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Madison's IT department is hoping to spend $250,000 developing a backup plan for computer systems in case of a disaster, with a focus on ensuring election security. 

The City of Madison’s IT department hopes to launch a $250,000 effort to safeguard computer systems, including ensuring local votes are counted accurately during the 2020 presidential election.

It was one of dozens of initiatives outlined Monday as the city’s Finance Committee started digging into first-term Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s proposed $170.6 million capital budget, released last week.

Sarah Edgerton, IT director, said her department would work on developing a plan for a number of “what if” scenarios. Edgerton said a focus of the program would be ensuring election security in the case of an IT catastrophe.

“The goal of this program is to increase the city’s ability to provide critical computing systems in the event of a disaster,” Edgerton said.

Edgerton said the plan would be finished before the fall election next year.

Rhodes-Conway’s first capital budget moves up the timeline for Bus Rapid Transit, expands Metro Transit facilities and increases spending for low-cost housing. Bus Rapid Transit and Metro Transit will be considered at Tuesday’s Finance Committee meeting.

Among the projects affecting 13 city departments discussed at Monday’s meeting were routine improvements to Monona Terrace, funding for more public art projects, a new electronic system for managing public health records and park improvements.

Another would provide funding for more non-lethal weapons for police, but the $60,000 needed to pay for them isn’t being requested until 2021.

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The money would be used to buy Tasers or shotguns with bean bag projectiles. Assistant Police Chief John Patterson said the request was based on recommendations from the Madison Police Department Policy and Procedure Review Ad Hoc Committee.

Patterson said most officers have access to these sorts of weapons, but during events when there are many officers on the streets there are not always enough Tasers.

Patterson said the department would have requested funding in the 2020 budget, but weren’t able to because of limits Rhodes-Conway set on capital requests.

Ald. Tag Evers, 13th District, said he might be interested in proposing an amendment to add the $60,000 for more non-lethal equipment to the 2020 budget.

“I’m certainly in favor of looking at non-lethal means of dealing with critical situations in our city,” he said.

After the final presentations Tuesday, Finance Committee members will have just more than a week to propose amendments to the capital budget.

Amendments are due Sept. 18 and will be made public Sept. 20. The committee will take them up at its Sept. 23 meeting.

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that the second day of presentations is Tuesday, Sept. 10.]

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Emily Hamer is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She joined the paper in April 2019 and was formerly an investigative reporting intern at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.