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Madison budget amendments include more police, more money to divert calls from police
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MADISON CITY COUNCIL

Madison budget amendments include more police, more money to divert calls from police

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City Council

Madison Ald. Zachary Henak

Proposed changes to Madison’s 2021 operating budget released Friday include maintaining police staffing, more money to address homelessness and violence, and a 5% cut in the City Council’s pay.

The 27 amendments would add nearly $300,000 in new spending to Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s $349.1 million operating budget. Introduced Oct. 6, the budget calls for limited spending increases, service reductions, some layoffs and furloughs, and unprecedented use of the city’s “rainy day” fund.

Under a budget amendment from council President Sheri Carter and West Side Ald. Zachary Henak, the Police Department would use $230,528 in federal grant money and $117,052 in city money next year to add four police officer positions and reclassify one officer as a sergeant after the mayor in her budget reduced the number of sworn, full-time officer positions from 483 to 479. The grant funding would decrease over three years, leaving the city to cover the full cost of the officers beginning in 2024.

In a year when protests for racial equity and against police violence have spurred activists in Madison to call for shifting funding from police to social services, Henak said he expects pushback to the amendment.

But “residents have spoken out loudly in my district that public safety is something that’s very important to them,” and they don’t want to see the number of officers reduced, he said.

Council members are also offering amendments to increase funding for a new city effort to have mental health workers respond to certain emergencies, increase outreach to the homeless and stem retaliatory violence.

Funding would increase from $350,000 to $600,000 for a new pilot program in the mayor’s budget that would send paramedics and mental health workers to some calls historically handled by police. The increase for the Crisis Response Team would be paid for by reducing the Police Department’s recruit class from 39 to 33 or 34.

Five council members are seeking to boost spending from $548,000 to $781,000 for services such as paying for security deposits for low-income people and directing the homeless to mental health care and other help.

And Ald. Shiva Bidar, 5th District, is the lead sponsor of an amendment to increase funding from $200,000 to $300,000 for a four-year-old city initiative known as the Focused Interruption Coalition that responds to incidents of violence in the city and seeks to use peer support to head off retaliation.

Money for the increase will come from funds already allocated for a program in the current year’s budget that provides low-income people with $40 gift cards to offset the cost of the $40 vehicle fee the council approved last year. According to the city’s Finance Department, only 43 of the cards have been distributed.

The city has seen a record increase in shootings this year and 10 homicides, after seeing four last year and five in 2018.

More proposals

Other operating budget amendments include:

  • Increasing the cost of a residential parking permit from $42 to $105 beginning Sept. 1. The increase is not expected to result in revenues exceeding the cost to run the program, which would violate state law.
  • Hire an additional park ranger, bringing the program to 4.6 full-time positions.
  • Reducing council member pay by 5% to $16,597 for the council president, $14,714 for the council vice president, and $13,640 for the other 18 council members. Carter is the lead sponsor of the amendment; she did not respond to a request for comment.
  • Replacing the council’s chief of staff position — expected to be vacant by mid-November — with a director of resident and community engagement.
  • Restoring one day with evening hours at the city’s three refuse drop-off sites during the summer, at a cost of $8,000. The mayor’s proposed budget cuts $269,000 for leaf and brush collection and staffing drop-off sites.

As proposed, the mayor’s budget increases spending 2.46% and raises tax collections by 2.2% to $255.5 million, the lowest percentage in at least 15 years. It raises city taxes on the average home, now valued at $315,200, by 1.39%, or $37.46, to $2,723.20.

Panel’s actions

The council’s Finance Committee has already made a series of changes to the mayor’s proposed capital budget for next year, including:

  • Adding $83,000 for a one-year pilot program to equip police with 48 body-worn cameras in the North District.
  • Adding $427,000 to begin remodeling Fire Station No. 6 on the South Side, with an additional $2.8 million in 2022. The amendment moves the project to 2021-22 from 2023-24.
  • Moving up the $15 million Reindahl Imagination Center, a project involving the Madison Public Library and Parks Division, to 2022-23 from 2023-24 in the nonbinding, five-year Capital Improvement Plan.

In all, the Finance Committee added $592,000 in capital spending, including $560,000 in new borrowing, to the mayor’s proposal, bringing the total capital budget to $117.3 million.

The full council will make final decisions on the operating and capital budgets in the week of Nov. 9. The Finance Committee and council can still increase tax collections by $527,722, or an additional $5.53 on the average home, before hitting state-mandated levy limits.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the number of current and proposed sworn police officer positions.

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