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Janesville trash fee to stay the same

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
November 4, 2011
— The Janesville City Council on Thursday opted to give residents a break and not increase any more fees in 2012 than had originally been proposed.

The council Thursday wrapped up its 2012 budget study session, leaving City Manager Eric Levitt's proposed budget virtually intact.


Because the state has capped levy increases, Levitt proposed other ways to find revenue. One major change is a $10 wheel tax fee to raise $550,000 to maintain roads.


That fee, along with a 21 percent water-rate increase, has weighed heavily on some council members' minds.


A $40 annual garbage collection fee was levied for the first time last year. That pays for about half the actual cost of city garbage collection.


Levitt did not propose an increase in garbage fees. Several council members became alarmed, however, when they noted the sanitation budget reserve fund has declined from millions to less than $300,000.


On Thursday, the council majority opted to increase the commercial usage fee and the amount of trash accepted at the landfill rather than raise garbage collection fees.


Councilman George Brunner said the landfill for many years has paid for residents' garbage collection while residents thought they paid for it with their property taxes.


But the landfill is a finite resource, and the city spends millions operating it, several council members said. Recent councils voted to decrease the amount of trash accepted so Janesville would stop being the area's dumping ground.


"It bothers me to even consider increasing the tonnage out there," Brunner said. Still, he supported a motion to maintain the current amount, adding he just wants to get through next year's budget.


The outlook could improve if the city saves more money than it has estimated when it automates garbage pickup next October, he said.


Councilman Russ Steeber, too, said residents couldn't handle another fee increase.


"If we increase any more, how much pressure can they take in other areas?" Steeber asked.


"Hopefully, when the economy comes back, things will change."


Councilwoman Kathy Voskuil said the discussion is an environmental one. She said she understands the concerns about the economy. But the city charges are comparatively low for services in relation to peer cities, she said.


Residents must understand the position the city is in because next year's budget will not be any easier, she added.


Voskuil urged residents to conserve and recycle to preserve the landfill.


"Most of us realize the landfill used to be a cash cow," Councilman Tom McDonald said. But recent councils have understood taking in everybody else's trash is not a good decision for future generations, he said.


The bigger picture is, the quicker the landfill fills up, the quicker Janesville must pay tens of millions of dollars in expenses to close it and start a new one, he said.


Moving away from decreasing volume is a mistake, he said.


"I think many years ago, councils took an easy way out," McDonald said. Their thought was, "'We're going to bring in all this trash (and) make money on the landfill. The thing is not going to fill up for 20 to 30 years, and we'll let someone else deal with it,'" he said.


The vote to keep the $40 fee the same was 5 to 2, with Voskuil and McDonald voting "no."


The vote to maintain current garbage tonnage rather than decrease tonnage as originally planned was 6 to 1, with McDonald voting "no."


STORYLINE
Background: Janesville City Manager Eric Levitt presented a 2012 budget to the Janesville City Council. The budget calls for a 0.46 percent increase in the total budget and a 3.12 percent increase in the tax levy. The tax rate would be $7.88 next year per $1,000 assessed valuation, down from $8.37 this year.
What's new: The council wrapped up its study sessions Thursday and made few changes to the budget proposed by Levitt. Increases in revenue will come mostly from fees because of a state cap on the tax levy. Proposed fees include a new $10 wheel tax per vehicle, a 21 percent water rate increase and an increase in the admission price to Rockport Pool.

The budget includes a tax rate increase of about 2.43 percent. The owner of an average home valued at $120,100 would pay $946 in city property taxes, down from $955. The city just revalued, and residents whose properties increased more than the 6 percent average will see their taxes increase. Commercial properties increased more than residential properties, and that also shifts the balance of payments.


What's next: Members of the public will get a chance to address the budget at two public hearings. The first is scheduled at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14, in City Hall. The second is 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 28, in City Hall, after which the board is scheduled to vote on the budget.

The council sets the tax rate in early December, typically at a special morning meeting.



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