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Two bypasses, branch libraries, fire stations in city five-year strategic plan

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Neil Johnson
July 12, 2014

JANESVILLE—As the public catches wind of the city's new five-year strategic plan, responses from residents have ranged from wonder to confusion, City Manager Mark Freitag said.

“I'm amazed. I run into people, and they're like, 'Strategic whuh?'” Freitag said.

“I tell them, 'Yeah—you can actually read on paper all the things we're thinking about trying to do.' They say, 'Oh. Wow.'”

The document generated by city staff and approved by the city council in June gives an outline for the next five budget cycles. The 33 pages include an itemized list of 420 tasks: needs and wants that range from capital improvement projects to economic revitalization programs to initiatives to combat heroin use in Janesville.

The plan outlines ideas that rose from months of staff brainstorming sessions since Frietag took the helm as city administrator late last year.

Among the ideas:

-- A pair of highway bypasses that would encircle Janesville.

-- Branch libraries in vacant strip mall properties on the northeast and south sides.

-- Annual schedules for utility and street repair and maintenance.

The plan assigns potential dates for tasks, such buying land in the next two years for future fire stations. It sets placeholders for downtown redevelopment, including a potential downtown park, a river walk and even a kayak run between the Centerway dam and Firehouse Park, Freitag said.  

There's a wide range of ideas—and potential costs—but none of it is set in stone. In fact, each task has no firm dollar amount, just cost ranges denoted by a varying number of dollar sign symbols.

For instance, a task marked with a single “$” symbol, such as the city marketing shovel ready sites could cost up to $50,000. A big-ticket item, one that could total $1 million or more, is labeled with six “$” symbols.  

Officials will wear out the pages of the plan as a “working document” as the city council digs into the 2015 budget in upcoming weeks, Freitag said.

Janesville, Wisconsin, 2015–19 strategic plan

Timelines for tasks will change. Potential projects slated for 2015 or 2016 could get bumped to 2020 or later.

“We recognized you can't put this kind of thing into concrete quite yet. It is really going to take some good discussion in our upcoming budget cycle,” Freitag said. “Are these really the things we want to get after in 2015 and then in '16, '17, '18 and '19? Or are these things that you want to defer?”

PUTTING OUT FLAMES

It's the first time in memory the city has used a strategic plan to guide spending and focus.

When he took the helm as city manager, Freitag said he was surprised the city didn't have such a plan. At the same time, residents were complaining to him the city lacked “proactive” planning, he said.

“Things that I've heard over and over my first six months here are:

-- "One, the city is reactive, not proactive.

-- "And two, we have too many plans and not enough execution,” Freitag said.

“This plan gets after the reactive piece. We are being proactive. We're thinking ahead.”

The city caught heat this year after it floated a plan to build a new fire station along Milton Avenue near Fire Station No. 1.

Some residents were outraged by the $9.5 million cost of the project and because the station plans discussed by the council in closed meetings mean the city would demolish nearly a dozen homes.

The strategic plan shows potential land buys in 2015 and 2016 for two future fire stations on the city's north and south sides, areas where growth is anticipated.

Freitag said that doesn't mean the city has immediate plans to build more fire stations, and he admitted land buys could leave the city holding real estate if it doesn't build any new stations within the next decade.

But having land purchases slated could help the city avoid a repeat of what he called a “friction point” over the planned replacement of Fire Station No. 1, he said.

“A new fire station has been talked about for 20 years,” Freitag said. “Wouldn't it have been wonderful if 20 years ago, the city had said, 'This is where the future Fire Station No. 1 is going to go? And oh, by the way, if we need to buy land, we buy the land there.' Then, whenever you build it, you build it. But at least you've bought the land.”

He said future sites could display signs that show they'd house future fire stations.

“That way, everybody who drives by, buys or builds on that site knows that someday—you don't know when, but based on population and city growth, someday—a fire station is going to go into that site. There's no surprise,” Freitag said.

NEEDS AND WANTS

A glimpse at the hundreds of items in the strategic plan shows both needs and wants. Freitag said city staff has offered ideas of which tasks are immediately essential and which are conceptual and would be examined further in the future.

Some tasks are long-term, such as plans slated in 2020 or later for two highway bypasses that would link Highway 11 and Highway 14 in a loop around Janesville, said Max Gagin, a city management analyst who worked on the strategic plan.

A looping bypass is far from a new idea, but Gagin said the city believes it could spur industrial and residential development and take traffic pressure off residential streets such as Pontiac Drive.

“People could travel places quicker from various sides of town,” he said.

Gagin called the bypass idea more “conceptual” than “concrete,” but he said having it in the strategic plan leaves it “place marked” and open for future discussion.

Some tasks in the plan are more specific.

The Janesville Police Department, for instance, has talked about putting security cameras downtown in alleys or dark areas where crimes are more likely.

Freitag called that idea “more of a want” and estimated the cameras could cost $100,000—a project large enough that the city's operating fund couldn't cover it. More likely, it would have to be scheduled with other capital projects, he said.

Freitag said the council will decide whether the items are “wants or needs” and where some could fit into the city's schedule of capital projects.     

“One of the major things we will work through during this upcoming budget is to make sure the five-year capital projects plan is nested inside the strategic plan,” Freitag said.



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