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Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Top Ten Stories In Janesville 2021

#10 The influential lobby Forward Janesville, who previously endorsed every local tax hike imaginable, shut down a city proposal for a new transportation utility tax for streets when they discovered their membership businesses, religious orgs and non-profits were not exempt.

#9 SHINE dropped "Medical" from its name, became an affiliate of pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps Koch Network, picked up a $35M Federal grant, announced expanding in the Netherlands and caught the attention of Propublica.

#8 The hole left on the city's southside grows deeper as the owner/developer of the former GM site auctions off the property. The southside becomes the portrait of the city's recovery efforts after a top official calls the move "cut and run."

#7 For Sale signs soon popped up on several longtime properties in the banquet and convention industry after the city signaled taxpayer funds to remodel the privately owned Uptown Mall. More collateral losses are expected in 2022.

#6 A private equity firm buys a 100 year old manufacturer in former union town Janesville then moves production to Mexico leaving 160 employees out in the cold.

#5 Unsportsmanlike conduct at area high schools goes beyond the game field as teens mock opposing cities with veiled racist and classist memes. Adults on social media say it's all in fun. But when the score is run up ...outrage!

#4 With every attempt by the city to catalyze growth for wealthy north side and downtown elites, disenfranchised south side residents take to social media asking for basics are ignored.

#3 The suggestion by the Jets owner to use COVID-19 relief money on a new ice arena was headline news in Janesville. But instead of outright rejection and shame, 6 of 7 city council members embraced the idea and earmarked $2M for designer plans.

#2 Residents see rocketing quarterly utility bills and the vehicle tax doubled yet again as the city shifts more property tax obligations to utility billing while maintaining and increasing the levy draw.

#1 Janesville continues to flounder without an elected mayor and city council representative of its neighborhoods.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Failed City Hall Hustles Three Card Monte To Scam Residents Yet Again.

Here it comes again bay bay!!

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me again ...oh never mind.

The last street hustle Janesville residents fell for, the $3M water main charge city hall operators shifted from property tax billing to utility billing while leaving the property tax levy draw intact, worked so well they may as well do it again.

This time they're shifting curb and gutter property tax obligations to the utility and doubling the wheel tax. Much like the water main scam, what is left behind in property tax collections is the prize they seek.

Right now, residents are paying ($20 annual) $1M wheel tax + $700K PROPERTY TAX curb/gutter + $700K UTILITY curb/gutter = $2.4M cash. Round figures. That doesn't include what the city gets from state, federal dollars or bonding.

If approved, residents will pay a doubled ($40 annual) $2M wheel tax + $1.4M utility curb/gutter = $3.4M cash. Of note is that residents won't pay more for curb and gutter for now. It's currently 50% property tax and 50% utility. They intend on making the charge 100% utility. So, it's which billing statement curb/gutter is collected from that makes the difference. Again, what this latest scheme leaves behind in property tax coffers is the prize they want.

What is left behind newly unappropriated are property tax collections that previously used to pay a $2.4M bond + the old 50% $700K curb/gutter = $3.1M. There's also $1.7M in debt service they claim we'll save on, but I'll leave that alone for another time.

If they were honest and upfront with residents, they would have to drop the local property tax levy draw from $35M to $31.9M, but they would never ever do that. They didn't decrease the local levy draw $3M last year when they shifted water main collections to utility, so why would they do it now? We paid double for it then and we'll pay double again.

If the scheme is approved, residents will pay $3.4M combined utility fee/wheel tax PLUS $3.1M property tax collections for a whopping $6.5M cash total, but only $3.4M will be numerated for streets/curb/gutter. Again, those figures don't include state, federal or new bonding. The remaining $3.1M in property tax collections becomes a blank unappropriated lottery check they all get to deliberate over at budget time. That's the "emergency" loot they seek.

There was no emergency to fund 12 miles of streets two years ago or now. Our streets aren't going to roll up like a sprung window shade if they don't do this. This isn't about meeting a Jan 1st deadline or road funding. The real emergency is a failed administration desperately trying to find money to fund their annual raises, bonuses, pensions and general payroll needs that their failed growth plan could not and never will deliver. This has been and will be an annual ritual for the foreseeable future with this group.

This should set off alarms once again among residents. Not just about the failed growth plans or the amount of money involved, but about the continued brazen deception and half-truth con game that has become the norm at city hall and our school district in Janesville. Residents are being fleeced. We'd have better luck playing three card monte with a street magician because at least we would win a confidence game or two before the final setup.

Council members or administration officials are always welcome and free to weigh in here or correct any errors. Or at least to set the record straight. I never want to misinform readers. But don't hold your breath.

