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Whitewater's Eli Kohl, far left, delivers a play call to teammates during the team's practice Tuesday, August 7, 2018, at Whitewater High School.

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Janesville City Council asked to approve wheel tax increase, relief funding allocations


As the city of Janesville moves deeper into its annual budget planning process, city staff is asking the council to OK a proposal to double the city’s vehicle registration fee, also known as the wheel tax. The goal, officials say, is to help the city pay for street repair costs the city has said are ballooning beyond the city’s ability to borrow.

On Monday, the city will hold a public hearing over a recommendation to boost the wheel tax from $20 per residential vehicle to $40.

City street work has increased in cost 47% since 2017, the city estimates, a jump the city said makes borrowing for road repairs at current levels unsustainable.

The new plan, along with a proposal to charge curb and gutter replacement costs to the city’s stormwater budget, would help the city stick to its goal of finishing about 12 miles of street repairs per year under continued cost increases, the city said.

Road repair costs are expected to climb from $7 million this year to $7.7 million in 2022, the city estimates. Under current funding structures, the city would borrow $5 million for roadwork next year. The new plan would help the city cut down on borrowing to about $1 million a year, the city estimates, which would save the city nearly $100,000 a year in future interest payments.

It would be the second time the city has increased the wheel tax since it was initially adopted at $10 per vehicle in 2011. The last hike to the tax was in 2015.

If the council approves the plan, the new wheel tax would go in effect Jan. 1.

COVID-19 relief funds

Also Monday, Janesville city staff is recommending the city use $4 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to plug a hole in revenue the city says it has lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

City staff suggested in a memo last week the money could go toward the proposed indoor ice arena and sports complex at Uptown Janesville, housing and a proposed children’s museum.

The $4 million is part of a bigger plan for how the city would spend a total of $11.7 million it is receiving in COVID-19 relief funds.

The $4 million would backfill the bulk of $4.75 million in lost revenue the city reported during the pandemic. According to a city memo, the city has “broad latitude” in how it can use revenue replacement funds, provided the spending “supports government services.”

According to a memo, the city suggests it might be able to allocate “$2 million” of the funding to pay for the proposed, public-private indoor sports complex being planned at the former Sears location at the Janesville mall.

In the memo, the city also tells the council it could use the other $2 million in replaced revenue to go toward efforts to develop more working-class housing and fund part of a children’s museum that is being proposed in Janesville. Staff stopped short of recommending any specific use of the $4 million.

As it had recommended earlier, city staff also is asking the council to OK a plan that would channel $6.6 million of the rescue funds to help pay for replacement of various lead water services and replacement of water mains at Center Avenue and Court Street over the next two to three years.

Kwik Trip liquor license

City staff plans to ask the city council Monday to revive discussions over an earlier request by Kwik Trip for a liquor license at a proposed gas station at 1030 N. Wright Road

The request has been on ice since May when a deadlocked city council moved to table the request. City staff is again asking the council to disregard a recommendation by the city’s Alcohol License Advisory Committee to decline the request.

Some council members, including Paul Williams, Susan Johnson and Michael Jackson, had dug in against the request in May, arguing that the city should not hand out more liquor licenses.

The licensing committee prior to the May council meeting had recommended declining Kwik Trip’s request. The panel said the request was premature because Kwik Trip initially planned to build the new station sometime in 2023, almost two years after its liquor license request.

Kwik Trip is trying to buy the Wright Road property and wants a liquor license lined up for when it would break ground on the store. Kwik Trip has offered to speed up its timeline and build the store sometime next year, city planning and economic development officials have said.

The Wright Road parcel is less than a mile east of a new gas station and convenience store Kwik Trip completed earlier this year at 2822 E. Milwaukee St.

Shortly after that location opened, Kwik Trip removed gas pumps and shuttered a small-format convenience store at a Stop-N-Go station that Kwik Trip had bought last year about a quarter-mile west of the new East Milwaukee Street shop.

