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Our Views: Janesville council misses budget opportunity with inaction Monday

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November 14, 2013

If city council members plan changes in Janesville’s 2014 budget, they missed a good opportunity to pitch their ideas Monday.

Instead, they listened to a handful of residents speak during a public hearing, then went on to other business. If they had changed the tax levy or services Monday, they would have given residents another crack at commenting on those adjustments during the second and final hearing Monday, Nov. 25.

Acting City Manager Jay Winzenz says the council is due to enact the budget that evening. Debate over 2014 sidewalk installations also will continue Nov. 25. The crowd of sidewalk critics will return. So if council members want to discuss changes in the budget, they set themselves up for a long meeting in Thanksgiving week and will force residents commenting on the budget or sidewalks to sit and wait in a longer line to the podium.

While it was disappointing to see so few residents speak on the budget Monday, that doesn’t mean more won’t turn out Nov. 25. After all, as The Gazette’s top headline last Saturday proclaimed, “Fees up, services down.” Lap swimmers, who at times must wait in line, are incensed that the city could drop the evening half of its morning-evening program at Marshall Middle School to save the school district’s charges to the city. They have merit in reasoning that the district, which pays to heat and maintain the pools anyway, should work with the city to keep the program intact.

Likewise, some business owners might want to comment on plans to reduce snow hauling from terraces on side streets downtown. Climbing over snow banks won’t help employees get to work. It also won’t encourage customers to patronize downtown businesses in an era when the city keeps exploring revitalization ideas.

Credit the city for switching its budget process in recent years from one to two public hearings. Giving residents more opportunity to comment is always good. If the idea, however, was to let the council propose, debate and alter the budget after the first hearing so residents could respond to the changes at the second one, that notion was lost Monday.

Winzenz suggests that, in theory, you could create a never-ending cycle of changing the budget, letting residents comment, responding with more changes, offering another hearing, etc. That’s true, though budgets must be enacted on fiscal schedules.

It’s reasonable, however, to make changes after one hearing to provide residents a chance to consider them and comment before the document is final. Call Monday’s inaction an opportunity missed.



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