Note: The exact amount of the annual debt payments budgeted for streets/curb/gutter and paid from the General Fund is not clear. It ranges anywhere from $1.7M to $3.1M. What is clear is city officials claim the doubled wheel tax (cash) and shift to utilities (cash) will replace the annual borrowing note for streets/curb/gutter and "save" the city $2.4M annually.

You can read the other half of the story at the Gazette here if it's not behind a paywall.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Shocking City Hall Scam Grips Janesville Residents Again. We Pay Twice.

Two years ago I sounded the alarm when Janesville homeowners were hit with a city-wide assessment revaluation that saw residential tax assessments rise 31% while commercial properties saw only a 13% increase.

That differential, combined with the city locking in darkstore values for connected businesses like Farm & Fleet, Menards and dozens of others, drove a significant tax shift placing a greater burden on homeowners. City operators said the revaluation will not increase taxes but was necessary so everybody pays their fair share. Some people here cried, "Conspiracy! Divider! Greedy! Counter-productive!" Not at the city, but at me.

Last year, I warned Janesville homeowners and renters will be soaked again when the city foisted a 53% increase on our water bills to replace water mains. They said the increase on our water bills will replace $3M in borrowing paid for through our property tax payments. They said this is necessary to reduce debt. Our water bills jumped of course, but the city's levy draw paid on local property tax bills was never reduced to match. We pay twice.

Brace yourself again Janesville. This is a new year. That means Janesville taxpayers are in for a whole new tax shift scam not much different from the last. This time it's the proposed so-called "transportation utility." On the surface, it will be a windfall for the local political class road lobby and their pals bootstrapped by more dependence on government. But it goes much deeper because the people who are elected and charged with watching the system for Janesville taxpayers, the city council, are actually accomplices. And our newspaper and radio stations? They only do what they're told. Everything else is a mystery to them.

The city's idea to "save" us taxpayers money is by swapping out departments, services and infrastructure held inside the local property tax levied budget and rebooting them as a line item "utility" on our quarterly water bills. Again, they did this last year with water mains. They said it's "a new way to pay."

You might recall in 2019, with city council approval, City Manager Mark Freitag requested permission from the state PSC to charge users the $3M cost of annual water main replacement on their utility water bill. The city said this change in billing would provide cash instead of bonding and add about $8 a month or about $96 a year to the average water bill.

Seems fair, right? Even the state applauded and said other cities should do the same. But nobody told residents that the previous $3M draw would become an embedded structural budget shell to remain a permanent fixture on our property tax bills.

No city council members stood up to tell it like it is, no one watched for us at city hall to demand a resolution that would remove the $3M from the local levy. This was about lessening debt, right? But they knew and because they knew, it is a conspiracy. No one from the newspaper, radio stations or community forums was watching or cared enough to show, under this scenario, how Janesville taxpayers will pay double for water mains. No one but me. Mind you, I'm not bragging about this.

This year, Janesville residents face an identical scam with the city's so called "transportation utility." The city wants residents to pay for street replacement and rehabilitation through quarterly utility billing. They're even using the same concern about debt service.

Right now, the city draws funding for streets with the $20 wheel tax, state aid and property taxes. The amount captured in property tax appears to be about $2.5M annual. The wheel tax adds another $900K. State aid is whatever the state can give on top of that. And, just like with the water main scam, nobody on the city council has yet to promise residents the city will reduce its allowable property tax levy by the same amount charged in utility billing. No one involved with the power to demand tax fairness has the integrity to do so.

We will pay twice. Again. About $5.5M (actually more because as a utility it is unrestricted by levy limits, they can increase our payment willy nilly) combined on water mains and roads in our utility bills and the $5.5M they fail to reduce in our property tax bills.

In the meantime, the city and council divert attention away by blaming the state aid formula and want more power to defeat levy limits. They're also asking residents to call Madison to support a new local sales tax. This is insanity.

Every year I've uncovered broken math and several forms of pathological deception from our city and school district engineers and every time I get a blank stare back.

If you're not following me, chances are you're getting only filtered and canned gumbo on local economic development and the city's tax increase derangement from the local media. Oh, and I don't do sports, murders or post pictures of my dinner. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Janesville Taxpayers: Don't Be Fooled By The Math Of School District Officials

Janesville school district officials must think we're stupid with the new math they use to deceive taxpayers.

Their four year operations referendum shows an escalating amount each year, almost doubling, of captured revenue while their math claims to ask less from taxpayers each year. That's quite a trick. They made this claim in the Janesville Gazette and again on a WCLO radio program.

