City Council (copy)

The Madison City Council adopted its capital and operating budgets for 2019 in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Council members unanimously approved a $347.7 million capital budget, which relies on $185.4 million in borrowing, and a $332.1 million operating budget that uses $241.8 million in property taxes.

The adopted budget will raise the tax bill on an average Madison home, valued at $284,868, by $72 for a total bill of $2,583.

The 2019 Capital Budget includes major projects, such as $30 million for fleet headquarters, $7 million for phase one of Metro Transit’s headquarters renovation, $5 million in TID developer loans and $2.9 million to plan for the reconstruction of John Nolen Drive in 2024.

Madison’s 2019 Operating Budget builds on existing programs and adds funding for neighborhood centers and Hmong Kajsiab, a culturally sensitive mental health program for Madison’s Hmong community. It also funds tourism measures such as a $2 million subsidy for the Overture Center.

Overall, the city faces limited revenue options as it faces greater challenges with city services, City Finance Director Dave Schmiedicke said.

“I think you always have to strike that balance of how much of an increase do you want to see in the property tax levy and balance that with the multiple priorities we have in the city including funding new staff for police stations and fire stations and adequate pay increases,” Schmiedicke said.

The city has $92,000 remaining to spend under the levy limit. At the start of the night, the Council had $16,000 of room.

Council amendments

The capital budget funds long-term investments, such as major construction projects and improvements to city facilities, while the operating budget funds day-to-day activities.

City Council members adopted nine amendments to the capital budget Tuesday, including $150,000 for a public art project on the Highland and University avenues underpass, $500,000 over five years to replace concrete pads at bus stops to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and $24,000 for surveillance cameras to be installed on the Capital City Trail bike path.

In response to major flooding in August and significant storms over the past three years, Ald. Arvina Martin, District 11, and four other alders sponsored an amendment to add $5.77 million to the Stormwater Utility to support citywide flood mitigation.

“With the increased volume of storms, with the increased volume of rains that we’ve been seeing, shows that our infrastructure is not able to handle it and we need to do something about it,” Martin said.

The amendment allocates $775,000 for watershed, flood and planning studies, $1.17 million for land acquisitions and $5.03 million for public works projects that are a direct result from flooding in August.

City Engineer Rob Phillips said four intense storms over the past three years have wreaked repeating damage on west side residents and the threat of climate change looms.

“We are intentionally working expeditiously to identify solutions,” Phillips said. “Again, people have flooded multiple times.”

With the adopted amendment, future Stormwater Utility rate increases could be as high as 8 percent. The average annual rate increase was 2.5 percent from 2016 to 2018.

Mayor Paul Soglin warned warned that the results of the studies will likely yield future costs.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” Soglin said.

Police body cameras

In what has become an annual discussion, City Council members deliberated over a police body worn camera pilot program. The $104,000 initiative was recommended by the Finance Committee but was ultimately removed on a 16 to 3 vote on the council floor.

Alders revisited similar arguments, including limitations of the technology, concern for vulnerable community members and a lack of policy for the use of body cameras.

“We may have the best of intentions, but we may be doing real damage to the rights of our citizens,” Ald. Amanda Hall, District 3, said.

Several community members spoke in favor of removing funding for a police body camera pilot program. Veronica Figueroa, executive director of UNIDOS Against Domestic Violence, stressed the need for the Madison Police Department Policy and Procedure Review Ad Hoc Committee to finish its formal recommendations to the City Council.

The ad hoc committee is continuing to analyze the OIR Group’s study of the police department. Ald. Shiva Bidar, District 5, said it would send a chilling effect if the Council were to make a decision on police body cameras before the ad hoc committee releases its recommendations.

Ald. Paul Skidmore, District 9, is a strong supporter of a pilot program as a way to test the technology in Madison and measure the future costs.

“With effective policy they can be a good tool to protect the rights of everybody, but I’m not sure they would be cost effective for the community,” Skidmore said.

Operating budget

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A number of operating budget amendments dealt with funding for peer support specialists through the Focused Interruption Coalition. The city’s focus on using peer support to address and interrupt cycles of violence came from a 15-point plan framework developed in partnership with Alds. Maurice Cheeks, District 10, and Matt Phair, District 20.

FIC is currently under contract, enacted in 2017, with the city to provide peer support services to people or households affected by violence and funding administered by the Community Development Division for aid to victims of violence.

Phair said the city has invested in FIC and advised council members to let the coalition’s work continue developing.

“FIC needs to evolve and FIC needs to grow, and FIC needs to do the work they’re doing and they need to find money from other sources,” Phair said. “That’s how you respect people: expect something from them.”

The mayor proposed continuing $400,000 to interrupt cycles of violence and adding $300,000 for additional peer support specialists and to support individual needs. Had the funding been available, Soglin said he would have allocated $1 million to the Focused Interruption Coalition.

“I don't think anything less than that is adequate to support the future of our community and what we could be doing,” Soglin said. They have delivered. They are not flawless, but they have produced results.”

Several alders proposed adjusting the amount of additional funding the mayor allocated in his executive proposal and putting the funds elsewhere in the budget. Ultimately, the City Council allocated an additional $209,500 for peer support services on a 13 to 5 vote with Phair abstaining.

"In order to keep what we are doing we need to hire more staff," Anthony Cooper, executive director of FIC, said. "It's a must."

The City Council also debated whether to accept money from American Family Insurance to fund a police officer position in the area and a squad car.

Madison Police Department North Side Neighborhood Resource Officer David Dexheimer, who was speaking as a private resident, said accepting the grant money would be contrary to the department’s ethics rules.

“Tempting as it is though, corporate funding of MPD operations is not the way to go about it, “ Dexheimer said.

The council ultimately did not approve the amendment, which failed on a 3 to 16 vote, with several alders expressing concerns of corporate sponsorship of a police officer and calling for policy work on the issue.

“This is about privatizing our police department,” Bidar said.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.