The city could begin charging property owners for street repair through a transportation utility as soon as 2022 if the city council and community support it.
The council Wednesday heard a presentation from Jon Cameron of Ehlers Public Finance Advisors, one of the companies involved in creating a transportation utility feasibility analysis for the city.
The council did not make any decisions. City Manager Mark Freitag said the council could revisit the idea in 2021, take a deep dive into it and potentially implement the utility in 2022.
A transportation utility would be used to help fund transportation costs—largely street repair and maintenance—similar to how water, sewer and stormwater utilities fund maintenance for those services, Cameron said.
It would do so by charging property owners usage fees based on the number of trips taken by car at each class of property per day.
For example, residential properties account for 237,539 car trips in the city per day, or 31.7% of trips. That is the second-largest percentage after retail properties, which draw 260,264 trips for 34.7%.
A vehicle makes a trip every time it enters or leaves a driveway, and that is the industry standard in determining transportation utilities, Cameron said.
Usage fees differ from taxes in several ways, one being that usage fees aim for a fair and equitable system by charging more to those who use something the most, Cameron said.
In the city’s case, much of the transportation burden would be shifted to retailers that account for the largest percentage of trips in the city, Cameron said.
Council member Doug Marklein said he worries about shifting the burden to retailers because of the blows the economy has taken from the pandemic.
Council member Paul Benson disagreed, saying he thought it was fair considering many big-box retailers cause the most trips and have fared well in the pandemic.
Benson also noted large retailers have, through the state’s dark-store loophole, shifted the tax burden to residential taxpayers for years by challenging their property assessments.
Transportation utilities are relatively new to Wisconsin but are used in other states, mostly in the West, Cameron said.
The town of Buchanan and city of Neenah are the only two communities in Wisconsin to have transportation utilities. The state currently does not have a defined structure for such a utility, but legal experts believe municipalities have the power to create them, Cameron said.
City officials are interested in a transportation utility because the city has grown increasingly dependent on borrowing to cover transportation costs, said Max Gagin, city finance director.
As costs for street maintenance increase, revenue remains largely unchanged because of state-imposed levy caps, limits to state aid and the wheel tax, which is fairly constant, Gagin said.
That forces the city to cover remaining costs by borrowing. Projections show the city likely will fund 70% of its transportation program through borrowing, Cameron said.
Ehlers has presented seven possible scenarios for implementing the utility, including some scenarios with no borrowing, some with a percentage of borrowing, some with no wheel tax and some including a wheel tax.
The city council would have to decide what kind of scenario would be best through study sessions and community engagement forums.
Marklein said he does not think the community would support having a wheel tax and a transportation utility.
Benson said he is excited about the possibility because it could save the community millions in property taxes paid on interest from borrowing for roads.
The city of Janesville will allow trick-or-treating on Halloween this year but recommended families take precautions.
The city also warned against Halloween parties and haunted houses.
Janesville on Wednesday announced trick-or-treating hours of 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31, joining several other area communities—except for the city and town of Beloit—who are keeping the annual tradition.
The decision comes as Rock County reported record high numbers of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
As of Monday, Janesville had recorded 1,064 COVID-19 cases, which was 117 more than the week before.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that traditional trick-or-treating is a high-risk activity. The risk, of course, is getting sick with COVID-19.
In Rock County, 7% of COVID-19 cases have been in children younger than 15.
City spokeswoman Maggie Darr said officials have discussed the problem for weeks.
“We recognized that there’s not a lot for kids to look forward to this year, and we recognized people are going to trick-or-treat anyway, and we’re seeing a lot of that conversation happening down in Beloit and other communities,” Darr said.
The town and city of Beloit said last week they would not set trick-or-treating hours.
“Our thought was, you cancel trick-or-treating, and then people are more likely to have indoor Halloween parties. And really, we think trick-or-treating can be done safely if people take precautions,” Darr said.
The city’s news release says those not participating should keep their porch lights off, while those who do participate should follow city recommendations listed below.
The city recommends those passing out candy should:
The city encourages residents to avoid crowded costume parties held indoors, going to indoor haunted houses “where people may be crowded together and screaming,” or going on hayrides or tractor rides with people not in your household.
Asked if the CDC was wrong about trick-or-treating, Darr said, “We know that people are going to be out in the community trick-or-treating anyway. So our thought is getting out in front of it and saying please do this as opposed to a free-for-all is going to make it safer for everybody.”
The city of Edgerton announced last week its trick-or-treating hours would be 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 31.
“It is not an activity that is sponsored by any one organization, and the city does not have the ability to grant or deny a permit for the activity,” the Edgerton Police Department said on its Facebook page.
“It is up to each citizen to decide whether or not to participate in Halloween activities amid COVID-19 based on their assessment of the situation,” police said. “… The city of Edgerton wants everyone to be safe and enjoy whatever type of Halloween celebration individuals chose to have in 2020.”
Whether they’re saving for college, earning spending money or helping to pay their families’ bills, many high school students begin their working lives in the communities in which they’re raised.
Magnus Jenson, a 2020 Craig High School graduate, logged time at Walmart and Sentry in his early high school years.
But as Jenson began to think during his senior year about life after high school, he decided to take advantage of the Janesville School District’s apprenticeship program and started working as an apprentice at Scot Forge, a metal forging company in Clinton.
That decision led him to a career he is pursuing full time.
“It was great to finally work on something that I hadn’t worked on before,” Jenson said. “I had only been able to do more of the Sentry grocery store jobs, so it (the apprenticeship) was a great, real-world experience with having to get up early and working a real job.”
Each day, Jenson went to work at 6 a.m. and reported to Craig in the afternoon.
