The city would add two police officers and three firefighters under a proposed budget that would increase property taxes on the average Janesville home by $41.27.
An increase in state-shared revenue and tax revenue from the new Dollar General warehouse helped make forming the 2018 budget a “smooth” process, officials told The Gazette.
The preliminary 2018 budget includes a $4,000 surplus. That’s a bit less than the $9,800 surplus officials expected in August, but that was before the state decided to kick Janesville some extra money.
Since 2014, the city has been fighting to get more state-shared revenue from a formula it claims is outdated and unfair. Legislators the city worked with convinced state government to grant Janesville an extra $583,000 in state-shared revenue each year for the next five years, officials have said.
Officials quickly found ways to spend the money.
Janesville’s shortage of state-shared revenue has affected its ability to hire police officers and firefighters, lower public transportation costs, and afford road improvements. Now that it will get extra state-shared revenue in 2018, those are areas where Janesville is proposing the money be spent, City Manager Mark Freitag said.
“I think it’s important as a city to essentially put our money where our mouth is … and make sure that $583,000, to the best of our ability, goes to those four areas,” Freitag said.
The amount isn’t much in the grand scheme, but “it will make a difference,” he said.
Janesville administration is proposing part of the extra money pay for two additional police officers and police employee overtime. Police Chief Dave Moore has said he needs more officers and $60,000 to help cover overtime in emergencies, Freitag said.
“… Crazy stuff happens out there, so you just can’t be as predictable as you would like to be in your staffing,” he said.
Some of the money also is proposed to go toward hiring three firefighters, which is half an ambulance crew. The Janesville Fire Department has five stations but only enough staff to run four ambulances. At least one ambulance has to cover calls from outside its area. Adding three firefighters would get the city closer to its goal of eventually adding a fifth ambulance, Freitag said.
Janesville officials also propose some of the money be used to lower Janesville Transit System bus fares from $1.75 a ride to $1.50.
“That will have a tremendous positive impact on the poorest of the poor of our community. Our seniors, those with disabilities—it’ll help them,” said Ryan McCue, deputy city manager.
Another $50,000 is set to go toward the road crack sealing budget.
The remaining $50,000 is proposed to be spent on two one-time costs Janesville employees said in a survey they want addressed: personnel policy revisions and IT system upgrades, Freitag said.
Freitag hopes Janesville in the coming years can convince the state to change its state-shared revenue formula. If not, city officials will have to make some tough choices when the extra revenue stream runs dry in 2023, Freitag said.
Next year is the first the city can tax the new Dollar General warehouse. Because the value of all property in the city, including Dollar General, increased, the tax rate would rise 4.5 percent even though the amount of taxes collected by the city would go up 7.4 percent.
When utility bills are factored in, the owner of the average Janesville home is expected to pay about $48 more next year than this year, which equals about $4 a month, McCue said.
“That’s extremely reasonable to maintain and actually get better quality services than 2017,” he said.
At the city council’s request, the proposed budget includes spending $62,500 on animal control, which is half what the city has traditionally spent. City officials, including police, believe that’s enough to keep the community safe and take care of loose animals. Brett Frazier, executive director of the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin, has called the proposed spending cut “shortsighted.”
Freitag expects the council to discuss animal control spending at an upcoming meeting.
The council will review the proposed budget at its first budget study session at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 18 N. Jackson St.