Much of Madison’s 2020 budget deliberations will focus on adding more resources for public safety and choosing what gets cut to fund them.
Ahead of budget deliberations Tuesday, Madison’s City Council members have offered amendments on both the 2020 operating and capital budgets. Alders have proposed several options for adding police officers and a ninth ambulance that involve budget balancing measures like reducing a raise for city employees and funding for bus rapid transit studies.
“We can all collectively agree that public safety is really important to our city, but we’re faced with a very, very difficult budget,” Council President Shiva Bidar said. “The cuts would also affect other areas of priority.”
On the operating budget, Alds. Zach Henak, District 10, and Michael Tierney, District 16, are proposing the addition of 10 firefighter positions to staff an ambulance at Fire Station 14 on the city’s southeast side. Beginning in 2021, the annualized cost of these positions is $826,000.
Fire Station 14 includes an engine with a paramedic, but not an ambulance. The city last added an ambulance in 2010.
“It’s definitely time to add another ambulance into service,” Tierney said.
To fund the ninth ambulance, the amendment, in part, calls for eliminating a $200,000 police auditor position and funding for a Warner Park Teen Specialist. Both were included in the mayor’s operating budget proposal.
“Something has to give in terms of the public service needs having to be met,” Tierney said.
The same alders are proposing an amendment to add six police officers and appropriate $335,830 for the positions to begin in the police department’s May 2020 academy. To fund this, the amendments calls for reducing the pay increase for city employees from 3.25% to 3% and removing $20,000 for digital equity.
It also would reduce the funding for bus rapid transit studies for a savings of $115,000.
In order to implement bus rapid transit and fund the approximately $130 million in capital costs, the city hopes to acquire a Federal Transit Administration Small Starts grant for $100 million.
Rhodes-Conway told the Capital Times editorial board Friday that any cuts to transit would be “shortsighted.” She said she has contemplated what would push her to veto a budget and that maintaining the city’s investment in transit is a priority.
“Anything that would jeopardize our ability to get those funds from the federal government would be really, really problematic for me,” Rhodes-Conway said.
Transportation Director Tom Lynch said that the proposed reduction in funding for BRT studies is arranged in a way that will not compromise the city's grant application.
Another version of the amendment would add three police officers. Measures to offset more police officers and an ambulance, including reducing the pay increase for city employees, were previously voted down by the Finance Committee.
“I can't in any way or shape see how that reflects our values,” Bidar said.
Including amendments to add a ninth ambulance and six police officers, the City Council’s operating budget changes would add $86,631 in expenditures. As amended by the Finance Committee, the operating budget increased the total spending from $340.4 million in Rhodes-Conway’s proposal to $340.7 million.
Tierney and Ald. Paul Skidmore, District 9, are sponsoring an amendment to remove the police auditor position. The Finance Committee previously supported keeping the position.
After about four years of study, the Madison Police Department Policy Procedure & Review Ad Hoc Committee recommended that the city create this position, which is meant to keep the police accountable with its own policies.
“If we were serious about that work, we can’t ignore the recommendations that come out of it,” Rhodes-Conway said.
Other proposed operating budget amendments include:
- Increasing funding for peer support contracts by $25,000. The mayor’s operating budget proposal included $400,000 and eliminated a $200,000 increase. Nehemiah, the Focused Interruption Coalition and Madison Area-Urban Ministry currently receive funding through these contracts.
- Appropriating $37,000 in the Parks Division’s operating budget for Warner Park community recreation center programming.
- Transferring $65,000 from the police department to the Streets Division to create an additional position to assume responsibility for snow plowing at all police district stations.
Capital budget amendments
While the operating budget funds ongoing costs like personnel, the capital budget funds expenses like infrastructure and road projects.
Several alders are proposing an amendment that would increase annual funding for affordable housing projects to $5.5 million. This would increase borrowing by $500,000 annually across the 2020 capital budget and five-year improvement plan.
The 2019 adopted capital budget included $4.5 million in affordable housing development projects.
Ald. Grant Foster, District 15, is sponsoring an amendment that would allocate $350,000 for an analysis of traffic conditions and crash history and to implement recommendations that will reduce the severity of specific crashes being experienced.
This amendment would advance the implementation of Vision Zero, which is a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries and increases safe, healthy and equitable mobility for all.
Ald. Samba Baldeh, District 17, is continuing to push for $16.6 million to be included in the capital improvement plan for proposed Reindahl Imagination Center on the east side. Rhodes-Conway included this project on the Horizon List.
On the north side, Ald. Syed Abbas, District 12, would like to transfer funding set aside to purchase the existing north transfer point and use it to buy parkland.
With amendments made by alders, the capital budget would total $175 million, rely on $96.7 million in borrowing and $78.4 million in other funds.
As amended by the Finance Committee, the capital budget totals $172 million, relying on $93.7 million in general obligation borrowing and $78.3 million from other funds. Rhodes-Conway’s proposed capital budget includes $170.6 million in new spending that depends on $96.6 million in borrowing and $73.9 million from other sources.
The City Council will start budget deliberations Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in room 201 of the City-County Building, 210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. If needed, the City Council can continue deliberating on Wednesday and Thursday at the same time and same place.
In a change from previous budget deliberations, alders will discuss the operating budget first because several amendments have implications for the capital budget.
Rhodes-Conway said she expects two days of budget deliberations.