By Ryan Spoehr - October 31st 2023
The city of Janesville is seeking an additional $1 million in Rock County’s 2024 budget for the Woodman’s Sports and Convention Center, on top of the $500,000 in county dollars already proposed for the project at Uptown Janesville mall.
Janesville Deputy City Manager Ryan McCue in recent days issued a report on the project, noting a recent meeting held between City Manager Kevin Lahner and members of the Rock County Board of Supervisors.
“Last week, City Manager Lahner met with quite a few Rock County supervisors and requested an amendment to their budget adding $1 million,” McCue wrote.
McCue but did not say who the supervisors were, how many were involved nor which municipalities they represent. The meeting did not appear to have been publicly noticed.
Lahner did not respond to inquiries from The Gazette, attempting to confirm such a meeting occurred.
However, Lahner’s assistant, Nick Faust did confirm that Lahner met with county board members who represent districts within the city of Janesville.
Faust did not immediately respond to a request for clarification, on whether Lahner may have additionally communicated on the matter electronically, via email, with supervisors who represent districts outside the city.
Faust’s email listed RJ Sutterlin, Lori Pennycook, Mark Bobzien, Ron Bomkamp, Wes Davis and Jeremy Zajac as those who met with Lahner.
Sutterlin declined to comment Monday. Bobzien, Davis and Bomkamp could not be reached prior to deadline.
Pennycook told The Gazette Monday that the meeting was more than just about the Woodman’s Center. She said it was also a meet-and-greet with Lahner about how he believed city and county governments could work together.
Pennycock said while she appreciates the intent of the meeting, she expressed apprehension about the requested allocation. She said rising taxes in general are going to already strain local property owners’ budgets this year.
“These things fall on the backs of the voters. These are not very self-sustaining because if they are then they would each have a millionaire backing them,” Pennycook said. “I get it but I’m on the side of not asking for more money.”
Lahner subsequently wrote a letter to Smith and the county board Oct. 24, formally requesting the $1.5 million.
In part, Lahner wrote that he was “writing to urge you to increase the contribution to $1,500,000, which will be the final dollars to reach our funding goals and make this exciting project a reality.”
This was not the first time the city has asked for county funding for the Woodman’s Center. In September 2022, then-City Manager Mark Freitag lobbied for $2.5 million.
In November 2022, the county board approved its 2023 budget without $2 million that had been proposed to be included for the Woodman’s Center.
“I don’t believe it was because no one believed it wasn’t a positive project. I’d encourage anyone who wants to support it to make a donation. Giving your own money to a project is different from giving it tax collections,” Finance Committee member Debi Towns said at the time.
Towns added that she was glad that sales tax revenue was healthy but would rather see that pay down debt, at time when the county had taken on projects at Rock Haven and the Rock County Jail.
In February, the county board’s Planning and Development Committee opted not to send a referendum to the full board to consider, to fund the Woodman’s Center.
The county board’s Finance Committee will act on its amended budget on Friday at 2 p.m. and send it to the county board for approval. The county board expects to adopt the 2024 budget Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. at the Rock County Courthouse, 51 S. Main St., Janesville.
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