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Job creation, retention dominates forum

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
March 9, 2012
— Eight Janesville City Council candidates answered questions Thursday at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters.

Nine candidates are running for four open seats in the April 3 election. A ninth candidate, Troy Zimdars, could not attend the forum because of a work commitment.


The forum was taped and will be played on JATV over the next several weeks.


Those who attended were Jim Farrell, Matthew Kealy, Billy McCoy, Andy Murray, DuWayne Severson, Angela Smillie, Michael Southers and Kathy Voskuil, incumbent.


Below is a sampling of the questions answered by the candidates:


Would you privatize city services to cut costs?
Farrell: Farrell does not favor privatization because he is concerned the quality of services would decrease if they were contracted out. He noted successes in other cities but said that is because those cities had inefficient or costly services or a lack of skilled people. That is not so in Janesville, he said.
Kealy: Kealy said some things can and should be outsourced, such as the management of the city's two golf courses. If the city can't provide an efficient service at a reasonable cost, it is the council's responsibility to look elsewhere and advocate for the taxpayer, he said. Kealy said he hopes the city is as efficient as the private sector, which would be his ultimate goal. But the council couldn't ignore savings found through privatization, he said.
McCoy: McCoy said he could support privatization and spoke at length about his two sons, who are volunteer firefighters.
Murray: Murray said he is against privatization. "The best way to find efficiencies is to talk to the 'boots on the streets,'" he said. "Our city employees know the best way." Murray said he wasn't an outsourcing type of guy.
Severson: Severson said the council couldn't ignore ways to reduce expenses, but the council should spend most of its time creating jobs and eliminating barriers to job creation. That would generate more revenue so privatization would not be an issue, he said.
Smillie: Smillie does not support privatization, saying it is "purely profit driven." Studies show the quality of the services provided by the contracted agencies is not guaranteed, she said. She believes savings are usually very limited, and taxpayers don't know how private companies spend their dollars. Smillie said though she works in the public sector, she has had experience with private contractors. She said it is harder to address problems with private contractors.
Southers: Southers noted that he is a Rock County employee and said the council must consider the job the city staff does. Residents' quality of life would be threatened by private companies that go bankrupt or by contracted services that do not offer quality services, he said.
Voskuil: Voskuil said the council should look to the private sector if it needs a skill set or specialty that is not available among city staff. Otherwise, if the skill set is in-house, it is important to treat workers fairly and keep those jobs in the public sector.
The council recently gave significant financial incentives to persuade SHINE Medical Technologies to locate here. Do you support such incentives?
Farrell: Farrell said he had significant reservations about the SHINE deal and continues to believe there are significant risks. He said he has been in business for many years and he was frustrated because he did not have access to the company's financial data. He said he also has a problem with guaranteeing $4 million in private loans for the company.
Kealy: Kealy said he supports financial incentives to bring businesses to Janesville. "The ugly truth is that Janesville is not the only city looking for jobs," he said. The incentives make the city competitive, he said. Kealy assumes the council and staff negotiated the best possible deal with SHINE. He said he also wishes the public better understood tax increment financing, which he said is a great tool to add to the tax base.
McCoy: The deal with SHINE was 95 percent done behind closed doors, he said, and the public had about a week to learn the specifics. "We have the right to know what is going on in our community," he said. McCoy said he would love to give TIF funds to homeowners who have lost their homes.
Murray: Murray said he supports financial incentives. People are unemployed and losing their homes. "We need to find ways to attract business," he said. Janesville is a great community, and the city should be marketing its great parks, teachers and public safety, he said.
Severson: Janesville needs jobs, and other communities use financial incentives to attract them, he said. The city must continue to identify appropriate milestones on which to hook the incentives and parameters to ensure the city gets very strong returns on its investments, he said.
Smillie: Smillie agreed financial incentives should be available. "When done appropriately, with limited risk and caution involved, financial incentives can work," she said.
Southers: Southers, who has a bachelor's degree in business management, said he wants to guarantee that the city has a business plan to calculate the return on its investments. He would personally look at ways to devise a system to determine that return, he said.
Voskuil: Voskuil voted in favor of the SHINE package. "I will continue to support incentives," she said. Incentives include other things besides money, such as shovel-ready sites. "We do need to create jobs in Janesville," she said. Each incentive package must be looked at individually to weigh the cost benefits and minimize the risks to the taxpayer. "It's a very competitive world we live in," she said. All the incentives must be connected to job creation.

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