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Wheel tax increase, unexpected staff departures help Freitag balance Janesville budget proposal

JANESVILLE

It might have taken a surprise hit of employee turnover and increases to fees and wheel taxes to fund city roadwork, but the city of Janesville could make relative history if it passes its proposed 2022 budget.

For one, city officials say, a stormwater fee increase and wheel tax hike will help the city meet its goal of trimming about $2 million worth of borrowing it has used to fund its annual street repair program that covers 12 miles of repairs every year.

Second, the city is projected to see more than $600,000 in savings over the next year in higher-than-anticipated employee turnover—more than three times the savings expected through earlier projections.

In an initial budget proposal to the Janesville City Council on Monday, City Manager Mark Freitag said at an earlier point, the city couldn’t have planned a balanced budget the way city officials now conceive it.

But he said the city has bridged a projected $600,000 budget gap, in part through a citywide focus on keeping spending and programs capped for another year at 2021 levels. He said a larger-than-expected turnover in staff helped, too.

Local taxpayers might not notice the comparative windfall the city is seeing when they pay out what on average will be a $120 increase in taxes and fees—the bulk of which is coming through a doubling of the wheel tax to $40 per residential vehicle and a shift of all curb and gutter replacement costs to the stormwater fund.

But Freitag and city Finance Director David Godek said the city’s preliminary proposed budget would be the first in years that wouldn’t dip into hundreds of thousands of dollars from its rainy-day account.

Going back to at least 2000, city officials said, the city will not have to dig into reserve funds to prop up its $35.5 million general fund, a segment of the city’s $115 million budget that pays for many of the city’s day-to-day operations.

Last year, the city tapped about $450,000 from reserves to restore the operating fund, but Freitag said that pales in comparison to the $600,000-plus in reserve funds the city drew on in 2014, the first budget year of Freitag’s nearly nine-year tenure.

Freitag called the city’s new drawdown in borrowing and the shift away from use of reserves to plug a budget gap “a Janesville win”—although one council member questioned whether taxpayers will be winners in the short term.

After hearing an hourlong budget presentation, council member Michael Jackson told Freitag and Godek that while he supports the city administration’s preliminary budget, not all residents have given him positive feedback on the wheel tax and stormwater fee restructuring the city would pursue.

“There are people who are upset over the wheel tax and other taxes,” Jackson said. “Are we balancing the budget on the backs of our citizens? They’d get more in taxes, and we’d get the benefit of a balanced budget.”

Freitag and Godek continued to defend a wheel tax hike that will funnel about $100,000 to the city’s general fund and provide about $1 million for street repairs. Going forward, the city says, the budget would cut back on borrowing annually while using stormwater fee increases to fund the city’s current annual workload of street work under a “pay-as-you-go” framework.

Godek compared the effect of the city’s current model—borrowing millions a year for street maintenance—to “putting groceries on a credit card” as the city sees the revenue it can legally raise through a tax levy increase outstripped by inflation more and more every year.

Freitag said “I don’t think it’s a fair analysis to say we’re shifting the wheel tax to other people” to balance the city’s budget.

He called earlier borrowing and use of the city’s fund balance to shore up the city’s budget “just a bad habit to borrow over time.”

Freitag said the city budget proposal comes amid freezes in many areas of new spending, including the end of a subsidy that for years funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in Janesville Fire Department services to a handful of towns in northern Rock County.

That change in how the city bills for fire protection will allow the city to buy a new $225,000 ambulance that would allow the city to run one ambulance at each of its five fire precincts.

The council will give feedback on proposed changes to the budget by Monday, Oct. 18. The council won’t move on a final budget until mid-November.

Only one resident, Tom Lipinski, commented on the city’s budget Monday night. Lipinski told the council he would like to see the city hold the line on its offer to pay for up to half of a new indoor sports complex at Uptown Janesville.

Under law, the city is allowed to use some of a $4 million federal COVID-19 rescue funding package to pay for a new sports complex.

The council could vote later this month to send that project to a design phase. Meanwhile, a private fundraising group has raised about $6 million, about 20% of the estimated $30 million project.


Local
Local organizations donate resources to resettled Afghan refugees

For thousands of Afghan refugees at the Fort McCoy Army base, everyday supplies are in high demand. Basic items such as clothes, diapers and toiletries are desperately needed, as many families came to the U.S. with few possessions.

In recent months, local organizations have spearheaded efforts to collect and deliver donated items to help accommodate those basic needs.

One such organizer, Larry Ballard of Janesville, began collecting and delivering donations after a friend of his, an Afghan American soldier on special assignment on the base, reached out and asked for help. Since then, he has orchestrated multiple deliveries to Fort McCoy over the past four weeks.

Ballard said he learned that conditions for many Afghans were dire when they arrived, and simple tasks were difficult, such as shaving and washing their only sets of clothes.

Ballard works with Youth With a Mission Ministries, a Seattle-based organization. YWAM has collected food and clothing from individuals and other faith-based groups in Madison, Mukwonago and Janesville.

“For us, it was just full steam ahead (to do) everything we could, as quickly as we could, to get resources in there and provide for the needs of these people,” he said.

