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Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway will seek to restrain capital budget spending in 2020 and will prioritize affordability, transportation, climate change, racial disparities and community engagement.

Rhodes-Conway outlined her priorities for next year’s capital budget — which funds long-term expenses like major public works projects — and directions to department and division heads in a memo April 17.

“Madison is a growing and changing city with a great history and a bright future,” Rhodes-Conway said in the memo. “Our city continues to experience strong economic growth. Our residents urge us to continue seeking innovative solutions to challenging issues. Smart and strategic capital investments will help ensure we are a place where all can thrive.”

Rhodes-Conway outlined five priority areas where she would like to focus the city’s capital investments, which include making sure everyone can afford to live in Madison and providing “robust and rapid” transportation.

Additionally, the mayor would like the capital budget to address both climate change mitigation and response efforts, elimination of disparities with a focus on racial equity and resident engagement.

Rhodes-Conway said agency heads should align capital budget requests with citywide elements included in the city's comprehensive plan, called Imagine Madison, such as land use, transportation, neighborhoods and housing. 

Rhodes-Conway expressed concern over rising debt payments, matching former mayor Paul Soglin’s repeated warnings over borrowing. Historically, the city has maintained debt service at or below 12.5 percent of the operating budget but it is currently at 17.5 percent.

“On that metric alone, we must be prudent in the allocation of capital investments and focus on our priorities,” Rhodes-Conway said.

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To meet these goals, Rhodes-Conway issued the following guidelines to agency heads:

  • No new projects should be added to the 2020 capital budget beyond those currently in the 2019 adopted five-year, non-binding Capital Improvement Plan (CIP)
  • New projects can be added in years 2021 through 2025 of the CIP and ranked on priority for how they align with the comprehensive plan and readiness for completion
  • Capital programs, like pavement management, should be maintained at current levels from 2020 through 2024. 2025 levels can be adjusted up to 4% to reflect construction inflation
  • Existing projects should be prioritized numerically with an explanation. Projects that promote racial equity and social justice and that extend the life of or replace existing infrastructure should be given higher priority over new facilities and projects that increase operating costs.

Rhodes-Conway requested agency heads utilize data in their requests to better understand the problems the city wants to solve.

Last November, the City Council approved the $347.6 million capital budget, which relies on $185.4 million in borrowing.

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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.