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Friday, August 14, 2009

Water Tower Funding A Matter Of Savings Over Safety

On Monday night (Aug.10) in a close and controversial decision (4-3), the Janesville city council voted to stop the city administration from seeking stimulus money to seed the funding for a water tower in the NE quadrant of the city. The Janesville Gazette wrote about the council's decision in an article on Tuesday misleadingly titled Council nixes water tower, and subtitled 'Struggling economy cited as key reason."

First of all, this recent council decision did not "nix" or cancel the city's plan for a water tower. It merely directed the administration not to seek stimulus funding. Secondly, how could city council members vote with any confidence on this funding without first erasing any doubt about the danger risks implied by the water director's earlier claims? Regardless of the economy.

Not so fast you say? After all, ain't I the guy who raised a ruckus on this blog portraying the water tower as nothing more than a socialized gift to encourage development into the farmland? Well, yes and no.

Back in April, I was livid when the Janesville water utility director explained that since 2005, the city experienced eight episodes of inadequate water pressure that placed nearly 20,000 people at risk of either bacterial contamination or fire safety, but he never came forward during the time frame since to recommend the council deny new development in that area based on 'public endangerment.' Not once. What does the director have to say for that now? Well, at Monday's meeting he said he dealt with those water issues "concurrently" at the time of the new construction. But that's like sending off an under fueled airliner knowing full well it has no place to land at the planned destination. And then finally thinking about the danger and consequences while the jet is still in flight, only to keep your fingers crossed tightly. That explanation doesn't work for me.

Rather than rehashing all the twists and turns of the past about the city administration's portrayal of the need for the water tower, we're now better left to just consider the impact from water tower decisions the council will be facing over the next several months.
Voting with Steeber were George Brunner and Frank Perrotto. The three said a tower would improve water service quality and safety.
Because there was no closure on the safety issue, all the council members are now painted into a corner regarding future development in the NE or the water tower. Whether they want to believe it or not. The three voting for the funding based on safety issues should have to explain those safety concerns the next time a developer or parcel owner in the NE quadrant requests a hook-up to city water. Unless of course, money trumps safety. And the four council members (including the city manager) who voted against funding will have a difficult time bringing up the safety issue in future water tower discussions, lest they be accused of trading public safety for budget savings at this stage in the game.

Although they all seem to be in agreement that future growth does not play a major part into the decision regarding the water tower, the utility director said the city will eventually have to stop growing once it reached a certain elevation without the tower. The director at another point even implied that such a claim (for growth) is a false portrayal of the need for the water tower.

Despite the Gazette's "Council nixes water tower" claim, it looks like the council will still be entertaining a land purchase agreement for the tower site over next few months. This will be the next important decision to watch for.


Anonymous said...

I'm a Janesville resident who found your blog about a year ago and find myself coming back over and over again. Your articles are usually grounded on some good common sense But this time, you come across as someone who will find a way to oppose the city council just to oppose them. They had to make a tough decision with the information they had.

Lou Kaye said...

First of all, thanks for your regular visitation.

If I were a council member given the information I've read from the newspaper, council testimonials, at this blog and from the city agenda materials, I would have abstained from the vote up to this point and explain my position why. At Monday’s meeting, Voskuil started went off in the direction I would have taken with the water director when she asked about the criteria he used to evaluate the performance of the system. The director really didn’t answer the question but somewhere in his response I remember hearing that it was “subjective.” She should have pressed on. Weeks ago I would have asked the director to prepare a summary of those eight episodes he mentioned back in April with dates and the steps he took to handle each occurance along with his prescription. Although I consider myself strongly opposed to sprawl growth and support prudent fiscal policy, there is no way I would let my ideology or economic conditions get in way of the health and safety of one resident, let alone 20,000 when those doubts exist.

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