When the coronavirus pandemic shuttered businesses and schools in spring, Jenson’s apprenticeship ended, too. He returned to school full time, albeit online.
At the same time, he began looking for jobs, knowing he wanted to keep working in metal manufacturing.
About a month later, a familiar company came calling. Scot Forge offered him a full-time job as a materials handler after seeing his work as an apprentice.
“I took it right on the spot,” Jenson said. “I told them I’d be there for an interview within the next couple days. I went, took my interview and got the job right away and went to work two weeks later, right after I graduated.”
Jenson recently started a new job at Scot Forge as a saw shop operator.
The company did not respond to a Gazette email seeking comment on the apprenticeship program.
His story is one that Patty Hernandez, the district’s college and career readiness coordinator and principal of TAGOS Leadership Academy, hopes becomes more common.
“We need more employers to step up,” she said. “We need them to see it as career development, that we are really helping students develop into young men and women who want to serve their community and really get rooted here in Janesville.”
The youth apprenticeship program began in 1999 and is funded through a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. Apprenticeships are available to high school juniors and seniors who want more hands-on experience in various career fields.
The apprenticeships are paid jobs, typically ranging from $10 to $12 an hour. Some students have earned as much as $15 an hour.
Each youth apprentice needs 450 hours on the job over the course of a typical year, but that requirement was reduced to 338 hours for the last school year because of COVID-19. Students have from June 1 to Aug. 31 of the next year to complete their hourly requirements.
Students also must take school courses related to their jobs. Some, including Jenson, work mornings and attend school in the afternoons, while others leave school early to work in the afternoons.
Students can work up to four hours of the school day in agriculture, marketing, arts and technology, health and science, hospitality and tourism, information technology, manufacturing and other areas. The kinds of career fields depend on which businesses agree to take on apprentices.
To successfully complete the program, apprentices must fill out skills checklists and demonstrate the ability to perform different tasks on the job. A second year is available to seniors who joined the program as juniors.
“Our whole goal is to help them to graduate and to have a tool belt of tools to utilize so when they do graduate, they’re either ready for college or a career,” Hernandez said.
Business teachers Deb O’Leary and Katie Engh run the apprenticeship program at Craig. They said Jenson is the first student to move from an apprenticeship to a full-time job.
Engh said the program provides valuable work experience, especially for students who want to work in the trades instead of attending a four-year college or university.
Some trades jobs require workers to be at least 18 years old. Many employers are interested in apprentices but can’t always take students if they’re not 18.
“The opportunity to learn while they earn. ... It’s just such a neat opportunity, and we’re hoping to get this information out to more families so that they’re aware, because there’s just two of us trying to share this information with a large number of students, and we’re just excited that they’re getting more excited about it,” Engh said.
After seeing Jenson receive a job offer, both Engh and Jenson agreed that students should be motivated to give the program a chance.
“Take an opportunity and take advantage of it because it can really change the way you view your career choice,” Jenson said. “Even if you don’t stick with the company you have the apprenticeship with, they don’t mind. They’re glad that they were able to give you some skills to become a better worker and a better person.
“It’s the best choice I’ve ever made.”
Wisconsin set a new record for COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday and the surge in cases in the state threatened to overwhelm some hospitals.
Health officials reported 27 new deaths, breaking the state’s old record of 22 deaths set on May 27. The disease has killed or played a role in the death of 1,327 people in the state since the pandemic began.
Health officials reported 2,319 newly confirmed cases, bringing the total number of cases in Wisconsin to 122,274 since the pandemic began.
Wisconsin had the third-highest positivity rate of any state as of Wednesday. Hospital officials in some areas said they were close to being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients—a scenario that health officials have been warning could happen since the pandemic began but that only now seems like it could happen.
The number of people hospitalized in Wisconsin reached a record-high of 737 on Wednesday, according to state health officials and the Wisconsin Hospital Association. Case spikes in northern and northeastern Wisconsin were causing many of the hospitalizations, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Officials at ThedaCare in the Fox Valley said they had exceeded capacity in the COVID-19 unit at their Appleton medical center and had started sending patients to Neenah and hospitals in Berlin, Shawano and Waupaca.
“If it’s growing the way that it has for the past week or so, we’re going to be in a dire situation in two, three, four weeks,” said Michael Hooker, vice president and chief medical officer for acute care at ThedaCare. “Yes, we saw this coming but didn’t expect it to be quite so rapid.”
Matthew Heywood, president and CEO of Aspirus HealthCare in Wausau, said that hospital has started putting patients on waiting lists, with wait times ranging from several hours to a full day. The system had 61 patients Tuesday who had or were believed to have COVID-19, which was a 30% increase from Monday, when it had 47.
“The problem is, how do we care for you when you have an accident when we have an overflow of COVID patients?” Heywood said. “There’s only so much you can do before you start to overwhelm the system.”
Officials at Bellin Hospital in Green Bay said their facility was at 94% capacity on Tuesday, with 31 patients being treated for COVID-19, up from 26 last Friday. CEO Chris Woleske said the hospital hopes to convert part of its campus into another space for beds and is teaching nonclinical workers, such as athletic trainers, how to deliver supplies and move patients so that nurses can focus on duties only they can perform.
State Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm and Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin’s chief medical officer, said Tuesday that they had not received any reports of patients being turned away from hospitals or not getting care. They said if cases don’t subside, patients could be directed to a 530-bed field hospital that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built on the state fairgrounds in West Allis in April.
Gov. Tony Evers’ spokeswoman, Britt Cudaback, and Health Services spokeswoman Elizabeth Goodsit didn’t immediately respond to messages inquiring about whether the administration was preparing to open the field hospital.
Carolyn J. Brown
John M. Byrum
Floyd J. Rozell
Kathern V. Ward