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Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway proposes vehicle fee, independent police auditor in operating budget

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Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway announces operating budget

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway announces her operating budget proposal for 2020 at the Goodman South Library, 2222 South Park St., Tuesday. 

A newly created vehicle registration fee and an independent police auditor position are included in a $340.4 million operating budget proposal for 2020 released by Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway Tuesday.

As Rhodes-Conway was creating her proposal, a budget gap of $9 million grew to $11 million. The mayor’s proposal includes multiple cost saving measures.

In her budget message, delivered Tuesday afternoon at the Goodman South Madison Library, Rhodes-Conway said she sought to achieve priorities, including accessible and efficient transportation, equitable and affordable housing and opportunities for youth, while navigating shrinking federal aid and state-imposed levy limits.

She said supporting youth and neighborhoods were consistent themes she heard on the campaign trail and since taking office.

“To that end and even in the midst of a tough budgeting year, I have incorporated several targeted investments in my 2020 op budget that create and expand strategies that support children and teens,” Rhodes-Conway said.

Rhodes-Conway included $60,000 for a teen specialist at Warner Park and $75,000 for a teen librarian position at the Goodman South Madison Library.

“It is clear that teens are embracing those spaces,” Rhodes-Conway said. “It is crucial when our young people look to us, we are there to meet them and create the type of space they need to thrive and be successful.”

Warner Park Community Recreation Center facility manager Terrence Thompson called the investment a “huge win for the north side and the Madison Parks Division.”

Rhodes-Conway also included $3,000 for a youth summit, an idea from the city’s Wanda Fullmore interns.

The budget gap increased, in part, because of increased Wisconsin Retirement System rates, Budget and Program Evaluation Manager Laura Larsen said.

Rhodes-Conway said her proposal reflects difficult decisions. For example, 12 non-patrol police officer positions will be re-assigned to patrol in 2020 and six positions from fire investigations and training will be transferred to ensure minimum staffing levels at the city’s 14 fire stations.

Funding for some community programs has been scaled back to sustainable levels, and Community Development Authority housing activities will not receive a general fund supplement.

“I’m excited about the things we are able to do within the very real constraints,” Rhodes-Conway said. “I think we have delivered a fiscally responsible, balanced budget that invests in the things that are really important not just in our community but within the city as well.”

City tax collections from all property would increase by 3.2% to $249.7 million, with taxes on the average home — valued at $300,967 — rising 3.4% to $2,674.84.

Vehicle fee instead of budget cuts

Rhodes-Conway’s budget proposal anticipates the city will enact a $40 per vehicle fee within the first quarter of 2020. The revenue projected from the fee would total $7.9 million.

The mayor said in her budget announcement that the fee is the only option that will help the city “achieve a modern transit infrastructure,” though she said she would prefer to pursue other alternatives.

“There are very, very few ways that cities can raise revenue in the state of Wisconsin,” Rhodes-Conway said. “The other options that we considered were looking at other places we could cut and many of the cuts we didn’t take would have much more drastic impacts on our community.”

Communities across the state have enacted vehicle fees, including Appleton, Green Bay and Milwaukee. Dane County included an annual $28 vehicle registration fee in its 2018 budget.

If adopted, Madison residents would pay the $40 city fee in addition to the county’s fee and the current $85 state registration fee, bringing the total to $153. Finance Director Dave Schmiedicke said the city would also need to adopt an ordinance three months prior to the effective date of the fee.

In 2020, a portion of the new funding will be used to create five new positions for bus rapid transit and will include three transit operators, a night supervisor and a technology specialist. Additionally, the fee will fund three studies for route analysis, mobile ticketing and organizational structure.

Metro’s budget also includes $26,000 to provide free Metro Transit ride passes to students qualifying for free and reduced lunch.

“Madison is rapidly changing and our transit system needs to change to accommodate that growth and to ensure growth is equitable and no one gets left behind,” Madison School Board member Savion Castro said. “Any commitment to equity today will require a good transit system and Mayor Satya's transit plan will help our families and young people connect with education, employment, internships and apprenticeship opportunities throughout the city so that all of our hard working families and young people can access the city’s amenities.”

The mayor’s proposal would also reduce the city’s general fund subsidy, which Rhodes-Conway called “unsustainable,” to Metro Transit by about $5.5 million.”

Independent police auditor

Rhodes-Conway also included a $200,000 independent auditor position, which was a recommendation from the Madison Police Department Policy Procedure & Review Ad Hoc Committee.

According to the committee’s recommendation, an independent monitor’s position would have the capacity to examine policies, patterns and practices and promote long-term systemic changes on an ongoing basis.

“It is my intent to work with the incumbent in this position along with community stakeholders to determine the scope of responsibilities and additional staffing resources necessary to meet its object,” Rhodes-Conway said.

The independent auditor position, which would be a major change in the city, comes on the heels of former police chief Mike Koval’s abrupt retirement announcement Sunday.

Rhodes-Conway said the new position will report to her office, but there is no hiring timeline set. She also said there is an ongoing conversation about the duties of the Police and Fire Commission, Public Safety Review Committee and a possible third civilian review body.

Also in the police department’s budget, the mayor included $150,000 for annual wellness and mental health checks for all MPD commissioned and civilian staff and $65,000 for a program meant to improve the quality of interactions between police officers and those who have, or may have, mental health concerns.

The 12 positions that are being re-assigned to patrol include roles in each district Community Policing Team, the Gang Unit, the Community Outreach and Resource Education (CORE) team and two Neighborhood Police Officer positions.

Budget balancing measures

To balance the budget, the mayor included several options in the 2020 budget proposal.

Among the measures, the proposal would reduce funding for capital budget projects by $2.4 million. The budget would also consolidate urban forestry activities, increase the cost sharing agreement with downtown property owners through the State Street mall maintenance fee and transfer parking enforcement from the MPD to the Parking Division.

Transferring parking enforcement from the Police Department to the Parking Division where it more closely aligns with organizational goals.

Under the state-imposed levy limits, the Madison City Council has $334,000 to work with for any possible budget changes. Last year, the city was at $400,000.

The Finance Committee and City Council have opportunities to amend Rhodes-Conway’s proposal before voting on a final spending plan. The Finance Committee will hold budget hearings Oct. 7 and 10 before voting on the operating budget proposal Oct. 21.

The City Council will vote on the capital and operating budgets during the week of Nov. 11. More information can be found on the city’s budget website.

The mayor’s budget proposal also includes:

  • $91,000 to create an early childhood mental health specialist.
  • $10,000 for increased language access services to respond to increased demand for services, including for the 2020 Census; $75,000 for the second year of a two-year commitment for the Census Complete County program to assist Madison residents respond to the 2020 Census.
  • Funding for the 2020 statewide election cycle, which includes a presidential election. The anticipated cost of administering the 2020 election is $2.1 million, up $650,000 from 2019. The increased funding will keep staffing at a level that can maintain a 15-minute wait time on Election Day.
  • $1.27 million for “crisis support services,” which is a reduction of $450,000
  • $194,000 to staff the new Pinney Library branch and $121,000 to staff the expansion at Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Correction: The current annual registration fee for cars in Wisconsin is $85 not $75. 

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