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Paul Soglin

Mayor Paul Soglin announces his proposed 2019 executive operating budget. 

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin presented his proposed 2019 city operating budget Wednesday, emphasizing a continuation of services that promote upward economic mobility for all residents.

What might be the outgoing mayor’s final budget “makes targeted investments that we can all afford and makes progress toward our goals by focusing more on measurable strategies toward meaningful outcomes,” Soglin said in his budget message.

“We have made much progress over the past several years,” Soglin said. “There is so much more to do. My 2019 operating budget builds on the foundation laid by that progress and sets the stage for continued improvement toward the outcomes that all the residents of our great city expect and deserve.”

The $332 million proposal, which increases spending by 5.5 percent, would add about $72 in city taxes to the average-value home assessed at $284,868. Assessments of an average-value home are up from $269,377 in 2018. Since 2013, the average value home has increased by 23 percent.

Soglin’s budget does not implement new initiatives but builds on existing programs such as peer support initiatives and adds funding for neighborhood centers.

“I just want to see it adopted it with as little friction as possible,” Soglin said.

The proposed spending plan continues $400,000 and adds $300,000 for a peer support program that addresses violence and trauma from violence in Madison. Homicides in Madison have decreased since the program was implemented, which Soglin attributes to the peer support program.

“There’s no question in my mind that our peer support effort was critical,” Soglin said at a press conference Wednesday. “I want to see us take it to a new level.”

Soglin has also included $103,600 for Theresa Terrace, Bayview, Elver and Kennedy neighborhood centers “to better equalize funding across all neighborhood centers.”

Kajsiab House, a culturally sensitive mental health program for Madison’s Hmong community, would receive $100,000 in transitional funding under Soglin’s proposal. Journey Mental Health ended the program, which will operate out of a new location under the name Hmong Kajsiab, at the end of September.

“I just couldn’t bear the thought that this program would come to an end, and these folks would be left to fend for themselves,” Soglin said.

The proposed funding in the 2019 budget is in addition to $40,000 the City Council approved recently.

Soglin’s budget would also fund tourism measures such as a $2 million subsidy for the Overture Center, a $5,000 increase — from $25,000 - $30,000 — for Make Music Madison and $20,0000 for a temporary downtown art installation initiative.

In the wake of citywide flooding, the budget includes $65,000 to fund a new public information officer position to communicate related to engineering activities, severe weather events and construction projects.

In the area of public safety, Soglin’s proposed operating budget funds eight new police officers that were added in the 2018. It also adds $100,000 for a new detective position to expand efforts investigating human trafficking and crimes against children and deploys smartphones to all police field staff.

The 2019 executive budget also annualizes funding for the Midtown Police Station and Fire Station 14, which both opened in 2018.

Major capital projects like the new police and fire stations in addition to construction of the relocated Pinney Library in 2019, municipal building renovations and major streets projects, have contributed to debt service rising nearly 17 percent.

“I hope we can stabilize it here and then see it back down to where it ought to be, under 13 percent,” Soglin said.

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The City Council could add about $400,000 before reaching the state-mandated levy limit. 

The Finance Committee will vote on the proposed operating budget and any changes to Soglin's spending plan Oct. 22. The full City Council will deliberate the 2019 capital and operating budgets during the week of Nov. 12. 

Stable to negative

On Tuesday, the City Council approved selling $108 million in general obligation debt. This is an annual action by the City Council to finance capital projects. But this year, the city’s credit rating has changed.

Moody’s Investor Service kept Madison’s general obligation credit rating at AAA, the highest rating, but changed the outlook of the rating from stable to negative. The change reflects the Madison Water Utility’s $6 million deficit.

City Finance Director Dave Schmiedicke said in an email that a return to a stable outlook on all the city’s debt will likely depend on the rate of progress in improving the Water Utility’s cash position, compliance by the Water Utility with debt service coverage requirements and rapid repayment of the general fund loan.

Soglin said the change in outlook is a short-term problem.

“We’re still AAA and the negative part should be resolved before the end of the year as soon as we get the rate changes approved form the Public Service Commission,” Soglin said.

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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.