The Madison City Council adopted Thursday a 2022 budget that leans on millions in federal dollars to cover funding gaps, sets up the start of construction for bus rapid transit and adds about $51 to the average homeowner's tax bill.
On the final day of budget deliberations, council members backed an amendment to modestly expand halfway through next year a recently launched pilot program that dispatches a paramedic and mental health crisis worker to certain nonviolent 911 calls.
Ultimately, the council voted 19-1 to adopt a $360.3 million operating budget and $354.2 million capital budget for 2022 after an at-times contentious amendment process over three days. Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney was the sole no vote.
The operating budget relies on $259 million in property tax levy, which is 1.2% increase. It will raise taxes on the average Madison home — now valued at $335,200 — by $50.69 to bring the city's portion of the bill to $2,786.75.
It provides a 1% raise to all city employees next year, pays for new municipal positions, such as eight police officers, in anticipation of absorbing most of the town of Madison next fall, and funds new public safety initiatives.
The 2022 capital budget is the largest in city history — more than double the adopted capital spending plan for the current year.
But its price tag is inflated by the largely federally funded initial east-west BRT route slated to begin construction in the second half of 2022. The entire cost of the BRT route is estimated at $166 million. The capital budget relies on $143.9 million in borrowing, or a 19% year-over-year increase.
In a statement late Thursday, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway praised the investments made in affordable housing, homelessness services, public safety and violence prevention included in the budget, adding it was made possible by federal COVID-19 relief legislation passed under the Biden administration.
"Taxpayers will be pleased to know that we accomplished all this while holding the property tax increase to the lowest level in many years," she said.
On Thursday, the most-debated change related to adding $82,000 to the operating budget for the Community Alternative Response Emergency Services (CARES) program.
Opponents didn't argue against the need for such a service but whether it's too early to know how and where to expand, while supporters said it will let the program be flexible and respond to emerging needs in the next year.
Fire Chief Steven Davis, whose department oversees CARES, said there's no doubt the program will need to expand in time — adding he wants to see it eventually become a standalone public safety agency — but he cautioned against growing it too quickly.
"I don't know that we're ready to staff more yet," Davis said.
He said more data needs to be collected and analyzed; a strategic expansion plan needs to be developed; and long-term supports are needed to avoid CARES repeatedly responding to the same individuals.
"The chief has been so consistent in his reasoning why we're not ready, the program is not ready for additional funding, you're not even listening to that," said Harrington-McKinney, 1st District.
Davis said the team has responded to about 60 calls since its inception Sept. 1, including more than one contact with 11 people. There's been three instances where two CARES teams have been out on a call at the same time in the past two months, he said. Currently, the program operates during certain weekday hours in the central part of the city.
The CARES amendment, which passed on a 14-6 vote, redirects $82,000 from the Police Department budget to pay for two more mental health crisis workers for six months in 2022.
Ald. Keith Furman, 19th District, said the funds are a "very, very small percentage" of the overall $84 million policing budget.
By June — when the two crisis workers are expected to be hired — Furman said he believes there will be enough information to decide where and how to expand CARES.
"We're talking about less than one tenth of one percent of the overall police budget allocated to a program that will ostensibly reduce the burden upon police staff, that will free up the time of officers," Ald. Tag Evers, 13th District, said.
The CARES team is modeled off programs in other cities that send medical professionals to certain 911 calls involving mental health or substance-abuse issues instead of police.
Rhodes-Conway's executive operating budget included $600,000 for CARES to cover four paramedics, two contracted crisis workers, a project manager position and other expenses.
Council President Syed Abbas, 12th District, and Ald. Sheri Carter, 14th District, offered an alternate amendment, which was defeated, to delay the start date of a new City Council staff position from Jan. 1 to July 1 and use $41,000 in salary savings to pay for two crisis workers for three months.
Abbas said the direction of the program could be better positioned in September — when the two crisis workers would have been hired under the failed alternate — and it would give staff more time to answer outstanding questions about expansion.
"The most important thing about this program that we're missing — it's not about the money — it's about doing it right," Carter said. "It's about setting it up right. It's about getting the collaboration that we need."
Ultimately, the amendment was supported by Alds. Brian Benford, Juliana Bennett, Nikki Conklin, Jael Currie, Yannette Figueroa Cole, Grant Foster, Patrick Heck, Lindsay Lemmer, Arvina Martin, Mike Verveer, Regina Vidaver, Abbas, Evers and Furman.
Alds. Christian Albouras, Gary Halverson, Charles Myadze, Carter and Harrington-McKinney voted against the amendment. Relatedly, the council unanimously passed a capital budget amendment to purchase a second CARES vehicle for $50,000.
On Thursday, the council also agreed to deliver $200,000 to Focused Interruption for gun violence prevention efforts. The funds will be transferred from a yet-to-be-created Violence Intervention Team in the joint city-county health department to the nonprofit.
Focused Interruption, which provides peer support for those affected by gun violence, has recently suggested a strategy used in several large cities to prevent gun violence by identifying those most at-risk and connecting them with services.
The operating budget amendment leaves $215,725 in city money for Public Health Madison and Dane County's Violence Intervention Team, which would be bolstered by $200,000 included in Dane County's 2022 budget.
Rhodes-Conway also cast a tie-breaking vote to create two part-time "community connector" positions within the Department of Civil Rights with the aim of providing translation, interpretation and community outreach services to Hmong- and Chinese Mandarin-speaking communities.
The mayor's budget created a similar position for people whose primary language is Spanish. Supporters of two positions, which will eventually have an annualized cost of $94,468, said it'll help provide equitable access to municipal services and government, while opponents didn't believe the positions were well thought out enough.