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Flooding

Rising flood water approaches the front steps of townhouses on East Mifflin Street near Livingston Street in downtown Madison.

On Tuesday, Madison City Council members will consider final changes to the 2019 capital operating budgets, including allocating $5.77 million for citywide flood mitigation.

The nine proposed amendments to the capital budget would add approximately $6 million to the $341.57 million budget recommended by the Finance Committee.

In response to major flooding this fall, Council members are proposing to increase funding for citywide flood mitigation by 20 times the program’s funding in 2018. The increased funding could come from additional general obligation borrowing and transferring funding from a treatment project for Starkweather Creek.

“With climate change being a reality, these 100- or 500-year floods are not going to be that. They’re going to be, probably, more frequent,” Ald. Matt Phair, District 10, said. “We aren’t ready.”

Phair said the amendment is personal for him. He and his wife responded to a car stranded in floodwaters and assisted passengers to safety. However, the driver was sucked beneath the floodwaters and killed.

“We had someone whose life was lost because of the flood and because of the fact that our infrastructure can't handle it,” Phair said.

If adopted, the amendment would result in future Stormwater Utility rate increases that could be as high as 8 percent. The average annual rate increase was 2.5 percent from 2016 to 2018.

The amendment allocates $775,000 for watershed, flood and planning studies, $1.17 million for land acquisitions and $5.03 million for public works projects that are a direct result from flooding in August.

City Engineer Rob Phillips said the studies will assist the city develop a comprehensive response to addressing storm water infrastructure.

"If we look at locations individually, we could cause problems downstream," Phillips said. "You take a comprehensive look at the watershed and know which solutions to undertake and in which order to undertake."  

The city’s capital budget has grown dramatically in recent years and with that, the amount the city is borrowing to pay for projects has increased, Finance Director Dave Schmiedicke said.

“I think we have to balance that with the sort of clear needs that we saw as a result of the August rains and the associated flooding and what sorts of mitigation we would need to engage with that,” Schmiedicke said. “The question that you face with every budget is how do you balance that new priority in terms of resilience of our storm water infrastructure with other priorities around things like new libraries, new fire and police stations, reconstruction of streets.”

Mayor Paul Soglin was out of town Friday and could not be reached for comment.

Other capital budget amendments include adding $150,000 for the Municipal Art Fund for the Highland Avenue and University Avenue underpass art project, $24,000 for four surveillance cameras to be installed on the Capital City Trail bike path between Livingston Street and Thornton Avenue, and $100,000 for structural modification to cafe areas near Capitol Square to provide fully ADA accessible space.

Additionally, an amendment for $110,000 grant from American Family Insurance would fund a neighborhood police officer position in the area and a squad car.

“They obviously have concerns about the somewhat remote nature … and that the police station and most of the patrol officers that serve them are always on patrol on the other side of the interstate,” Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said.  

In what has become an annual debate, the City Council will confront funding for a police body-worn camera pilot program.

The $104,000 program, which would be focused on the Madison Police Department’s North District, would fund 47 body worn cameras, equipment and training. If approved in the budget, the pilot would not be implemented until the City Council approves policies regulating body camera usage.

During last year’s budget discussions, the Finance Committee approved funding for the pilot program on a narrow vote. The City Council later removed the $123,000 item from the final spending plan.

Ald. Amanda Hall, District 3, is sponsoring an amendment to remove the program from the capital budget. Six alders including Shiva Bidar, District 5; Keith Furman, District 19; Rebecca Kemble, District 18; Arvina Martin, District 11; Matt Phair, District 20; Marsha Rummel, District 6; and Ledell Zellers, District 2; are co-sponsoring the measure.

A $26,000 operating budget amendment, sponsored by the same alders, would remove overtime funding for work associated with the program.

Operating budget

Among the nine operating budget amendments, City Council members are offering several ways to redistribute part of $300,000 Soglin included in his executive proposal for peer support and violence prevention.

The mayor proposed continuing $400,000 to interrupt cycles of violence and adding $300,000 for additional peer support specialists and to support individual needs.

Ald. Rebecca Kemble, District 18, is sponsoring an amendment that would cut the $300,000 in the mayor’s proposal in half and direct $150,000 to case management contracts and additional peer support hours.

Two amendments would rely on the funding cut from Kemble’s proposal. A $57,500 amendment sponsored by Ald. Shiva Bidar, District 5, would fund full-year contracts with Centro-Hispano and Lussier Community Education Center for Community Building Engagement Activities.

Ald. Rummel, District 6, proposes appropriated $100,000, using $50,000 from the decrease in Kemble’s amendment, for an audit of the Human Resources Department.

Separate from Kemble’s amendment, Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, District 1, is proposing to transfer $250,000 of the violence prevention funding to increase funding for neighborhood center support in 2019. The remaining $50,000 would be used for case management services as part of the peer support contact.

Under the proposed operating budget amendments, the city has $117,180 remaining to spend under the state-mandated levy.

“The levy limit continues to be an issue and as we make commitments in one budget -- for example adding new staff that are partially funded or other cost increases such as for fuel -- as we use up that limited revenue capacity, there’s limited amounts for new things, for new investment in the subsequent year,” Schmiedicke said.

Madison’s Finance Committee previously amended the mayor’s proposed spending plans, adopting 19 changes to the executive $332 million operating budget and $336.6 million executive capital budget and improvement plan.  

The capital budget funds long-term expenses, and the Capital Improvement Plan is a to the next five years of major project expenses. The operating budget funds day-to-day activities.

The City Council will begin budget deliberations Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in room 201 of the City-County Building, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

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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.

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