Janesville69.9°

Scorecard lets you set Janesville city budget

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
July 6, 2010
— You can be the budget person for the city of Janesville.

An innovative interactive scorecard on the city’s website allows residents to put in their two cents about how their money should be spent.


The Budget Advice Scorecard will be available online for 11 days beginning today. Staff hopes that 2,500 residents respond.


Usually, residents get a chance for input on the budget during a public hearing scheduled in November as the council is winding down the process.


The survey allows residents to weigh in before the process begins. Residents can add or reduce services and see the results on the bottom line—your tax bill.


Manager Eric Levitt said the city—like every governmental body—is entering a tough budget year.


This is another way to gauge what is important to residents and how much they want to pay for it, he said.


The survey is not a referendum. Results will not be scientific. It doesn’t mean that a $10 tax reduction on your survey means a $10 reduction on your tax bill.


“Those decisions ultimately are up to the city council,” Levitt said. “But it is also very important to receive input and feedback from the community.”


Those who take the survey are asked first to provide the assessed values of their homes.


Then, they are asked to choose from four varying levels of service provided in 12 core areas. Those include police and fire protection, recreation, street maintenance and trash pickup.


The website shows how a resident’s choices affect the city budget and his or her tax bill. The survey also asks if the resident would pay for any increase with user’s fees or via the property tax.


For example, one core service is recreation facilities.


Service level one cuts the hours at Riverside Wading Pool in half and closes the ice skating center in summer for a reduction of $79,500. Service level 3 maintains all current recreation opportunities for an increase of $22,000.


As another example, service level four in the fire department would add staff for a fifth ambulance at an increase of $355,000.


Property owners and renters are all encouraged to take the survey.


Jay Winzenz, assistant city manager, spearheaded the scorecard. He hopes residents get a clearer connection between the levels of service and the cost necessary to support it.


“Sometimes, the assumption is the service is included in the property tax bill, when it is not,” he said.


Other times, residents don’t seem to be aware that if they want more services, it’s going to cost more, and therefore property taxes or service fees will go up.


Factors driving the need for property tax increases include the rising cost of salaries and benefits for employees and a loss in revenue, such as $1 million in earnings from investments.


“In order to continue to provide that same level of service, there has to be some cost increase through additional revenue in user’s fees or additional property taxes or other revenue generators,” Winzenz said.


The city must start making difficult choices, he added.



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