Don’t blame City Hall for this one. I am referring to the new proposal to fund street repairs in Janesville. That proposal includes a doubling of the wheel tax from $20 to $40 per vehicle. It also shifts the remaining 50% of curb and gutter annualized replacement costs to the stormwater utility (50% of those costs have already been shifted to that utility by previous council action).
I am no fan of increasing taxes. I am no fan of increasing prices for gas, heating fuels, groceries, automobiles or a host of other items, either. I am also a realist, however, who understands that prices rise. Unfortunately, we are not used to seeing the total increase in the city’s operating expenses.
If any entity is to blame, it may be previous councils which years ago attempted, with the best of intentions, to blunt tax increases with borrowing. Since then, borrowing has become so much a part of financing the city’s expenses that it is now reaching that point where it is unsustainable. Interest on the debt is beginning to cut into our ability to pay for essential services, and we have two choices: continue to increase the borrowing or live within our means.
I do find the intense objections to the council’s current plan a bit ironic. Many of those objecting to the increases admonish the council and city for not living within its means. Yet, by attempting to reduce borrowing, city leaders are attempting to do that very thing.
I wish I had an answer for those living on shoestring budgets and for whom $50 per year on a single vehicle will mean sacrificing something else. My only answer to those folks is that prices always increase. The cost of living always goes up. This should not be a surprise.
From where I sit, I don’t see how we can have it both ways, assuming the status quo is maintained in Janesville. For those who advocate cutting our way to prosperity, I encourage you to take a hard look at the numbers and determine just what would need to be eliminated from the city budget to find the $7 million needed for annual street repairs. Spoiler alert: You will not be able to find enough to cut to balance the equation.
In a society where debt became the norm through the ’80s, ’90s and the new millennium, it will be difficult to overcome our addiction to borrowing. But we can’t blame City Hall or the city council. We can only blame ourselves for ever succumbing to the temptation to keep our own expenses lower by allowing previous city leaders to increase borrowing.
Sometimes the truth hurts. The truth is, we are at a crossroads for funding certain items in our city. The truth is that our state Legislature has severely limited the tools we can use to better fund operations. The truth is that being part of a community requires sacrifice. It will not always be easy, especially when it comes to paying for all of our wants and needs. So it is time to take our lumps.
For most homeowners with two vehicles, the increase is $6 a month or less than 25 cents a day. We can figure that out.
For years, I have heard callers to my radio program ask the city to live within its means. Now that the city is answering the call, criticizing the plan to get there without offering a viable alternative solution seems nothing short of hypocritical.