on the east side is not a priority for him because he does not see Janesville expanding anytime soon to the rich farmland in that direction. He said he'd rather spend the money replacing water mains and installing more efficient pumps.


"If farmers in the county get their act together and block Janesville from expanding, would we need a water tower out there?" McDonald asked.


Dan Lynch of the water department said everything north of Interstate 90/39 experiences low water pressure even when a small water main breaks. A tower is needed regardless of city growth, he said.


The city already has borrowed money to buy land for the tower.


Street projects

Transportation projects were given high priority, and the city moved up projects planned several years out. The street choices were dictated by the need for repair but also for how quickly staff could convert repairs to state design requirements.


Resurfacing the following streets were given the highest priority: North Oakhill Avenue from Court Street to Highland Avenue; East Milwaukee Street from North Ringold to Sumac Drive: Kellogg Avenue; and parts of Mount Zion Avenue and Black Bridge Road. Cost is about $1.4 million.


The city also will seek about $5.8 million in infrastructure improvements to service the planned St Mary's Janesville Hospital. Those would include improvements at Midland Road and Highway 11, the I-90/39 off ramp and Highway 11 and Wright Road. If the money is not received, the surrounding businesses likely would be assessed for the costs, said Jay Winzenz, director of administrative services.



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