With spending for measures including an independent police auditor and increased funding for affordable housing projects over the next five years, Madison’s City Council adopted a $340.7 million operating budget and a $173.9 million capital budget Wednesday.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said she will sign the 2020 budgets as amended by the City Council. The budget builds on initiatives Rhodes-Conway prioritized in her campaign for mayor.
“It was very important to me that we continue to support affordable housing,” Rhodes-Conway said. “It was important to me that we make significant progress in transit and both of those things happened in this budget.”
The operating budget, approved on a voice vote, increases spending over 2019 by 2.6% and increases property taxes on the average home, valued at $300,967, by $94 or 3.6%. The budget sets the tax levy at $250 million, which is up 3.4% over last year.
The capital budget, also approved on a voice vote, relies on $95.7 million in authorized borrowing.
Going into the 2020 budget, Madison faced an $11 million gap. To help fill the deficit, the City Council adopted a $40 vehicle registration fee, which is expected to generate $7.9 million in revenue. The new revenue will also help implement bus rapid transit.
Another revenue increase comes from the Urban Forestry Special Charge, which rises 18.5% over 2019 for a total of $5.22 million.
Alders also approved reducing the contingent reserve by $80,000 to offset a levy limit adjustment that resulted from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue denying two “chargebacks.”
As a taxation district, the city pays the full amount of a property tax refund and charges back the non-city share to the other taxing jurisdictions. On Tuesday, the DOR said the two “chargebacks” did not conform to state law.
Rhodes-Conway said the 2020 budget process revealed that the city needs to improve its long range planning for city facilities and staffing. Those talks have already begun, she said.
“I hope that we can take maybe a month or two before we can start the 2021 budget,” Rhodes-Conway said.
Police auditor, peer support funding
Over two nights, alders amended Rhodes-Conway’s $340.4 executive operating budget proposal by adopting seven amendments.
On Tuesday, the City Council added three police officers to the Madison Police Department. This change had the largest fiscal impact with a cost of $123,000 in the operating budget and $45,000 in the capital budget.
In order to free up funding for additional officers, Ald. Paul Skidmore, District 9, sponsored an amendment removing $200,000 for an independent police auditor position. He said it was not his intention to “derail or disband or kill” the position but to work out the details.
“Hitting the pause button to work out the details isn’t killing the project,” Skidmore said during Tuesday night’s deliberations. “It’s common sense.”
The amendment failed on a 3-17 vote. Skidmore and Alds. Michael Tierney, District 16; and Syed Abbas, District 12, voted in favor of removing the position.
Rhodes-Conway included the police auditor in her budget proposal and said alders and city committees would be involved in crafting a position description. The auditor would be tasked with examining police policies, patterns and practices and promoting long-term systemic changes on an ongoing basis.
The mayor said the funding amount was determined by her office in coordination with the Finance Department staff and would cover salary, benefits and supplies.
“It is an estimate, but it is an informed estimated based on similar positions around the country,” Rhodes-Conway said.
The Madison Police Department Policy Procedure & Review Ad Hoc Committee, which studied the MPD’s policies, procedures and practices for about four years, maintains that the auditor position is critical in implementing all other recommendations. The committee’s findings were documented in a report released Oct. 18.
“Our goal is to make (the MPD) function more effectively, to give them the support they need to do that,” ad hoc committee co-chair Keith Findley said Tuesday.
In other operating budget amendments adopted Wednesday, alders allocated $25,000 for the Focused Interruption Coalition, a peer support organization working to reduce violence in the community.
Anthony Cooper, CEO of the grassroots organization, defined those who work for the coalition as “violence interrupters” and “front line de-escalators.” Cooper said the funding would be used to help hire more people.
“We have to be able to do this together,” Cooper said during Tuesday’s deliberations.
The amendment accomplishes the increase to FIC by decreasing funding for a newly created Early Childhood Mental Health Specialist position by $25,000 to assume a May 1 start date. The additional fund would add to the $200,000 included in the mayor’s budget proposal.
Additionally, Dane County allocated $25,000 for FIC in its 2020 budget.
“(FIC is) really starting to become a much more organized group, and I think given the work they do, they certainly deserve to be compensated,” Council President Shiva Bidar said.
Capital budget amendments
On the capital budget, alders adopted 11 amendments to the the $170.6 million in new spending included in Rhodes-Conway's executive capital budget proposal.
Among them, alders added $305,000 in 2020 for a ninth ambulance but not for the 10 firefighter positions needed to staff the vehicle. On Tuesday, the City Council rejected an amendment that would have added a fully staffed ambulance next year.
“What we were faced with yesterday was an untenable decision for most of us,” Ald. Lindsay Lemmer, District 3, said. “This moves us in the right direction.”
Alders also added $500,000 in each year of the five-year Capital Improvement Plan for affordable housing development projects. Rhodes-Conway included $5 million 2020 in in her budget proposal.
Additionally, the amendment expands the type of projects eligible for beyond beyond those that are tied to the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.
“I have no concern about our ability to use this money,” Rhodes-Conway said. “The need is so great in our community, and I think that the only question is how quickly can we move forward with two different approaches to creating affordable housing.”
The City Council returned $16.6 million for a library called the Reindahl Imagination Center on the east side to the capital budget. Rhodes-Conway included the project on the Horizon List, which is a new method started this year to account for items that need additional planning before being included in the capital improvement plan.
“This is not something we’re just starting,” Library Director Greg Mickells said. “What can’t be denied is the amount of work that has already gone towards this project.”