Some get a stay on sidewalks

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Frank Schultz
Tuesday, September 25, 2012

— Some property owners will be able to defer installation of sidewalks for up to 10 years under a recommendation by the Janesville City Council on Monday.

The city sidewalks committee had asked the council for help after the committee could not agree on how long of a deferment to allow for property owners on local streets.

"We need further direction because we're stuck. We need a tie-breaker to move forward," said Sam Liebert, a member of the committee and the council.

The change does not apply to properties on arterial or collector streets.

The council voted, but it appears the final decision won't be made until November. The issue goes back to the committee when it meets Oct. 2, City Manager Eric Levitt said.

The committee hopes to have a complete proposal for the council to consider at its first November meeting, Levitt said.

The committee had not been able to agree on how long the deferments should be. Terms of 10 of 15 years were suggested.

There was little discussion and no debate.

The council voted 5-2 for 10-year deferments on local streets. Voting "no" were DuWayne Severson and Deb Dongarra-Adams.

A second issue the committee had failed to agree on was the issue of streets where sidewalks had been built on some properties but not others. Some, such as committee and council member Russ Steeber, wanted property owners to fill in those gaps.

Steeber said such gaps can be problematic for pedestrians, especially in the winter. He said such blocks with partial sidewalk coverage were especially prominent on the southwest side of the city.

Steeber moved to allow a five-year deferment for gaps, but the motion failed for lack of a second.

Councilman Matt Kealy then moved to allow 10-year deferments for gap properties. That passed 5-2, with Steeber and Sam Liebert voting "no."

The deferments would be allowed if a property owner signed an agreement with the city. The sidewalk would have to be built before 10 years were up, or when the property was sold, whichever came first, Levitt said.

The committee has already agreed on criteria to rank sidewalk segments, including proximity to schools and whether streets are arterial, collector or local.

Under a proposal the committee is considering, the committee would recommend a sidewalk segment and then forward the recommendation to the council, which could order a sidewalk.

Levitt said property owners will find out later this fall whether they will be ordered to put in sidewalks.

Survey says city economy is a top worry

Janesville residents see economic development as one of the city's biggest negatives.

That's just one tidbit in a mountain of information from a survey of city residents that city leaders will be poring over in weeks to come.

The scientific survey, conducted by Cobalt Community Research, found Janesville rated a 59 out of a possible 100 in the American Customer Satisfaction Index. That compares to a 62 for the nation, 62 and the Midwest and 67 for Wisconsin, said William SaintAmour, executive director of the nonprofit research organization.

The index is not a rating of how well the city services work but rather residents' overall satisfaction with the quality of life, things such as traffic congestion and the economy.

The survey respondents ranked Janesville shopping highly and generally liked the quality of local government, especially library, police and fire services.

SaintAmour said city leaders should look for ways to use the highly respected institutions to boost its scores for those that aren't rated so highly.

The biggest downer for those surveyed was the economy.

"Frankly, it killed ya, from a score standpoint," SaintAmour said.

The survey said jobs is the city's No. 1 issue, he added.

SaintAmour showed a graph that displayed the cost and popularity of various parts of the city. The highly rated police and fire departments are also among the most costly.

In contrast, economic development, which residents found so lacking, gets a very small part of the city budget, SaintAmour said.

The consultants sent letters to about 5,000 randomly selected Janesville addresses in mid-July. By the mid-August deadline, 971 had responded.

That's a good response rate and gives the survey a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percent, SaintAmour said.

Each letter came with a unique ID number needed to complete the survey, to make sure people wouldn't try to skew the results.

The city plans on conducting a survey once every two years so it can track progress, City Manager Eric Levitt said.

SaintAmour noted that the survey only shows what people's perceptions are, not necessarily the objective truth. But perceptions are important because that's what people use to make their decisions, he said.

SaintAmour said the long-term goal should be to get more people recommend their city as a place to live, remain in the community, plan to volunteer, encourage business start-ups and support the city administration.

The city rated a 61, 70, 55, 53 and 53 in those categories, respectively.

Last updated: 4:34 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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