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Non-residents to pay Janesville emergency-response fee

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
February 24, 2010
— A proposal to charge Janesville residents $400 for firefighter emergency responses to vehicle accidents and $500 for vehicle fires is off the table for now.

But two council members warned at Monday’s meeting that the city budget will only get tighter and that similar suggestions to raise revenue would be considered.


The council limited fees to non-residents, who will pay $500 and $600 for vehicle accidents and fires, respectively.


Council members had asked fire officials to suggest ways to raise revenue other than through property taxes.


Gerry Luiting, deputy fire chief, said fees for vehicle accidents seemed the fairest way because some people served are non-residents and do not pay property taxes. Insurance companies might pick up some or all of the fees, as well, he said.


Accident victims already are charged for ambulances.


“We find this a little bit distasteful ourselves, in all honesty,” Luiting said after being questioned by council members.


“It’s just a way to try to offset the costs,” Luiting said. “We’re trying to find a creative approach and hoping it would … shield the property tax holder.”


The fees would have raised about $60,000. Charging only non-residents will generate about $18,000.


Several residents who spoke at Monday’s meeting wondered why they pay property taxes if not to pay for such core services as fire and police protection.


“I just feel it sets such a dangerous precedent,” said John Vanderheyden, 308 St. Lawrence Ave. “What’s next? Will a resident be charged if a police officer answers a call?


“If my house burns down, will I get a $20,000 fee? If you let the fee continue, where will it stop? My property taxes are supposed to cover (fire) and police.”


Council members and residents questioned how much of the fee insurance would pay and whether residents would pay twice if their insurance rates increase.


Councilman Frank Perrotto didn’t think it was fair to charge the person who is not at fault in the accident.


Luiting said it’s not the department’s specialty to discover who is at fault.


Resident Kay Deupree wondered what would happen to folks who can’t pay, especially with so many in Janesville running out of unemployment compensation.


Al Lembrich noted that the city would collect more in multiple-vehicle accidents.


Councilman Russ Steeber made the motion to charge only non-residents.


Steeber said those who pay property taxes expect that certain core functions—police, fire and street maintenance—come with it.


Said Councilman Yuri Rashkin: “It’s not a good ordinance, but it’s not going to be a pretty budget. We’re going to be talking about this again.”


Costs to provide emergency services keep rising because of labor contracts, fuel, training and equipment, Councilman Bill Truman said.


“We all know the council is committed to police and fire and safety,” Truman said. “But if we don’t collect some fees somewhere, I don’t think we’ll be looking at a zero percent tax increase next year.”


The proposal to charge non-residents passed, with George Brunner, Truman, Steeber and Tom McDonald voting “yes.” Perrotto, Rashkin and Kathy Voskuil voted “no.”


IN OTHER BUSINESS

In other business, the Janesville City Council on Monday:


-- Failed on a 4-3 vote to change the start time of council meetings from 7 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The Gazette had requested the change because it is now a morning newspaper and an earlier start would allow it to get more council news from the meeting in the newspaper. The council needed a super majority to change the time because it was thought the time is regulated by charter ordinance.


-- Agreed to spend up to $10,000 to hire a consultant to study the cost to fix the current ice arena and extend a March 1 deadline for a private group trying to raise $1.5 million to add to the city’s $2 million for a new rink. The group has raised $695,000.


The $1.5 million repair estimate was a cursory one done by the former director of public services, said Jay Winzenz, assistant city manager. The consultant also will evaluate the design and business plan of a proposed two-sheet rink.



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