Due to the efforts of groups such as YWAM, Ballard and other volunteers have brought trailer and van loads of necessities to the base north of Sparta. Ballard estimates more than $1,000 worth of items came from Janesville alone.

Volunteers unload the donated items which are then distributed by soldiers on assignment to help the refugees adjust to their new lives. Ballard said he and his group recently made a fourth delivery, with yet another carload to be transported today.

While the refugees wait to be relocated to homes with sponsors in cities in Wisconsin and throughout the U.S., the relief has helped them find some semblance of normalcy after their recent chaotic displacement from their homeland.

While there aren’t specific plans by the city of Janesville to resettle Afghan refugees, Ballard says at least five Wisconsin communities have agreed to take in families.

Ballard and YWAM have temporarily halted accepting donations until a fifth truckload is delivered Wednesday, Oct. 20. Once the items are distributed and further needs are assessed, the organization may resume collections.

“It’s an ongoing journey,” Ballard said.

For more information about how to help Afghan refugees, visit websites for the American Red Cross and Team Rubicon.


Obituaries and death notices for Oct. 12, 2021

Nancy Anderson

Hazel L. August

Daniel R. “Dan” Beeler

Linda M. Fredell

Lillian Howard

Jack E. Keizer

Layle F. Murphy Jr.

Charles Pinson Sr.

Barbara Dianne Prochazka

Wayne “Hammer” Weberg


Man trying to prove doctor did not provide proper care

JANESVILLE

Robert Vyvyan of Milton underwent a common medical procedure in June 2015.

A probe of his esophagus led to a puncture, complications and extreme pain.

Vyvyan filed a medical malpractice lawsuit three years later against the doctor who performed the procedure—Dr. William Brandt, an internal medicine specialist at SSM Health St. Mary’s.

Brandt is now retired after providing care for 42 years in Janesville, one of his attorneys said Monday as a trial opened in the case in Rock County Court.

In his opening statement, Vyvyan’s attorney, Scott Salemi, repeated the accusation that Brandt failed to provide proper care, resulting in pain that Vyvyan continues to suffer.

Vyvyan is suing Brandt and MMIC Insurance for medical and legal costs and “such further relief as the court deems just and equitable.”

Defense attorney Mark Budzinski countered that no medical procedure is risk-free, and in this particular procedure, punctures are seen in 1% of cases.

Salemi described Vyvyan being rushed in “terrible pain” from Janesville to UW Hospital in Madison for emergency surgery the same day as Brandt performed the upper endoscopy.

“He thought he was dying,” Salemi said. “His thoughts were for his pregnant wife and young daughter.”

Vyvyan spent 11 days in the hospital and survived. He and Brandt sat passively in court Monday as the jury was selected and lawyers made their opening statements.

Vyvyan had been having trouble swallowing. He had lost weight and had blood in his stool. He occasionally could not swallow at all and had to force himself to vomit, Budzinski said.

Vyvyan saw an SSM Health general practitioner, who referred him to Brandt for both upper and lower endoscopies, Salemi said. A lower endoscopy is also called a colonoscopy.

Upper endoscopies are common. There were probably several of them happening in Janesville while the jury heard the opening statements, Salemi said.

According to Salemi, Vyvyan had never seen Brandt before that day, and the procedure was supposed to be investigative only, but Brandt encountered a narrowing of Vyvyan’s esophagus and decided to perform a dilation.

The dilation, or stretching, of the esophagus was done by inserting progressively larger dilators, Salemi said.

Brandt eventually used the biggest dilator he uses, 20 millimeters in diameter, leading to the puncture, Salemi said.

A key dispute in the case is whether Brandt followed the accepted standard of care for this procedure. Both sides are expected to present experts to bolster their claims.

“Dr. Brandt’s conduct permanently has altered Robert Vyvyan and his family’s life,” Salemi said.

“We know that there is nothing in life that is risk-free, and that includes the field of medicine,” Budzinski said.

Brandt reviewed the risks with Vyvyan, “and we’ve all been through that discussion,” Budzinski said. “You will hear evidence that the No. 1 risk is perforation of the esophagus, and that was gone through with Mr. Vyvyan.”

During the procedure, Brandt found a “non-inflamed and fibrous ring,” made of scar tissue, Budzinski said, and so, consistent with the consent form that Vyvyan signed, Brandt dilated the ring to alleviate the swelling.

Brandt didn’t see any unusual resistance to the dilators and didn’t “force them down,” Budzinski said.

“He treated Mr. Vyvyan the same way he treated thousands of patients before him,” Budzinski continued. “He did what reasonable physicians in this position would do.”

Vyvyan was able to eat and drink after the procedure without pain, Budzinski said, and he ate again when he got home. Then he took a nap.

About an hour later, he awoke in “excruciating pain,” Budzinski said, which led to his ambulance ride to Madison.

“It’s a significantly painful complication to have. Nobody disputes that,” Budzinski said.

Salemi is expected to continue his case into today, with the defense to follow. Budzinski cautioned the jury not to make any decisions about the case until they had heard both sides.

The trial is scheduled to continue into Wednesday. If more time is needed, the trial would skip Thursday and conclude Friday.


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