Janesville City Council talks cops, compost

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November 10, 2009
— At Monday's public budget hearing, resident Al Lembrich preached austerity while resident Burdette Erickson urged the council to put public safety first.

Council members agreed with Erickson and added two police officers beginning Jan. 1 rather than July 1 at a cost of $57,000.

The council also reinstated late afternoon and evening hours at the city's compost site to serve residents who work during the day.

The recommendation to increase the police budget was made by council member George Brunner, who up until Monday was perhaps the most emphatic about holding the tax rate down.

The city had lost grant money for two police officers, and City Manager Eric Levitt suggested funding one officer with property taxes beginning July 1. The council then added a second officer beginning July 1 for an additional $27,000. They increased that to $54,000 with Monday's actions.

Brunner said he did a "lot of soul searching" and decided maintaining police numbers at 104 was paramount, especially because training periods are lengthy.

Council member Russ Steeber repeated a comment he made at an earlier study session and said he agreed because the council couldn't put a dollar figure on public safety.

But council member Tom McDonald said you "absolutely" could put a dollar amount on public safety. Otherwise, everyone would have their own police officer walking around with them, he said.

McDonald said he was fine with adding the police but wanted the money to go on the tax rate rather than depleting the fund balance.

Council member Frank Perrotto wanted the council to look for $54,000 in cuts elsewhere in the budget.

"We have to stop this," Perrotto said. "It's too easy to do. It's like having a line of credit we can access at any time."

Steeber said he believed the council had shown "remarkable restraint" throughout the budget process.

Before Monday, the owner of the average home assessed at $113,800 would have paid $4.53. The police salaries will cost about another $4.

During the public hearing, Lembrich, 541 Miller Ave., talked about the tough times facing Janesville. He said the city fails to maintain what it has now, such as the Tallman House, but is considering borrowing millions to build a two-sheeted ice arena and put the city in future debt.

Next year will be worst as job benefits and unemployment runs out, he warned.

Most reasonable people would cut spending and reduce debt, he said, asking, "What were you thinking?"

"Council members, wake up, " he said. "It's not business as usual anymore."

But Erickson, 1155 S. High St., said public safety is an issue that affects all residents, especially those who live in the inner city as he does.

"Once the citizens do not feel safe, they do not have faith in their government. I urge that you would continue to have public safety as a very high priority in your budget," he said.

He said police this summer had a presence in the inner city that was never seen before.

"The drug activity in the Fourth Ward is losing, and we, those who live in that neighborhood and who want to live in a safe neighborhood, are winning."

Council members also reconsidered cuts in hours at the compost site, saying they were contacted by numerous residents.

"You'd have thought we were talking sidewalks," council member Bill Truman said. "People were really concerned about this."

The council was set to shorten the hours to 3 and 3:30 p.m. during the week and 1 p.m. Saturdays to save money. Employees are paid overtime to staff the site outside regular working hours.

McDonald said it was important to stay open until at least 7 p.m. one night and 5 p.m. Saturdays.

The site now will stay open until 7 p.m. Mondays and 5 p.m. Saturdays in 2010.

The public hearing was continued until Monday, Nov. 23, when the council is expected to vote on the 2010 budget.

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