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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!

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