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Janesville City Council takes concerns to lawmakers

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
April 28, 2011
— The folks in Madison apparently think Janesville is rolling in dough.

City Council President George Brunner on Wednesday asked city staff to draft a letter to the people in control at the state Capitol to tell them that things aren’t so good here anymore—just in case they hadn’t heard.


When compared with 12 other peer communities, Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget cuts Janesville’s portion of state shared revenue the most of any at 23 percent.


That’s more than Eau Claire at 17 percent; much more than Green Bay at 10 percent; and way more than Beloit, which is 2.5 percent.


The average cut is 10 percent.


The council gathered Wednesday to talk finances. Members learned the city faces a $2.76 million deficit in 2012.


The council asked City Manager Eric Levitt to write a letter to the state’s Joint Committee of Finance, outlining the impact the state budget would have on Janesville.


The council also will send letters to the city’s state representatives.


Why is Janesville getting such a large cut?


The state didn’t apply an across-the-board reduction but rather reduced the pot of money available and then distributed it using the existing formula, Assistant City Manager Jay Winzenz said.


Janesville is considered to be a fairly affluent community under that formula.


Other communities in the state were hit even harder but are not those among Janesville’s peer cities. Some communities in the Milwaukee area, for instance, received a 50 percent cut, which is the largest hit a community could take, Winzenz said.


“Janesville was always one of the payers, and it was redistributed to communities with the greater need,” Brunner said after the meeting. “That formula has never changed and the Janesville economic environment has changed drastically in recent years,” he said. “We’re still being treated as that industrial community (but) we don’t have that income base anymore.”


Janesville’s total revenue reductions state include:


-- $1.14 million in state shared revenues.


-- 349,000 in state road aids.


-- $321,000 in a state recycling grant.


-- $56,000 in a transit operating subsidy.


After factoring in slight increases in permits and fess, water utility taxes and a more realistic estimate of fire department service fees, the total revenue loss is $1.51 million.


Meanwhile, expenditures will increase $1.3 million, including an additional $737,000 for wages and wage-driven fringes; $270,000 for health insurance; and $50,000 for animal control for a total of $1.3 million. That figure includes a decrease of $385,000 because some employees are expected to contribute part of their pension costs to the Wisconsin Retirement System.


The operating deficit of $2.7 million is a “significant” budget challenge,” Winzenz said. If the council decides not to apply as much of its rainy-day fund, it goes up. If it reduces the amount of money it borrows for street maintenance, it goes up.


“We’ve got about 200 city employees working on various city committees to identify ways to become more efficient and to reduce costs, and we’re putting together a whole bunch of information for you all to consider,” Winzenz told council members. “But we’ve got a big challenge.”


The state is not allowing municipalities to raise property taxes so “that squeezing on both ends makes this doubly difficult for Janesville,” Winzenz said after the meeting.


“It’s a local control issue,” he added. “The council doesn’t have the ability to control the destiny or the services in Janesville.


“Isn’t that what they were elected to do?”



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