The problem is; they don't tell us each tax increase from the previous year becomes permanently embedded into the operational budget. They also finalize this deception by claiming each $100,000 in taxable property assessed value pays a total of only $127 over the life of the referendum. If it costs Janesville taxpayers $39 to raise $3,500,000 in the first year, only a fool would believe it will cost us only $31 to raise $7,500,000 the next year, $29 to raise $11,500,00 in the third year, and so on. The fact is, their referendum will cost the owner of an average $168K assessed home $563 over the life of the four year referendum - and that's a conservative figure.

Keep in mind this is a tax hike referendum beginning with a base budget and different revenue cap established through a state formula each year and ends four years later. That means the school district can also claim any other increases it may be entitled to under the cap each year AND THEN exceed that by the amount in the binding referendum.

The school district begins post-referendum year five with a base budget including the final $14.5M captured in year four fully embedded, under the cap and permanent. In other words, just because the referendum expired, doesn't mean it no longer impacts homeowners.

The proposed tax hikes are outrageous enough, but for me, having folks running our city and schools with a seemingly perpetual mentality to deceive residents should have no place in our community. The school superintendent and finance officer watch each other's back as they double down on this deception while our local media offer no debate, rebuttal or inspection. City hall officials are no different. Even more troubling is some see this behavior as normal if not rewarding.

If you wake up in the morning in Janesville, it seems like city and school officials find a new excuse every day to increase our tax burden AND conjure new ways to deceive us. This simply doesn't have to be and it shouldn't be this way for the good folks who want to call Janesville home.

But it's too late to fix with the current leadership. Janesville needs a clean sweep top to bottom of the phantoms running our fair city along with a complete restructuring of how we elect residents to represent us in city hall and the school district.

Please vote NO on all tax hike referendums on the November ballot. We simply can't afford them on top of our property tax bills that are already among the highest in the nation per home value. But we also have to come together soon in an effort to reform our city and schools. Clearly, we are not represented.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

What They Won't Tell Us About Janesville's School Referendums

TIF Districts in Janesville will hit the Jackpot if voters approve school referendums proposed by the Janesville School District. The three tax hike referendums combined (including one for Blackhawk Tech) will significantly increase everyone's property tax bill, but any new dollars collected from properties inside TIF Districts in the name of education will instead go directly into the TIF surplus fund for redistribution - NOT for school needs!

Early reviews show city TIF District surplus accounts will pick up $236K in the first year from the proposed Janesville school district's operational budget referendum alone. $472K in the second year. $708K in the third and $944K in the fourth year. The total jackpot is expected to reach an estimated $2.4M. To be fair, the amount is almost irrelevant since even one dollar diverted away from the purpose of the referendum is theft.

Believe it or not, state law prohibits using TIF surplus revenue (increment) for public schools despite the fact these referendum dollars are collected in the name of education and school improvements.

I won't even begin to explain how, why and who rigged the system this way. But I will recommend voting "NO" on all three referendums.

NOTE: The dollar amounts were calculated from a confusing school district "doubling" explanation as reported by the Janesville Gazette. The amounts could change at any moment, but the TIF Districts role and ability to confiscate tax revenue for use other than intended remains firmly intact.

Aside from the expected windfall for TIF Districts, initial estimates for the schools' operational referendum indicated a tax bill on a Janesville home with a tax assessed value of $175,000 in 2020 would increase $70 in year one, $140 in year two, $210 in year three and $280 in year four. The total take would be $700 over the four year term of the proposed referendum.

If your pre-referendum 2020 tax bill was $4,000, it would be $4,280 in the last year of the referendum assuming no other increases, referendums or adjustments. Good luck with that and what happens in year five looks to be a double disaster.

New figures released a couple days ago by the Janesville school administration however changed the first year tax bill increase on a $100K assessed home to $39. So the first year increase on a $175K assessed home would now be $68 (down from $70) with declining, not doubling, amounts each year thereafter. Their new adjusted amounts seem deliberately deceiving without explaining whether each annual increase is accumulative on the pre-referendum tax bill.

The language construction in the referendum question will be the bottom line. If it's a spending referendum, tax payers can expect to be hammered because it will allow the district to levy whatever it takes, regardless of state aid amounts or economic factors, to get that amount. If it's a taxing referendum with a strict cap on levy dollars each year, Janesville taxpayers may have a better guarantee, but the amount the district wants is expected to almost double the local levy for operational spending in four years.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Wisconsin Counties, Sheriffs and Local Administrations Throw Gov. Evers and His Mask Order Under a Bus

It was only a few days ago when leaders of the Wisconsin Counties association and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities spoke about their struggles to enact local mask mandates in the absence of a statewide order. The hapless leaders spoke as if their hands were tied without a statewide mandate.

