Janesville City Council to consider cuts
JANESVILLE The Janesville City Council is considering adding about $568,000 to a 2013 city budget that had only about $10,000 of room below state levy limits.
Tonight, members must decide what to banish from their wish lists and how to pay for what remains. They can either make cuts or transfer money from reserves, which the city already is dipping into for $840,000.
In addition, the council must add an extra $220,000 in payments to the Wisconsin Retirement System for firefighters and police officers. Retirement fund revenues from interest have not been enough to cover benefits, and the state recently sent the city a bill.
City Manager Eric Levitt did not originally include the retirement fund increase in the budget because the firefighter and police officer unions are in negotiations with the city. Levitt included a 1 percent increase for most of the remaining employees.
The study session will be televised at 6 p.m. on JATV, cable channel 98 and digital channel 994.
Levitt submitted a budget with a levy increase of 1.52 percent. He suggested cutting the budget to stay under levy limits by freezing one police officer position and delaying the hiring of a deputy fire chief until October, for instance.
During the last two budget study sessions, some council members put those positions back into the budget, and they added more, including:
-- $66,566 for the police officer. Several members said cutting police resources is contrary to their interpretation of residents' wishes as indicated by a recent survey about city services.
Police Chief Dave Moore noted that 45 percent of survey respondents did not want to see law enforcement services reduced to cut taxes, a percentage he said was significant. Several council members agreed the survey shows residents value law enforcement and are willing to pay more to maintain services.
The representative from the survey company said there is another way to look at it: fire and police could be a good place to make cuts because they already have a stellar reputation. The money could be used to shore up other under-funded areas of the budget that residents deem important, such as economic development.
-- $59,357 for a crime prevention specialist. The position was cut last year.
-- $31,000 to hire a deputy fire chief July 1 rather than Oct. 1.
-- $230,880 reduction in city revenue to give more room tax to the convention and tourism bureau. The city gives the organization about 37 percent of the money brought in from the room tax.
Councilman Matt Kealy suggested increasing that to 70 percent, and he cited the same survey of residents who said economic development is important. Since then, the city has received several letters in support of the motion, including from representatives of the Rock County Historical Society and the Janesville Performing Arts Center.
-- An additional $125,000 for street resurfacing. Residents in the survey pegged the city's infrastructure of key importance. It would be in addition to $125,000 Levitt already had added for streets to this year's budget. The council is trying to borrow less for street maintenance and instead use the general fund to avoid interest payments.
-- $30,000 for a part-time employee in the economic development department.
-- $20,000 for additional mailings to communicate to residents. This could mean a single sheet to be included in water bills. Again, this is in response to the survey in which residents said they like mailed information from the city.
-- $5,000 for electronic tablets for council members. Councilman Sam Liebert said the city should join other governing bodies and simply email the agendas to council members instead of having police deliver them. He said it eventually would save money in paper, and Councilman DuWayne Severson noted that Janesville is the city of trees. Those council members who want paper copies still could get them from City Hall.
The changes—not including the $220,000 to shore up pensions—total $559,775, including room tax revenue that would be lost.
The tax bill for the owner of the average Janesville home valued at $120,100 increases $1 for every $32,700 added to the levy.
The council could take the money from reserves or cut somewhere else.
The city already plans to apply $840,000 from its reserves in 2013.
For the 2012 budget, the council approved $825,00 to be taken from reserves. It hasn't spent all of that money and likely will use only $400,000 to $500,000 before the budget year is done.
In 2011, the city returned all $890,000 it borrowed to reserves. It was able to do that because departments under spent their budgets or more revenues came into the city.