Kwik Trip’s new store along Highway 14 near Target, about a quarter-mile from an existing Kwik Trip store on Milton Avenue, opens Thursday.

UW-Whitewater adds new cybersecurity degree


In 2017, Dan Stein, the Department of Homeland Security’s branch chief for cybersecurity education, visited UW-Whitewater to encourage the school to develop a cybersecurity program to help the industry.

The university evidently took the speech to heart because just four years later, the university created the Cybersecurity Center for Business. The center helps provide cybersecurity education and training for businesses, local governments and educational institutions in Wisconsin.

Jiazhen Zhou, chair of the department of computer science at UW-Whitewater, said creating the center was important for connecting businesses in Wisconsin with cybersecurity professionals who can safeguard companies’ computer systems.

In July, the school received approval from the UW System Board of Regents to provide a new bachelor of science degree in cybersecurity. The degree is only the second undergraduate degree of its kind offered in the UW System.

Anthony Wahl 

Jiazhen Zhou, chair of the department of computer science at UW-Whitewater.

“We had an information technology major with emphasis in networking security,” Zhou said. “But nowadays, you’ll see more and more challenges, and we need a more in-depth study to handle the kind of challenges that we have.”

The bachelors program came into being after the popular cybersecurity minor in the College of Letters and Sciences was created. The cybersecurity minor currently has around 40 students. The school also offers an online master’s of science in cybersecurity degree. The new undergraduate cybersecurity program is designed to make it easier for two-year technical college graduates to transfer to UW-Whitewater.

The major will also be in the College of Letters and Sciences along with the minor. The program will include coursework from the departments of computer science, mathematics and sociology. Colleagues in the department of information technology and supply chain management in the business college will also teach students in the degree program.

Courses in the degree track include intro to cybersecurity, intrusion detection and information assurance and security. The undergraduate program will require 120 credits and will first be offered in person starting in spring 2022. Online coursework will be added over time.

Zhou said cybersecurity graduates would be able to enter a great job market. Through the organization Cyber Seek, a cybersecurity education initiative, students are able to see the amount of cybersecurity jobs available and how wide the market has gotten.

“In 2018, the number was about 2,900 (jobs available),” Zhou said. “Today, that number is close to 5,000. The demand for cybersecurity and people with those skills keep growing.”

The pay for cybersecurity professionals is also attractive for many who look into the market. For example, the starting salary for a Canon cybersecurity analyst or scale engineer is around $90,000.

“We can provide one of the most comprehensive and one of the best educations in cybersecurity to residents in Wisconsin and also serve local business and national needs,” Zhou said.

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Grocers see rolling shortages as COVID-19 pandemic lingers


Late last week at Woodman’s Food Market, there was a broad selection of chicken wing sauces on the shelf right above the chest freezer where frozen chicken wings are supposed to be stocked.

Yet in the freezer bins below the trove of mild, spicy and bourbon-glazed wing sauces, there were no actual chicken wings to be had.

In what might seem like a cruel prank the Friday before a college football weekend, the store was temporarily sold out of wings.

Like many markets across the U.S., consumers in Janesville this fall are seeing emerging shortages in some common items, including certain types of poultry, some canned goods and even pet food. It’s a trend linked to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike the early months of 2020 when the pandemic first slammed the U.S., the shortages don’t seem to be linked to consumers hoarding, stockpiling and panic buying items until the shelves are picked clean of toilet paper, hand soap and spray cleaners.

Neil Johnson 

Woodman's is low on some sizes of frozen turkey and completely sold out of other sizes.

Local grocers say the more recent shortages come as grocery distributors find themselves increasingly squeezed on both ends of the supply chain. A labor shortage has crimped production at some food and food packaging plants, and it has also fueled a shortfall in truck drivers who deliver foodstuffs to supermarkets.

It’s a one-two punch that some consumer market economists had predicted earlier this year, and it’s now leading some distributors to shave down the allotment of some items they send grocers or scuttle deliveries outright as they wrestle with the continued pressures of the pandemic.

