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Janesville City Council Schedules Hearing For New Road Program

The Janesville City Council held a special meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss the Road Program and the Way Forward. The discussion centered around the transportation utility in Janesville. A study session was held on August 3, and on August 16 a discussion was held to confirm funding options and a community engagement forum was held on August 18. The feedback the council received was that a blended approach to road funding was the best way to move forward. There has been a construction inflation of 9% in Janesville, and a projection of $7.7 million in 2022, increasing to $10.8 million in 2026. 72% of the program would be borrowed by 2026 if they continue on their current path.


City Finance Director Dave Godek discussed the various options available to continue. Special assessments and referendums were not supported, and transportation utilities appeared to be a longer study. The City recommends continuing to fund 12 miles of road rehabilitation on an annual basis, redirecting 100% of the costs for curbs and gutters to the storm water operating budget, which totals out to $1,373,000. 50% is currently funded by borrowing and 50% by appropriation. Curb and gutter costs in 2022 are estimated to be $2.7 million. Godek says that shifting the entirety of the storm water bill would give the city an increase of $23.40 annually per its equivalent run off and would increase the residential utility bills by $5.85 every quarter. There are currently 58,274 ERUs billed in the city, with 35% of those being residential properties and non-residential properties comprising the remaining 65%. The average number of ERUs for non-residential properties is 15, and each NRP will increase by $351/year.


There is also a suggestion to increase the wheel tax from $20 to $40, which will provide an extra $1,068,000 in revenue. Wisconsin charges a flat fee of $85 per vehicle, and Janesville is one of 25 municipalities in Wisconsin that charge a wheel tax. By shifting borrowing for both the wheel tax and the storm water, there would be significant decreases, with 2022 showing a little more than $5 million under the current funding system which is about half of the planned borrowing. Over five years the total borrowing would be cut by more than $13,500,000. The recommended borrowing plan also saves more than $1 million in borrowing costs.


It was also recommended to decrease the CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) borrowing by the amounts that have been generated by both the wheel tax and curb and gutters, or about $2,441,500, and to review the transportation utility in 3 to 5 years. This is an “interim step to see where we are in the future” Godek said. General fund borrowing only increases to 47% in 2022 and 71% in 2026, while program borrowing increases to 66% in 2022 and 72% in 2026 under the current funding. Under the proposed funding, those numbers would decrease to 24 and 37% in 2022 and 43 and 46% in 2026.


The City must provide a 90 day notice to the DOT, and the city has outlined a few dates to keep in mind. On September 13, the city has plans to schedule a public hearing about the wheel tax increase, and a second reading will occur on September 27. The target date to notify the DOT is October 1, with a new fee effective January 1.


After Godek’s presentation, the City Council began asking Godek more questions to get more input and help with their decision. One question he was asked was the process behind his decision to completely shift the transportation utility idea instead of “tip-toeing it”. Godek said there are basically two systems and one of them basically is a pay as you go charge, an equivalent runoff model versus a trip generation model. Godek and City Manager Freitag both decided to investigate the generation model. Freitag suggested to the council maybe seeing if another community in the state goes the same route and get some feedback as to whether or not it would be appropriate for Janesville. Telling people that a national average is appropriate is likely going to be a hard sell, according to Freitag.


“I hope we can get some data from a smaller community in Wisconsin before we go hook line and sinker down this path” Freitag said. “We need to do a little bit of analysis and see what happens in the state, and see where the legality of a transportation utility ends up… I just think we need a little bit more time”. Godek was asked about waiting until October 15 to notify the DOT and Godek said that they would have to move the deadline to February 1 because the DOT doesn’t do deadlines mid-month. One council member, President Doug Marklein, says he is afraid that “95% of the city doesn’t know anything” regarding this new idea.


“It has never received any community discussion, so to speak… so if we do this today its going to look like we did this in secret when we did not. It’s going to just appear that we surprised them. Nobody is aware of this at all and its no fault of the city… you have done your job perfectly well… I just think our citizens will not see this coming”. Mark Freitag then reiterated the two public hearings on the schedule.


“It’s a public hearing.... It’s for the public to come speak on this on September 27. So that’s two plus weeks for a public hearing. If they say they don’t want this, and the council says no, well, then you vote down the resolution”. Councilor Benson then went into vehicle weights, saying that Tahoe's and F250’s only weigh about 6500 pounds.


“There are some people worrying that if they buy a $70,000 Tahoe that they are exempt from this. That is not the case unless you change state law”. Benson also saw where Councilor Marklein was coming from in regards to the timing.


“Its either going to happen for these two weeks or the next two weeks”, he said. “I think this is a creative solution, it saves a lot of taxpayer money”.


A few other discussions were had about waiting. Councilor Susan Johnson wanted the council to wait on the transportation utility, calling Wisconsin’s roads “atrocious”. Johnson also said that the city’s idea is “the most intelligent way to move forward… I’d be ready to vote on it today, but we do need the public’s input… the original public forum was not well attended.”


Marklein then said he constantly hears from the community to fix roads, stop borrowing, not to place these decisions on their kids, and to not kick the can down the road and wait another year. Marklein then made a motion to move forward with the plan and to come back next week for a first reading. The motion was seconded and was passed 6-0, with two councilors being absent. The hearing schedule for Monday is the next time this topic will be discussed.


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