NBC 15 Excerpt
Cities are looking for some kind of uniformity statewide, Deschane said.

“Cities see people getting sick, they’re getting these reports daily on people being hospitalized, dying and all the rest,” he said. “They feel a great sense of frustration but they don’t necessarily have the tools to act. ... We are all in a boat that none of us wanted to be in together but we have to figure this out.”

If only they had a statewide mandate, everything would be fixed was their message.

In a surprise move few expected including myself, Gov. Evers gave them the uniformity they wanted. He announced a statewide mask up order that takes effect today. What did Evers get in return? Nothing.

There was no statement from the Wisconsin Counties association or the League of Wisconsin Municipalities thanking the Governor for getting them out of their "woe is me" bind or showing support to enforce the mask up order. Nothing.

In fact, an increasing number of local law enforcement agencies are warning citizens not to call about mask complaints because they won't respond.

Even Democratic leaning Janesville and Rock County said calls would be low priority and expect to issue little to nothing in fines. Their response for the most egregious violators is educating people and working towards voluntary compliance. They won't even say whether they agree with the Governor's order. That's not a very big vote of confidence for Gov. Evers.

Truth is; without enforcement, Gov. Evers mask up order becomes little more than a toothless recommendation and we're back to square one.

But if anything positive will come out of Ever's sudden executive order it will be exposing all the counties and cities and their associations who claimed "without statewide uniformity" as frauds. Their hands were never tied to enact their own local mask up ordinances. They just needed something or someone to blame why they won't.

Friday, April 10, 2020

In Janesville Nothing Is Certain But

Unbelievable! But if you're familiar with the relentless tax gouging march by the folks running the city of Janesville. Believable.

At today's daily briefing by city hall foot soldiers delivering orders from City Commander Mark Freitag, the city assessor will be moving forward yet again with a new line of property tax increases for a select group of Janesville homeowners, this despite last year's historic 31% tax bill increase and the potentially devastating economic hardship posed by the Coronavirus crisis. About 1,875 homeowners will be getting the hit.

Instead of delivering property tax relief from a mounting budget surplus, they said the adjustment is necessary and part of their "strategic plan."

The Janesville City Council no doubt has approved of this nasty move. The Janesville Council President and council candidates including Council Member Sue Conley who is running for State Assembly should step up and explain their position.

You can watch the briefing below. The assessor comes on at 11:00.

4/10/2020 Daily Briefing

Thursday, January 23, 2020

City Punishes Farm Family. Then Punishes Taxpayers With The Bill.

From the "we have to destroy the farm in order to save it" files comes another story about the misleadership and really bad decisions from within Janesville's backward if not corrupt city hall.

Before I begin, I must give the Janesville Gazette another one of those rare once or twice a year credits for the story.

This time it revolves around a couple ...well, here's the Gazette's quick take ...

The city took their land, but it wasn't in lieu of a six figure debt payment as the local Janesville Gazette suggests. The city took their land to punish the couple for not being able to afford to pay the city's demand. That's right. The couple said they can't afford to pay and with dwindling farm activity and other pressures, said it would take 170 years of their modest annual farm rent income to pay the city's bill.

So it was agreed and the city took their land.

It's one thing if the couple requested the curb, gutter and sidewalks, or fell behind on property tax. But they did not. The $130K bill for unrequested, unnecessary public works literally fell from the sky into their mailbox.

Why is the land NOT in lieu of the $130K road cost? Because according to the newspaper story, the city will replant the land (not sell it to recoup the money) with native wildflowers and turn it into a park while holding the property in a covenant for the family in case the family at some point in the future can afford to pay the ransom.

So how does the city pay the bill with the land they confiscated? They don't. Who pays? Unsurprisingly, the Gazette doesn't dig into that because well, THAT would ruin everything.

And so it is. They force $130K worth of needless public infrastructure on this family, get $130K in land value AND still collect the $130K from taxpayers snookered to pay the bill. It's a Win-Win double jackpot for the city! No eminent domain necessary. They'll all get raises and special commemorative coins from the city manager for this one.

What many in Janesville see as an obvious, bold act of extortion and an affront to common sense and decency, is turned into a "gift" trope by the city with the protectionist Gazette in tow. All in all, this story like dozens of eye-opening raging stories before it, is likely to just die on the vine. But to the folks running city hall, it's just another day and week in Janesville Wisconsin.