Madison’s City Council added funding for three police officers and rejected attempts to staff a new ambulance during the first night of 2020 budget deliberations Tuesday.
Alders did not vote on the operating budget in its entirety and recessed acting on other operating budget amendments until Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. After voting on the 2020 operating budget, the City Council will take up next year’s capital spending plan.
Police and fire resources dominated the City Council’s discussion and made up much of public testimony. Alders and members of the public, including police officers, spoke to the workload and low morale within the Madison Police Department.
“Times are really tough for our officers,” Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said, also highlighting the safety concerns he hears from downtown residents. “That’s why they’re resigning at record pace. I think the least we can do is show our support for them by adding three additional positions.”
The City Council rejected an amendment that would have added six officers by making cuts to several areas of the budget and instead, adopted the amendment adding three officers by appropriating $168,000 for salaries and benefits. The decision to add three officers passed on a 12-8 vote.
Alds. Marsha Rummel, District 6; Shiva Bidar, District 5; Tag Evers, District 13; Grant Foster, District 15; Keith Furman, District 19; Patrick Heck, District 2; Zachary Henak District 10; and Rebecca Kemble, District 18, voted against the amendment.
“Overwhelmingly, the motivation here is to address fear, and I think that is a bad policy,” Foster said.
The adopted amendment does not make any cuts to the operating budget and would transfer $45,000 in funds for planning studies to the capital budget, which is subject to approval by the City Council. It also leaves $13,000 remaining under the levy limit.
The new officers would start in the May 2020 police training academy and have an annualized cost to the city of $268,200.
Acting Chief Vic Wahl, who took over after former chief Mike Koval resigned at the end of September, said his fear is that the MPD will fall increasingly further behind in staffing levels if the city does not start adding officers.
“It’s important we make forward progress,” Wahl said.
The City Council will resume budget deliberations Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in room 201 of the City-County Building, 210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.
More police officers
Public safety and health make up the largest share of the city’s general fund budget. The Madison Police Department has a nearly $85 million budget, and the Madison Fire Department’s budget totals $58.8 million, according to the executive operating budget proposal.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s $340.4 million operating budget proposal did not add police officers and increased general fund spending on the police department by 6.5% or about $5 million.
For several years, former chief Mike Koval complained about the shortage of patrol officers. In this year’s budget request, the MPD asked for 10 officers. His surprise resignation at the end of September was due, in part, to the frustration over the city’s unwillingness to add more officers.
Starting in February, the MPD will reassign 12 specialized positions designed to do proactive, engagement work back to patrol.
Officer Nick Cleary is a neighborhood officer in the West District who was reassigned last month due to patrol shortages. Earlier, Cleary said that the workload per officer is up and expressed concern over how often the MPD only responds to priority calls.
“The problem is how can we address the growing number of concerns with shrinking number of police resources,” Cleary said.
Wahl said the department is struggling with morale. Patrol shortages mean officers work more overtime and are unable to take time off.
“Clearly this has been a very challenging year for our workforce,” Wahl said. “I do think even a small increase will resonate with our staff to show that we are making progress.”
No new ambulance
Henak and Michael Tierney, District 16, proposed adding 10 firefighter positions to staff a ninth ambulance at Fire Station 14 on the city’s southeast side. Beginning in 2021, the annualized cost of these positions would have been $826,000.
Similar amendments would have added a new ambulance but no new positions and another would have started the jobs in the fall.
Henak and Tierney’s amendment would have eliminated the independent police auditor position and removed funding from community building and engagement work.
Bidar, who is also council president, said she could not support the amendment because of the proposed cuts. She committed to working on a plan to secure a ninth ambulance in 2021.
“I don’t see a path forward to do it in the 2020 budget,” Bidar said. “I know it deeply saddens every one of us not to do more.”
Fire Station 14 includes an engine with a paramedic, but not an ambulance. The city last added an ambulance in 2010.
People in Fire Station 14’s territory primarily depend on ambulances traveling from stations on Cottage Grove, West Badger and Lien roads. Fire Chief Steven Davis said that when these ambulances travel outside of their territory area, it causes a “domino effect” of dependence on other ambulances to cover the rest of the city.
Davis said that the fire department is able to respond with an ambulance to a situation in Station 14’s territory in under nine minutes 53% of the time. In other parts of the city, the MFD can respond in under nine minutes nearly 90% of the time.
“When you’re confronting a health crisis like a traumatic injury, stroke, or heart attack, this statistic is simply unacceptable,” Davis said in a blog post.
Tierney argued that the ambulance is needed to address a shortage on the southeast side and help to alleviate the city-wide shortage of medic units we confront on a daily basis. Between Sept. 15 and Oct. 30, the city ran out of available medic units a total of seven times, according to the fire department.
“Nobody should find themselves in this type of situation. We as a city need to do more to protect our community,” Tierney said in a message to constituents.
Fire Fighters Local 311 president Mahlon Mitchell, who is also the state president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, urged the City Council to put public safety at the forefront.
“What we’re asking is you adequately staff the Madison Fire Department, so we can do our jobs,” Mitchell said.