Isaac Evenson, a customer service manager at Basics, an organic grocery cooperative at 1711 Lodge Drive, Janesville, said he has seen a growing dearth of inventory on Basics’ holistic health care shelves. Late last week, the store was totally out of some health supplements such as zinc tablets, which tend to sell well as cold and flu season kicks into gear.

Evenson said Friday he was waiting for a delivery truck that got delayed a full day, he said, probably because the distributor is in a staffing pinch. Other delivery trucks that show up sometimes don’t deliver enough items to meet demand.

“You keep ordering things, and the things you keep ordering don’t come,” he said. “There’s times when there’s not just enough labor to produce or deliver it, and you can see why. Every business you drive past, you see ‘Now Hiring’ signs everywhere. Everyone’s shorthanded. So I empathize with them (distributors) just like how I hope the customer empathizes with us because we’re all dealing with the same problem,” Evenson said.

Evenson said most of the shortages seem to be short-term. In other cases, a given shortage is simply replaced within days by a shortage of a different staple.

Remedies stores have enacted during the COVID-19 era, such as limits on the amount of common items customers can purchase at one time, don’t alleviate the problem. For instance, Evenson and Kathy Moe, store manager at Mounds, the pet food store next to Basics at 1725 Lodge Drive, said some plastic packaging has been hard to come by because the production and supply chain is bogged down by short-staffing and continued high demand.

It has made it more challenging for Basics to package up fresh deli items. At Mounds, some pet food brands that exclusively use plastic packaging aren’t able to ship goods because of shortfalls in packaging or the diversion of packaging to overseas markets, Moe said.

“We can only assume what we’re told, and one of the things we’re told is that plastic packaging has been in short supply, and so some pet foods that come in plastic packaging we just don’t get,” Moe said.

One aisle at Mounds has signs hanging on empty shelf space where pet foods made by Royal Canin, a brand popular among customers with pets that have special dietary needs, are typically stored.

The sign tells customers some varieties of Royal Canin aren’t being shipped to stores because of “production issues” and that those varieties might not ship until sometime in 2022.

Neil Johnson 

Mounds Pet Food Warehouse in Janesville has shortages on pet foods like those of the Royal Canin brand.

Moe said Royal Canin specializes in prescription pet food, and it is working to first serve customers whose pets are prescribed special foods by a veterinarian. The company has sent Mounds information on alternate varieties that customers can choose if the store isn’t carrying the type of pet food they normally buy

Larry Zimborski, a store operations manager at Woodman’s, said he has heard the same woes about bottlenecks in distribution and production. Locally, he has heard plastic producers say they’re having a hard time getting enough plastic pellets, the raw material used to make molded plastic packaging.

Neil Johnson 

Ranging from chicken and turkey to Lunchables and pet food, some local grocers are seeing shortages again. Several varieties of Oscar Mayer Lunchables are sold out at Woodman's Food Market.

Late last week, Woodman’s was sold out of seven or eight varieties of Lunchables, a popular line of prepackaged lunch fixings—though some varieties, such as pizza and nacho Lunchables, seemed in plentiful supply.

Hearkening back to the earlier months of the pandemic, Woodman’s now has placed a temporary limit on how much bottled water customers can buy. It is another staple sold in containers made of plastic, so availability has been hit or miss.

“We’ll get a little better for a while,” store manager Jared Hackbarth said. “But a lot of times you can order X amount of truckloads of this or that, and we’re still not even getting a fraction of that shipped.”

Obituaries and death notices for Sept. 27, 2021

Mary Jo Alger

Jeffrey A. Brink

Janine A. Calkins

Jeana L. Clarke

Phyllis Garner

Robert Gilley

Robert A. Gosa

Thomas A. “Tom” Hume

Robert F. “Bob” Huml

Franklin Boyd Jones

John M. “Mike” Keller

Harold B. “Hal” Mayer

Kimberly Kay Millard

Linda Thompson

Michael E. “Mike” Weber

Kathleen R. Wendler

Lorna Sue Weiffenbach

Geraldine Zachow