Janesville officials are asking state representatives to seriously consider upholding a proposal from Gov. Evers to allow local sales tax increases to benefit municipalities.
Two state officials, Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, and Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, had different opinions on the proposed sales tax increases during a legislative roundtable held Friday afternoon.
Janesville officials have for years called on the state to allow municipalities more local control in generating revenue.
The state shared revenue formula allots less funding per capita for Janesville than any of its 14 peer cities, and many state and local officials agree Janesville is a “loser” when compared to other cities in regards to shared revenue.
Dave Godek, interim finance director, said limited options to generate revenue have tied the city’s hands. The cost to do business outpaces what the state allows the city to collect from taxpayers because of state-imposed levy limits.
Evers in his budget proposal aims to allow municipalities the option to increase sales tax by 0.5% if approved by voters via a referendum.
Estimates show the city could collect an additional $10 million annually with a sales tax increase, Godek said.
A sales tax increase would spread the responsibility of paying for infrastructure and services to non-residents who benefit from the city’s roads, first responders and other services, Godek said.
The increase would be small enough that it shouldn’t deter shoppers from visiting Janesville, said Christine Rebout, executive director of the Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Ringhand, who was an Evansville City Council member prior to being elected to the state Legislature, said she understands the frustration of local governments having little control over their revenue.
Ringhand supports the half-percent sales tax increase option, adding that as an Evansville resident she herself benefits from Janesville’s infrastructure because she often shops in the city.
Loudenbeck, whose district is mostly comprised of rural portions of Rock and Walworth counties but also includes some neighborhoods on the northeast side of the city of Janesville, said she was sympathetic to local government concerns but defended the state-imposed restrictions, saying they were intended not to harm municipalities but to keep property taxes low for residents.
A sales tax increase would likely need to be contrasted with decreases somewhere else, such as lower income taxes, Loudenbeck said.
She said an increased sales tax option would have to be a push-and-pull situation.
City Manager Mark Freitag encourages state leaders not to “box in” municipalities and to allow municipalities to decide what is best for them when generating revenue.
Rep. Sue Conley, D-Janesville, just started her first term in state office. She said she is working on identifying other municipalities who share similar struggles to Janesville so she can work with their representatives on ways to address shared revenue shortfalls.
April referendums in four Rock County towns and one village would let ATV enthusiasts share rural roads with cars and trucks.
The goal is to eventually connect with a system of ATV road routes and off-road trails that is developing across the state, opening up new kinds of outdoor recreation and tourism spending, said Jason Knox of the Western Rock County ATV Club.
The Gazette could find no formal opposition, but concerns about safety and noise have been expressed locally and around the state.
The referendums, all advisory, will be on the April 6 ballot in Orfordville and the towns of Avon, Center, Plymouth and Union.
Their focus is on ATVs, or all-terrain vehicles with three or four wheels, and the larger UTVs, or utility-task vehicles, which are sometimes used for farm work.
The state already allows ATVs or UTVs on roads to transport farm-related materials.
Town of Magnolia voters passed a similar referendum last April on a vote of 137-95, but the town board hasn’t moved forward with ATV routes, said board Chairman Kurt Bartlett.
“We’re pretty well split on the board. We kind of shelved it for a while,” Bartlett said.
Some voters thought the change would help farmers, but farmers can already use the off-road vehicles on town roads for farm work, Bartlett said. He thinks the vote could be close to 50-50 if more people understood that.
Board members have concerns about safety and enforcement and the cost of signs, which would have to be added to most intersections on the town’s 42 miles of road, Bartlett said.
Joy riding and noise are also concerns, he said.
Knox said his club will pay for signs where ordinances are approved.
“The people I talked to that are against it ... some have valid points, but it almost seems like they’re thinking ATVs are going to be doing motocross through town, and that hasn’t been the case in other communities,” Knox said.
The club would monitor behavior, he said.
“We want it to be safe because obviously we want it to be successful,” Knox said. “People who are unsafe ruin it for everybody else.”
Knox noted operators can be ticketed if their ATVs produce more than 96 decibels.
Rock County Sheriff Troy Knudson takes no position on the referendums, but he has safety concerns, including the potential for trouble in high-traffic areas or on hills such as those on Nelson Road, where a fast-moving car could overtake an ATV without seeing it until it is too late.
“You could see some real tragedies occurring that way,” Knudson said. “… If I was a member of one of those boards, I would be cautious in my approach to this issue and carefully weigh where it may be appropriate and where it wouldn’t seem as appropriate.”
Knudson noted a UTV-car accident in 2019, when a UTV driver was signaling a left turn from County T in the town of Avon onto Halfway Tree Road, and a car driver tried to pass the UTV, not seeing the UTV driver’s extended arm until it was too late.
The UTV driver suffered broken teeth and nose, a dislocated thumb and large cut on the head. He was cited for driving a UTV on a highway, according to an accident report.
ATVs come with low-pressure tires that work well off-road but can be difficult to control on hard pavement and have caused accidents. Knox said a recent state law change allows ATVs to use high-pressure tires.
ATV drivers must be ages 12 or older unless on private land and under adult supervision. Those 12 to 15 must be accompanied by an adult on an ATV route. UTV drivers must be 16.
State ATV regulations with exceptions to these rules can be found online.
Drivers born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, must pass a classroom or online course to get an ATV safety certificate.
Knox said the vision is for a series of town roads so ATV riders could connect to similar routes in Green County and to the off-road Cheese Country Trail, which runs 47 miles northwest from Monroe to Mineral Point.
The Cheese Country Trail connects with the Pecatonica State Trail, which could take ATVers as far west as Belmont in Lafayette County.
Links from western Rock County are already in place. Brodhead, on the Green-Rock county line, allows ATVs on most of its streets. And the Footville Village Board recently approved ATV routes on all streets except Highway 11. The routes will be legal once state-required signs are posted, said board member Nate Beal.
If surrounding towns enact similar ordinances, it’ll be nice for farmers to ride ATVs to visit neighbors or into Orfordville or Footville for lunch, Beal said.
Municipalities may not allow ATV routes on state or county roads and highways in their jurisdictions unless the speed limits are 35 mph or less, Knox said.
ATV routes and trails are much more developed in the northern part of the state, but routes are rapidly developing in the south, Knox said.
Connecting Rock County routes to Green County faces some obstacles. The Spring Valley Town Board told the ATV club it was not interested, Knox said. And in Green County, one possible route to Monroe is blocked by the town of Jefferson.
Knox hopes bypass routes will be allowed through other towns.
Knox noted that ATV routes established by local ordinance can be removed by the same process. ATV riders would welcome a trial period to prove they can be safe and not disturb people, he said.