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Fitchburg Council

An overflow crowd at a Fitchburg City Council public hearing to address Mayor Jason Gonzalez's proposed 2018 budget watched the proceedings on monitors outside the council chamber at City Hall on Tuesday night.

Two Fitchburg City Council members have submitted an amendment to the mayor’s proposed 2018 budget that calls for funding nonprofit groups.

The amendment, written by council members Tony Hartmann and Julia Arata-Fratta, calls for nonprofits serving priority neighborhoods to receive money that would be dispersed through a competitive process, Hartmann said. He did not disclose the total amount of money that would be dispersed. The deadline for submitting amendments to the budget introduced by Mayor Jason Gonzalez was 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

Boys & Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson is opposed to having his club receive money from the city through such a process, which he believes is unfair because it doesn’t set parameters for service. He said he has proposed to the city that if it amends the budget to fund nonprofits with $125,000 as it did in 2017, the club will match that total with money he has raised over the past several days. But he also said he was unsure if any council members submitted his proposal as a budget amendment.

“I think that is a fair offer. Nobody else is going to make that offer,” Johnson said. “The mayor has to decide and the council has to decide how to move forward. Hopefully they’ll do the right thing.”

Misty Dodge, Fitchburg’s finance director, said several amendments were submitted to her office by the deadline but wouldn’t say how many involved financing nonprofits. The city will give the specifics of the amendments that were submitted sometime next week, she said.

If the Fitchburg council approves the Hartmann/Arata-Fratta amendment when it meets Nov. 14 to vote on the budget, the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County and other nonprofits would have to write proposals to receive money. A committee will then decide what nonprofits will receive money and how much money they should receive.

If the council does not vote to approve any amendments to the proposed budget, the nonprofits will not receive any money.

Johnson has been fighting with the city since Gonzalez introduced the proposed $20 million budget that left out funding for the nonprofits. The Boys & Girls Club has received at least $40,000 from the city since 2005, and $50,000 in each of the past three budgets. In this year’s budget, two other nonprofits received a total of $25,000 and the city also funded a $50,000 grant for nonprofits.

Gonzalez said the cuts were made because of a need to increase services for the rapidly growing city and a $650,000 cut in shared revenue from the state tied to higher-than-usual local spending in 2015. Gonzalez later said there was “wiggle room” to fund nonprofits through a council amendment.

Johnson’s movement to call attention to the Fitchburg budget was at a fever pitch Tuesday night when an estimated 250 people — most of whom were unhappy with cuts to the nonprofits — showed up at Fitchburg’s City Hall for a public hearing to discuss the budget with the council.

Hartmann called his amendment an extension of last year’s amendment to the 2017 budget that led Johnson to bring several hundred people with him to the budget meeting at Fitchburg’s City Hall to help him oppose it. The council eventually fine-tuned the amendment so the club received its money as a line item while the $50,000 the city wanted the club to compete for stayed in the budget as grant money along with $25,000 for two grass-roots nonprofits.

“That was sort of spontaneous and not the best solution but it was a solution to break the impasse and move forward,” Hartmann said. “This time we’re making it more comprehensive, more long-term in nature and we’re trying to set up a process that is better for future councils and everyone.”

Hartmann said he’d like a process to fund nonprofits similar to Madison’s competitive process before the council gives its approval. “We’d like this to be a step in that direction,” he said.


Rob Schultz has won multiple writing awards at the state and national levels and covers an array of topics for the Wisconsin State Journal in south-central and southwestern Wisconsin.