Petition started for referendum on Janesville fire station plan - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Petition started for referendum on Janesville fire station plan

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JANESVILLE (WKOW) -- Despite a city council decision in April, people in Janesville are still hoping to have a say in what happens to the main fire station in town.

The Janesville City Council voted to approve a plan that would tear down and rebuild a new Fire Station 1 on Milton Avenue. That project, estimated to cost between $9-9.5 million, would also mean 12 homes nearby would be demolished to allow the station to expand.

Fire Chief Jim Jensen told 27 News in March the current facility, built in 1957, no longer fits the needs of the department and is getting rundown. The city has been weighing options for nearly two decades and decided the current location is the best spot to maintain rapid response times.

Some aren't happy with the city's decision, saying the council voted without enough public input.

City Council President DuWayne Severson tells 27 News they followed the appropriate steps before making the decision, including public hearings and a plan commission review.

"It's a difficult decision for everybody but there's been a lot of planning done over the last 20 years, over the need to improve the fire station services, so the council moved forward accordingly," Severson says.

Long-time resident Bill McCoy says he was asked by others in the community to start a petition to bring the decision to the public.

"Our goal is to let the citizens of Janesville make their decisions," McCoy tells 27 News. "If they want this huge Fire Station #1 where it is at, they'll have a chance to vote on it."

McCoy will start the petition on June 2 with a hope to get a referendum on the fire station project on the November ballot. According to election policy, he has 60 days to gather 3,165 signatures, which is 15 percent of the number of residents who voted in the last governor's election.

In the meantime, the city is going ahead with its plans in order to stay on track if the petition and the referendum fail.

"It's up in the air so we're really going to continue on because we are on a timeline and our plan is to break ground in spring of next year," says Maggie Hrdlicka, management information specialist with the Janesville city manager's office. "So without knowing if this referendum is even happening for sure, we want to forge on."

Hrdlicka tells 27 News the city has formed an ad hoc committee of staff, council members, residents and a historical representative to find ways to make this project work and save money while still providing the fire department with with it needs to operate.

The city's home acquisition and relocation plan was just recently approved by the state. Now, a staff member has started working with the homeowners who will be displaced, negotiating to come to an agreement on reimbursement for their properties and the move.

If the petition gets the signatures and a referendum passes, the vote would reverse the council's decision, but Hrdlicka says there is no backup plan as of now.

McCoy is confident he'll get the signatures needed. He admits a remodel is necessary but is concerned about the high cost of the plan that affects all taxpayers. He says the city can't afford another big project right now and he says he's not the only one who feels that way.

"People have been calling," McCoy says. "We've got people interested, we've got people saying 'yes, we're going to do it' so we're going to be out doing it."

Severson says the city will take the necessary steps if and when a petition is presented. Until then, the city will move forward with the project as planned.

Click here to follow the city's project timeline.

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