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Madison's Finance Committee meets Monday at 4:30 p.m. to discuss 2020 operating budget amendments and an ordinance that would create a $40 vehicle registration fee. 

Funding for a police auditor position could be on the chopping block while proposals for more police officers will be considered as changes to the executive operating budget for 2020.

Madison Finance Committee members have offered over two dozen amendments to Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s $340.4 million operating budget proposal. In total, the changes would result in $1.1 million in new spending and $45,000 in revenue. 

The proposed amendments also exceed the maximum amount the city can implement as a property tax levy by $729,541.

“The amendments as they’re currently proposed are not in balance,” Budget and Program Evaluation Manager Laura Larsen said. “What that means is that they won’t be able to adopt everything that is put forward here.”

Council President Shiva Bidar said she is concerned with how much the amendments go above the state-mandated levy limit.

“We’re going to certainly have to be very methodical and careful about how we go about discussing and voting on these amendments to make sure we end up below the levy capacity,” Bidar said.

In addition to voting on the executive operating budget and amendments Monday, the Finance Committee will also take up an ordinance that would create a $40 vehicle registration fee. The committee will meet at 4:30 p.m. in room 215 of the Madison Municipal Building, 215 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.

“We have a difficult task ahead of us,” Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said. “There are many competing priorities with only relatively small amounts of money we're realistically able to use to fund our respective priorities.”

Public safety

The amendments highlight the ongoing conversation in Madison around public safety resources.

A major change sponsored by Council Vice President Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney and Ald. Paul Skidmore, District 9, would remove $200,000 for an independent police auditor position. This position came as a recommendation from a consultant and ad hoc committee studying ways to improve the Madison Police Department.

Skidmore said the report has not been vetted and that the city does not need the position.

“It is presumptuous to put any money in the budget at this point,” Skidmore said.

According to the amendment analysis, housing of the position and additional staffing needs will be determined in 2020.

In the Madison Police Department Policy and Procedure Ad Hoc Committee final report, released Friday, the independent auditor position is identified as a linchpin to the full set of 177 recommendations.

“That is an essential cornerstone of literally four years of our ad hoc committee,” Bidar said.

Three scenarios would add three, six or 12 officers to the police department, which would add either $168,000, $335,830 or $671,700. Rhodes-Conway’s proposal did not add to the department's 479 full-time sworn officers and increases the amount of general fund spending for the police department.

Skidmore supports the proposal for 12 officers, which would replace the dozen officers who were working in specialty positions but put back on patrol due to staffing shortages.

“If we don’t start making up ground, we’re going backward,” Skidmore said.

Verveer is sponsoring an amendment to add three officers, though he would support more officers if funding were available. 

“Among my downtown constituents that have reached out to me about any aspect of the city budget, public safety is by far the prevailing comment I’ve received,” Verveer said. “If we could figure out a way to realistically fund more than three officers, I’m all for it.”

According to an analysis from the independent, nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum, Madison’s per capita police staffing levels are lower than in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha but above those of other large cities in Wisconsin. In 2018, Madison had 18.6 sworn officers per 10,000 citizens, below the 19.8 average for a group of 38 cities with data available and above the median of 18.1, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

Alds. Zachary Henak, District 10, and Sheri Carter, District 14, proposed adding and staffing a ninth ambulance for the fire department, which would be $637,000.

Vehicle registration fee

Committee members did not propose any changes to the proposal to create a $40 vehicle registration fee. However, Bidar and Ald. Lindsay Lemmer, District 3, proposed adding a new program that would provide $40 gift cards to WIC recipients to offset the cost of the fee.

Those critical of fee say it is regressive and burdens those who are already financially vulnerable.

“The vehicle registration fee is clearly regressive taxing,” Bidar said. “I’ve never been a fan of it, but we’re in a situations where we are very limited in the way that we can bring in revenue to offset our needs in the budget.”

Bidar said the gift cards could assist the 2,495 households that are enrolled in the Women, Infants & Children (WIC) program. The program would be funded by decreasing the general fund subsidy to Metro Transit and decreasing funding for consulting services.

  • Other proposed changes to the budget include:
  • Decreasing a pay increase for city employees from 3.25% to 3% in 2020
  • Restoring either $25,000 or $50,000 for pavement marking
  • Reducing $30,000 in funding for the Goodman Pool
  • Creating two stormwater engineer positions
  • Increasing clerk license fees that would generate an additional $35,000 annually

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