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Janesville City Council to hold budget hearing Monday

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
November 12, 2011
— A $10 wheel tax.

Two fewer police officers.


Increased parking fees.


A 21 percent increase in water rates.


A tax levy increase.


The Janesville City Council is considering these and other measures to balance its 2012 budget. The first of two public budget hearings is set for Monday night.


The council so far has accepted City Manager Eric Levitt’s proposals with no major changes.


The total general fund is $41 million. That’s an increase of $335,672, or 0.81 percent.


The property tax levy increases $920,015, or 3.12 percent.


The city began with a budget hole of about $1.5 million


due to cuts in state aid and decreases in other revenue,


such as permits and interest income.


The state Legislature capped levy increases, so Levitt said it was necessary to find other revenue sources, especially because state aid continues to decrease.


Taxes up and down

City taxes will actually decrease for some homeowners, but overall, the city of Janesville is looking at increasing 2012 property taxes. These figures are for city taxes only. School, county and other taxing jurisdictions are not included.


If the council makes no changes, the owner of the average home—assessed at $120,100—would see a decrease in city taxes of $8.58.


The reason a homeowner could see a decrease while taxes go up is a shift in valuation of commercial versus residential properties, said Jay Winzenz, director of administrative services.


The recent revaluation increased the values of commercial properties by much more than residential properties, so commercial properties will take on more of the tax burden.


Overall, the city’s valuation went up about 9 percent, but residential properties went up only about 6 percent, Winzenz said.


While new state law limits city tax increases, other factors allowed the levy to rise, Winzenz said. The law allows increases for new construction, debt service and Tax Incremental Finance districts, all of which contributed to the 3.12 percent increase.


New construction increased by 1.5 percent, which was more than expected, in part because of the new Dean Clinic, the Mercy Hospital parking and clinic expansion, Farm & Fleet’s headquarters expansion, and other commercial projects, Winzenz said.


Walker’s legislation

Gov. Scott Walker and the Republicans in the Legislature changed the rules for local government finance this year.


Lawmakers ended most collective bargaining rights for public employees and said local governments could lower taxes when employees paid for half of their pension contributions.


Janesville, though, rushed to sign two-year contracts with its unions. Those contracts gave employees raises and also protected them from any collective bargaining changes until they expire at the end of 2012.


Levitt has said even if all employees paid their pensions, that would not have made up for the loss in state aid. That’s especially because the law doesn’t require police and firefighters to pay half their pension payments. The city pays $700,000 to $750,000 annually for police and fire pensions.


Union members who signed the contracts will see pay increases in 2012—1.5 percent for police and firefighters and 1.75 percent for public works employees. Non-union employees are paying their pension contributions and receiving no wage increase.


“This year, we have faced unique situations, which have created circumstances that different departments and employees are not treated necessarily the same,” Levitt wrote to council members in a recent memo.


Any wage increase for non-union personnel would be built into the base budget. Instead, Levitt proposes a one-time merit increase based on the pension contribution savings unless a council member asks that it be discussed.


That cost would be less than the savings realized from the three positions being held open in police and fire departments, Levitt said.


Overall, the budget includes $500,000 in wage increases, including step increases for union employees and unused sick leave payments for other union and non-union employees.


Other budget highlights

Other methods the city would use to balance the budget include:


-- Using $825,000 from the general fund.


-- A wheel tax for cars and lightweight pickups is proposed and would raise about $550,000. The $10 would be added to registration fees. The state would take 10 cents to administer the fee. The money would go to street maintenance, offsetting property taxes.


-- The Janesville Ice Arena would close for three months for a savings of $52,000


-- Stormwater utility fees would decrease about 50 cents each quarter on the average residential bill.


-- A new program that allows workers to reduce their salary by one week to receive an additional week off would save $25,000.


-- A small revenue increase by allowing the sale of alcohol at Dawson Ball Fields and the Janesville Senior Center.


-- Health insurance costs are projected to remain stable.


-- Mowing parks less frequently, such as every eight days.


On the agenda

The Janesville City Council meets at 7 p.m. Monday in council chambers at the Municipal Building, 18 N. Jackson St. The agenda includes:


-- Discussion of possibly filling the council seat vacated by former council President George Brunner and election of a new president.


-- A relocation order to provide for a roundabout at Milwaukee Street and Wuthering Hills Drive, to be built next year.


-- Second reading of an ordinance regulating fences for swimming pools.


-- Designating a “scenic water trail” on the Rock River and a related “scenic and historic road route.” The action would not require any expenditure.


What’s next

-- The Janesville City Council will hold a public hearing on the 2012 budget when it meets at 7 p.m. Monday in council chambers at the Municipal Building, 18 N. Jackson St. The hearing will continue at the council meeting two weeks later. Speakers are limited to three minutes.


-- The council could change the budget after either of the hearings. Budget approval is scheduled after the second public hearing Monday, Nov. 28.


-- Administration suggests a special meeting to set the tax levy at 7 a.m. either Dec. 5 or 6. Tax bills must be sent out by Dec. 15.


Gazette reporter Marcia Nelesen contributed to this story.



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