Janesville77°

Property owners' IDs to go online

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
May 25, 2010

The Janesville City Council on Monday voted to allow names of property owners to be listed on the city's online property database.


The names are public information. But the council in 2002 voted to omit them from the website, citing concerns about property owners' privacy and data accuracy.


Staff on Monday asked that the names be included on the website, saying it would save staff time. Now, residents must call the assessor's office to ask for the information.


Maxwell Gagin, administrative intern, said staff told him they get about 10 phone calls a day that take about five minutes apiece.


Residents now will be able to get that information without making the phone call and even after city offices are closed.


New software will automatically update information monthly.


The names of property owners already are available on Rock County's website.


Residents will not be able to opt out of the program.


Staff recommended residents not be allowed to conduct searches by name, and the council agreed.


"If owners' names are a searchable criteria, then the purpose of the online property search application shifts from finding information about a specific property to finding all property owned by an individual," Gagin wrote in his memo. That also increases the potential for users to maliciously misuse owners' personal information, he said.


Council member Frank Perrotto said he is curious to see why people want to find out who lives at certain properties, and wondered if they give reasons when they make their requests.


"I believe that we should do everything we can to preserve the privacy rights of owners," Perrotto said. He pointed out that residents can go to the county website to find the names.


Council member Yuri Rashkin, though, said, "The way I look at it, the easier it is for people to do business in Janesville, the better it is for Janesville."


He, too, said the information is already available.


"Wisconsin has a long, storied history of releasing public information at every opportunity," he said. Rashkin said the change would also save staff time.


All council members voted "yes" except Perrotto.


Other business

The Janesville City Council on Monday:


-- Agreed to borrow $11,113 to pay for a sign to identify the west side business area as "Westgate Corridor." The sign would be put in the median of West Court Street between North Washington Street and Five Points. The council would borrow the money for the sign if it is not earned in the TIF district.


Council members Russ Steeber, Frank Perrotto and Bill Truman praised the Westgate business group for its hard work and said the sign will be a great enhancement for the city.


Councilman George Brunner, though, said he was concerned the city might have to borrow money for the sign and that other groups might ask for money for signs, as well.


Brad Cantrell, community development director, said the city has other times used TIF money in advance of actually earning it.


The group is active and has been working with the city to promote the west side, he said.


Said Steeber: "If we don't start investing in our community we are slowly going to die. In a time when everyone talks about tough times, we as a city seem to be very reluctant to do anything it takes for the city to grow."


Councilman Tom McDonald said he doubted Janesville would die if the city doesn't put up a sign.


"We as a council need to watch what we spend," he said.


The motion passed 5-2, with McDonald and Brunner voting against borrowing the money.


-- Voted to buy and demolish property at 321 E. Court St. for $29,000. The money will come from $500,000 the council set aside to buy properties to fight blight.



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