Early projections for the 2018 budget include a $9,800 surplus—a big difference from the almost $1 million deficit officials expected for the 2017 budget this time last year.
Much of the difference can be attributed to new construction, such as the $56 million Dollar General warehouse. Such projects increase the tax base and give the city more property tax revenue, City Manager Mark Freitag said.
The Janesville City Council met with city staff Wednesday afternoon to review early 2018 budget figures ahead of October budget study sessions. Knowing they didn’t have an almost $1 million shortfall to address, council members directed staff to explore ways to save money so the city could hire new staff.
Janesville’s projected assessed value for 2017 is $4.6 billion. That’s an 11 percent increase from last year and the biggest increase since 1996, Freitag said.
A municipality can increase its property tax levy only by the percentage increase of net new construction. Projects such as Dollar General have contributed to Janesville’s 2018 net new construction increase of 2.73 percent.
“That’s the largest percentage the city’s seen in recent memory,” Freitag said. “What that tells us is economic development programs are working …”
Projections are early, and the numbers could shift through the budgeting process, but having a surplus—even a small one—is a position the city hasn’t been in for many years, said Max Gagin, assistant to the city manager.
“It’s a very encouraging position to be in at this time,” he said.
Administration has been told to reduce the workforce or freeze hiring to help save money, but those aren’t real solutions, Freitag said.
“We know that we operate extremely leanly compared to our peer cities,” he said.
The council agreed the city should look into saving about $63,000 by providing only emergency animal control services.
The existing animal control budget is $135,000 and allows residents or city staff members to turn in loose animals to the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin. By reducing the amount the city pays, the humane society may decide to accept fewer animals. City staff still would respond to animal control emergencies, such as rabid animals, Freitag said.
A savings of $63,000 would be enough to hire a new police officer, something administration and department heads prioritized in a personnel study. Other positions the city wants to add include a second IT helpdesk technician, a housing director, a human resources generalist and a firefighter.
When weighing animal control services against an additional police officer, choosing the officer is a “no brainer,” said council President Doug Marklein.
The council also directed administration to reexamine its cost-recovery options for recreational programs. Certain recreation department programs, such as aquatics, recover only a fraction of their costs, officials said.
With the city looking at raising fees to meet inflation and reach 100 percent cost recovery, the recreation department should try to do the same, Councilman Rich Gruber said.
“Consistency is something we need to strive for,” he said.
Councilwoman Sue Conley said increasing costs for pools and other programs could have a negative effect on impoverished residents but agreed it was worth looking into.
Marklein and Conley asked if there were any licenses, such as bicycle registrations, that could be eliminated to save cost and staff time.
City Clerk/Treasurer Dave Godek said the city last year increased bicycle licensing fees to help lower the cost to the city, but it wouldn’t be hard to convince him to eliminate the licenses.
Another idea was to shift utility expenses at the Youth Sports Complex, such as parking lot lights, to the various groups who use the complex. Doing so could save the city about $9,000, Freitag said.
State-imposed levy limits restrict the city’s revenue, and Janesville gets less state-shared revenue than it should because of an outdated formula, Freitag said. Administration pitched the idea of hiring a lobbyist to represent the city’s interest on such issues, but the council quickly shot it down.
State representatives wouldn’t take Janesville’s complaints seriously if they saw the city had enough money to hire a lobbyist, Councilman Jens Jorgensen said.
The Wisconsin League of Municipalities already acts as a lobbyist of sorts for the city. There’s more avenues Janesville can take with the league to fight for changes to state-shared revenue and levy limits, Marklein said.
Looking at the feasibility of constructing an indoor sports facility is part of Janesville’s capital improvement plan. A feasibility study would cost about $40,000, though the Janesville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau has expressed interest in helping pay for it, Freitag said.
The council said the study was worth looking into but not a priority.
The council will further review the budget in study sessions scheduled for Oct. 17, 25 and 30.