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Brandi Grayson

Brandi Grayson, a member of the Young Gifted and Black Coalition, speaks Tuesday to a crowd in Downtown Madison protesting the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August. Demonstrators also took on local issues during the protest, calling attention to racial disparities in Madison and opposing a proposed new Dane County Jail.

The past year brought a mix of good and bad for Madison residents, including news the Kraft Heinz Oscar Mayer plant will close, the police shooting of Tony Robinson, an influx of new development and election of the most diverse City Council in Madison's history.

Heading into 2016, Madison and Dane County are continuing to grapple with issues like homelessness and racial disparities. Meanwhile, the city is continuing to grow and is embarking on major development projects that will shape the future of the downtown.

Here are five of the key local issues to keep an eye on in the coming year:

Criminal justice reform

Following protests from the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition and others against a new Dane County Jail, the County Board stepped up efforts in 2015 to reform the criminal justice system and address racial disparities.

The board passed a sweeping resolution aimed at reform, formed work groups and implemented recommendations from those groups in the 2016 budget. Some of the key elements include hiring a data analyst, requiring reports on solitary confinement and studying issues with current diversion programs.

For 2016, the question will be how those initiatives play out and whether momentum behind them sustains into the new year and beyond.

Judge Doyle Square

Now, three remaining developers are working on honing their proposals, which are due back to the city on Jan. 19. The city’s negotiating team will then have until February to complete an initial review of all proposals and meet with the city’s Board of Estimates and City Council for further direction.

Next year could be the year the city finally breaks ground on the years-long project, or it could be another year of limbo for the two downtown blocks.

Homelessness

Madison’s struggles with housing and how to serve homeless people escalated into heated and personal debates this year, dividing many in the community and drawing the attention of national media.

In April, Mayor Paul Soglin sent a controversial email detailing concerns about drug use and other illegal activity among the downtown homeless population and calling for all homeless to sleep at the City County Building instead of at other encampments.

In the months since, the city and county decided to ban sleeping at that building, Soglin proposed a one-hour time limit on downtown public benches that failed and the only downtown day shelter, at Bethel Lutheran Church, announced it would close in April.

Meanwhile, the county purchased a site on East Washington Avenue for a long-awaited day homeless resource center, and the city is in the midst of building a permanent supportive housing project for homeless adults on Rethke Avenue. Both of those projects are slated to open in 2016.

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Municipal broadband

Madison is moving forward in 2016 with two initiatives aimed at figuring out whether the city can set up its own municipal broadband network.

The city selected ResTech Services to set up an internet pilot in four low-income neighborhoods. The company plans to install fiber in the spring and have the network up and running by fall 2016.

Simultaneously, the city has selected Columbia Telecommunications Corporation to conduct a strategic analysis of a possible citywide fiber initiative that would potentially compete with providers like TDS Telecom, AT&T and Charter Communications. That report is due back to the city in May.

Housing development

As Madison’s renter population continues to swell, new apartment buildings and hundreds of new rental units are going up every year. Next year will be no exception.

According to a city report, Madison would have to keep adding more than 1,000 units every year, indefinitely, to keep up with current demand trends. Neighborhoods and affordable housing advocates are protesting the number of those new units that are high-rise luxury apartments.

A few projects currently in the works include the Galaxie on East Washington Avenue, The James (previously known as The Hub II) at 510 University Ave., affordable housing on West Mifflin Street, a five-story building at 444 S. Park St. and Wingra Point II at the intersection of Park Street and Fish Hatchery Road. 

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