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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.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Top Ten Janesville Stories From 2019

#10: The city's bizarre plan to relocate its growing homeless population from downtown to Palmer Park, then to Traxler, eventually settling on a parking lot near the police station.

#9: Uncovered by citizen journalist "The Rock," was another city fail when a contractor hired for restoration work after the removal of the Monterey Dam reported that more testing of the soil was needed for contaminants and structural integrity to build a berm. For his diligence, the contractor was fired.

#8: The city's skyline changed forever as the iconic GM smokestack was dragged down into rubble without notice. For many in Janesville the chimney was a symbol of activity, prosperity and community. Daft city officials squandered the historic moment.

#7: Warned of a historic property tax shift and hike resulting from their support of the city's wrongheaded growth plans, the Janesville school board made the ultimate sacrifice; they voted themselves an annual property tax relief stipend! No referendum.

#6: City Hall opened 2019 by expanding TIF District agreements to include housing developments. The city closed 2019 with a proposal to loosen TIF District property tax kickback terms even further for downtown, from 15 years to 20, for select developers.

#5: Under normal circumstances this would have been #1, but the sale of the Janesville Gazette, its radio stations, followed by the sale of the Beloit Daily News, should have brought renewal and hope. It didn't. On the plus side, I have more content than ever.

#4: With the end of the bitter, petty and divisive partisan politics of Paul Ryan and Scott Walker, 2019 marks a potential new beginning for Wisconsin and Janesville. Both have packed up their bags and were last seen heading to the East Coast.

#3: The run-up to a holy-cow 53% increase in water rates, purportedly needed to lower the city's long-term debt load by $24M, coincided perfectly with the city's urgency to open a new $24M borrowing note for hockey rinks at the capital investor owned Mall.

#2: The Janesville School Board sold out by putting developers' profit over childrens' education and taxpayers when they endorsed city deals exempting sweetheart housing developers from paying property taxes from up to 500 families paying market-rate rent for the next 15 years.

#1 A perfect storm of bad city economics and mismanagement culminated in the city-wide property tax revaluation to deliver historic increases on homeowners tax bills. The Janesville Gazette editorialized that the dynamics behind the tax hike are a "mystery."

One honorable mention. The city of Beloit picked up two major construction developments in 2019. It was announced that a developer for Amazon will be building a one million square foot warehouse in the city. Meanwhile, local investor D. Hendricks paired with Q. Studer to propose building a new ball park for the Beloit Snappers. The big kicker: Local taxpayers will not be put on the hook paying out long-term annual subsidies for either of these proposals. SHOCK!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Janesville School Board Delivers Crushing 25% Average Tax Increase to Homeowners

This. Is. Incredible.

But there's more punishing blows on the way.

According to a Janesville Gazette story on this week's school board meeting, the board voted unanimously to increase the local budget levy by 8.6% and pay down some notes that will "save" the school district $500K in debt service. That increase came despite declining enrollment and a last minute $2M injection in state aid.

The Gazette takes the usual soft approach beginning with "Taxpayers might not notice an increase in their tax bills come December" and how the district "held the line" on the tax rate keeping it nearly flat from last year at 8.48 per 1,000. But with property assessments going up an average 25% this year and residential at 31%, the flat tax rate is expected bump up the school tax portion of the bill the same percentage of our assessments. That translates to an average 25% increase for homeowners and renters. It's either 8.48 per 1,000 means 8.48 per 1,000, or it doesn't. Unless there was a huge mathematical error, typo or pile of unicorn dollars left uncounted in their figures, this is going to hurt a lot.

Meanwhile on social media, school supporters say the district did their part and are not to blame for the massive increase. Others claim if you don't like it ...move.

For the past six months, I've been warning about a perfect storm of devastating tax hikes resulting from a historic tax shift of wrongheaded economic development policies, dark store value lock ins and assessment decisions by the city. But even this doesn't add up.

The city has nearly zero countable new construction since most of it is quarantined in TIF Districts. So the city-wide average assessment bump of 25% acts as quasi-growth. How that plays out and whether it limits the school district's tax hike could be significant. The district, for their part, appears to be using the citywide assessment as a convenient backdoor for a a substantial revenue increase.

Yet soon after the school hike uproar, the Gazette wrote it's a mystery, and everyone should keep calm.

Link: Janesville School Board OKs 8.6% tax levy increase

Friday, September 13, 2019

Monterey Bay Contractor Gets Stuck In City Hall Muck

Wow. Will the scandals and cover-ups at Janesville city hall ever come to an end?

New revelations about interactions between a contractor and city officials regarding restoration work in Monterey Bay show a carefully plodding administration withholding important information with an intent to deceive.

According to FOIA documents gathered by a local Facebook page, The Rock, Janesville officials tried to either plead ignorance or pretend like they're not obligated to offer any information about the levels of toxic contamination they were aware of unless asked, instead hoping a contractor would unwittingly bury under acres and acres of muck first.

The Janesville Gazette editorial predictably attempts to soften the city's responsibility in this disturbing episode by blaming both sides. However, the contractor appears only guilty of seeking more information and additional testing to clear the air.

City officials involved in the cover-up are wasting no time to snuff the scandal out by respinning the storyline while a slew of documents tell a story of indifference in the city's responses to the contractor. Even the Wisconsin DNR, other than washing their hands clean of any responsibility, appears unwilling to commit or disclose any information regarding the Monterey controversy.

As a writer with a strong opinion, I don't want to color the work of the excellent citizen investigative journalism provided by the Rock on this issue. So, I encourage any of my readers who care about Janesville and the pattern of behavior in our local government to visit The Rock Facebook for more information on this extremely important matter.

For those new to this concerning issue, I suggest scrolling down the Rock's Facebook page to at least the Sept. 6th post titled, "The problem in Monterey Bay" and work your way up to bring you up to date.

Read it for yourself. You decide.