Janesville residents ask city to give them a break
Two visually handicapped residents thanked the council for retaining the bus system—one even suggested expanding it—and for continuing the sidewalk program.
A second public hearing is scheduled at 7 pm. today in City Hall, 18 N. Jackson St., after which the council is expected to act on the budget.
Rick Leyes, 2317 N. County E, told council members he is concerned about a proposed 21 percent water rate increase, the third in four years.
Debt that the city incurred when it built a new west side water tower to serve a new subdivision is one reason for the increase, he noted. Growth there has yet to materialize, Leyes said.
More water costs should be shifted to developers who need the water for their developments, Leyes said. The city should instead focus on maintaining the current system.
“We cannot continue to invest in expensive infrastructure with the false hope of recovering the money,” Leyes said. “Taxpayers pay the price for these bad decisions.”
He complimented the city for decreasing stormwater utility rates, but he also noted that the fee has gone up every year since 2004.
“In the big picture, the city should live within its means,” Leyes said.
Instead of raising fees and creating new ones, “it is time to make budget cuts like everyone else in the community is doing.”
One woman said she is a single, disabled mother of two. She said she has trouble paying her bills, but she wasn’t complaining.
“I’d like to let you guys know, I live within my budget. If we can do it, I know you can,” she said. “Figure out what we can do with what we have.”
Dawn Renee Penn, 1353 S. Pearl St., urged the council to “really look at what you’re doing and how you’re increasing certain things … roundabouts, bike trails, skateparks.”
“They’re nice things, but are they bringing in more money?” she asked.
Look at what could be cut, “not what more do we need,” she said. “You’re going to have more empty houses if you just keep adding taxes.”
K. Andreah Briarmoon said she had concerns about the entire budget process and asked the council to start over, calling for a citizens budget committee.
John Gorski, 402 E. Centerway, spoke at two different meetings, and the comments that follow are combined from both nights.
“Where does it all end?” Gorski asked, citing rising taxes and/or fees levied by all governments and rising food, gas, energy and water costs.
Do we really need an $800,000 (business) incubator to be built on questionable soil quality when the city is filled with empty buildings? he asked. “Is a roundabout on Wuthering Hills really, really necessary?”
Now the council wants to levy a wheel tax and build a skatepark, he said.
“GM is not here. They’re long gone and not coming back,” he said.
Employers are paying higher unemployment taxes, and they are not hiring. People are leaving Janesville to find work elsewhere.
Homes are in foreclosure, and Gorski said he owes more on his house than it is worth.
“There is just so much blood you can get from a turnip,” he said.
“We the people are not open checkbooks. If we have to do without, so can public employees.”
Gorski said he has not had a raise in six years, and he is tired of paying salary increases and generous benefits for union employees.
Jennifer Wenzel, 2502 Elizabeth St., and Dave Hyde, 1315 Mineral Point, thanked the council for maintaining the transit system and keeping fares stable.
The system is a “vital part of the community,” Wenzel said. “As Janesville grows and the economy gets worse, public transit is going to be very important.”
She commended the council for continuing its seven-year sidewalk program, a vote that generated some controversy this year.
Yuri Rashkin was the only council member to comment after the residents spoke Nov. 14.
Rashkin noted that the utility director is retiring and suggested leaving that position vacant. He suggested lowering a $100,000 subsidy to the golf courses and said he still has reservations about the wheel tax, which would bring in $550,000 in revenues.
Levitt in a memo said the utility director oversees a $26 million operation, and he would be concerned with eliminating the position.
Levitt said in a recent memo the city could cut about $15,000 from the golf course budget without a major impact on services. The council could increase fees at Blackhawk by 50 cents for another $4,000 in revenues.
If the wheel tax is voted down, Levitt suggested the council transfer $275,000 from reserves and find another $275,000 in budget cuts.
Janesville 2012 budget highlights
The proposed 2012 city budget, including the library budget, includes a 0.46 percent increase in expenditures and a 3.12 percent increase in the tax levy. The tax levy increase makes up for a loss of revenue in such areas as state aid, interest from investments and permit fees.
The council is considering a $10 fee on every car and lightweight pickup licensed in Janesville to cover the decreases. The $10 would be used for street maintenance. Last year, the council levied a $40 garbage pickup fee. Some council members have warned that the fee could increase another $40 in 2013.
Water rates are proposed to increase 21 percent.
The council would use $825,000 in reserves to help balance the budget. It would also leave several city positions open, including two police officers, deputy fire chief and community development director.
Under the current proposed budget, a Janesville homeowner with a home assessed at $120,100 would pay $950.59 for city and library services. That’s a decrease of $5.32, or 0.6 percent.
Total property taxes for that average homeowner when all taxing jurisdictions are included are projected to decrease about $2.92, or .1 percent. That is figured without knowing what credits are coming from the state, such as the lottery tax credit. That hypothetical homeowner would pay about $3,001 in 2012.
Taxing jurisdictions include the Janesville School District, Blackhawk Technical College and Rock County.
Total tax rates would decrease from $26.35 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $24.99.
Tax rates decreased primarily because of an increase in assessed values resulting from the citywide revaluation. The city’s assessment increased from $3.523 billion to $3.848 billion—$325 million, or 9 percent.
Residential assessments increased 5.5 percent. Commercial properties increased 20 percent. Personal property assessments increased 7 percent. Manufacturing assessments increased 9 percent. Agricultural assessments increased 2 percent.
Tax increases are generally paid by the entities whose assessments increase more than the average.