Debating into the early hours of Tuesday morning, Madison’s Finance Committee voted to keep funding for a new independent police auditor position, but not to add more police officers.
The committee adopted Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s executive operating budget after making several changes that increased the total spending of the 2020 operating budget to $340.7 million. As amended, the budget would bring in $2,678 in taxes on the average home in Madison, which is valued at $300,967.
City Council members still have an opportunity to propose changes to the budget before taking a final vote next month. However, with $162,398 remaining in the city’s levy limit, alders do not have much room to make adjustments.
“I don’t believe in using every penny to the levy,” Council President Shiva Bidar said. “There are a lot of competing priorities and that’s a reality we have.”
As illustrated by the list of 25 proposed budget amendments sponsored by committee members, these priorities reflect public safety concerns that include the size of the Madison Police Department, police accountability, Fire Department response time and traffic safety.
Rhodes-Conway’s budget did not include funding more officers. Alders proposed three scenarios that would add three, six or 12 officers to the police department, which would add either $168,000, $335,830 or $671,700.
The committee deliberated over the option to add three officers, but it failed on a voice vote. Ald. Mike Verveer, representing downtown District 4, said his constituents continue to ask for more officers, and he attributes the burnout of officers to a shortage on the patrol force.
“What they need is increased police authorized strength,” Verveer said. “They don’t need additional financial and educational advantages to convince officers to stick around a bit longer.”
However, Ald. Keith Furman, District 19, believes the problem to fix is the retention of officers. He proposed an amendment that would add $143,250 for educational incentives for officers, which ultimately failed.
Independent police auditor
Acting on a recommendation from a city committee studying the police department for about four years, Rhodes-Conway included $200,000 for the police auditor position in her budget.
The Madison Police Department Policy Procedure & Review Ad Hoc Committee released its final report Oct. 18, though the recommendation to create an independent auditor was adopted by the Council in August. Matthew Braunginn, a member of the committee, said the amendment to remove funding for the position is “insulting” to the committee’s work.
Some committee members supported cutting funding for the position because they have not read the committee’s full report or analyzed how the position would be implemented. Council Vice President Barbara Harrington-McKinney, who also represents District 1, sponsored an amendment to remove the funding.
“It is premature to allocate and hire someone for that position before you have gone through the report, hired a new police chief, realigned the Public Safety Review Committee and then see what’s so,” Harrington-McKinney said.
Harrington-McKinney considered offering an amendment Monday night that would require the city to hire a police chief before funding the auditor position. Rhodes-Conway recommended she propose the amendment during the City Council’s process of offering changes to the budget.
The auditor position, which would be responsible to a civilian review board, is meant to keep the police accountable with its own policies. The ad hoc committee also recommended that the monitor and board would have access to MPD records, subpoena power and power to investigate, make policy recommendations and facilitate the presentation of information to the Police and Fire Commission.
Bidar, who also represents District 5, underscored the necessity of having a person who is held at “arm’s length” from politics and refuted a narrative that the city does not support the police department.
“This work is about deeply believing in our police department,” Bidar said. “This work is about investing in the building of trust in our police department and every one of our residents.”
James Morgan, a peer support specialist with Madison-area Urban Ministry, said the position is about bringing transparency and accountability to the Madison Police Department to “protect the life and dignity of every single person.”
“This is not about color. This is not just about young black men and children stealing cars. This is not about safety for State Street,” Morgan said. “This is about safety for the entire community."
The committee delayed taking action on adding and staffing a ninth ambulance for the fire department, which would add $637,400 to the budget, and did not approve an amendment adding $160,000 for traffic safety enhancements.
Looking for budget cuts
Committee members voted to place several measures sponsored by Ald. Zachary Henak, District 10, to cut funding on file. These included reducing funding for Goodman Pool by $15,250, reducing hourly wages for lifeguards to save $30,000 and reducing the budget for Olbrich Botanical Gardens staff by $57,500.
“Looking at the budget and where we’re at, we’ve got some issues,” Henak said, noting increases in cost of living and municipal services.
Speaking specifically about the Goodman Pool amendment, Ald. Rebecca Kemble, District 18, said the proposed cost savings are “deaf” to the values the city is trying to promote.
“Several of these proposed cuts are really out of step with the direction the city has taken,” Kemble said.
In the same vein, an amendment to reduce a pay increase for general city employee from 3.25% to 3% failed. Henak said it is difficult for the city to “stay in lockstep” each year for pay increases while Bidar said pay is where the city reflects its values.
The committee also approved:
- A new program that would provide $40 gift cards to WIC recipients to offset the cost of a vehicle registration fee. The amendment is funded by shifting $100,000 from Metro Transit’s budget.
- Increase clerk license fees, which would add $35,000 in revenue
- Authorizing the police department to apply for a federal COPS hiring grant to create additional positions in 2020
- $45,000 for planning efforts in the Odana, East Towne and South Madison areas
- $65,000 for snow and ice control on arterial shared use paths
The City Council has until Nov. 6 to submit amendments and will vote on the 2020 capital and operating budgets during the week of Nov. 11.