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Madison City Council members seek to add more police officers

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Madison City Council members are seeking a series of changes — including more money for public safety and a proposal to reduce an employee salary increase — to Mayor Paul Soglin’s proposed $332 million operating budget for 2019.

The proposed amendments for public safety come amid continuing incidents of shots fired, youths stealing cars and committing other crimes, and a focus on human trafficking. They include $155,000 to add up to three more police officers, $197,000 for two new positions in the Police Department’s Special Victims Unit, and up to $86,800 for a civilian human resources manager to free up a lieutenant and enhance the department’s human trafficking initiative.

Council members also offered alternative amendments to add just one police officer or to start the human resources position mid-year.

Other public safety proposals among a total of 33 amendments would provide $26,000 for overtime and video camera system maintenance for a pilot police body camera program in the capital budget, $20,500 to buy Narcan Nasal Spray for businesses in areas seen as hot spots for overdoses, and $638,350 to create nine firefighter/paramedic positions to staff a ninth ambulance at Fire Station No. 14 on the Southeast Side.

All of the proposed public safety personnel positions would have higher annualized costs in 2020 and beyond.

The proposed amendment with the single biggest fiscal impact, however, is one from Ald. David Ahrens, 15th District, that would reduce citywide pay increases for general municipal employees and sworn personnel from 3.25 percent to 2.5 percent, which would save $1.5 million.

In the past, Ahrens said he’s proposed wage increases greater than those offered by Soglin because the mayor’s were less than the inflation rate. But this year the inflation rate is below 2.5 percent and his amendment meets the inflation target and is fair, he said.

Other proposals would add funds to support The Beacon homeless day resource center, deliver more money for legal services to tenants fighting evictions, and increase Metro Transit service on weekends for Routes 6 and 7.

Unlike some past years, Soglin did not seem itching for a fight, isolating just three amendments he felt would be “unwise for the long-term well being of the city,” and calling for a collaborative decision on the others, including those related to the Police and Fire departments.

“I didn’t take us up to the spending limit,” he said. “There’s a difference between wants and needs. I’d like to hear the arguments on these various issues.”

The unwise amendments, Soglin said, are: the reduced salary increase because his proposal is based on bargaining and an effort to ensure equitable treatment of employees; amendments to create a separate Office of Communications within Information Technology because there’s no need for a separate agency; and a proposal to cut $25,000 in funding to start a partnership with the Center on Wisconsin Strategy.

The city’s Finance Committee will consider the amendments on Monday.

A public safety focus

Earlier this month, Soglin unveiled his $332 million operating budget that increases spending 5.5 percent and adds $72.11 in city taxes to the average home’s bill next year.

Under the mayor’s proposal, city tax collections from all property would increase 4.7 percent to $241.8 million, with taxes on the average home rising 2.9 percent to $2,582.30.

Soglin’s budget includes several public safety enhancements, including $300,000 more than 2018 for a total of $700,000 for peer support efforts to help those caught up in cycles of violence. The new funds are for additional peer support that would proactively reach into neighborhoods.

For police, Soglin proposed $1.1 million for a training academy to deal with increased turnover amid retirements; expanding the Special Victims Unit by authorizing a new detective position and upgrading an officer to detective sergeant; an extra $299,000 for police overtime based on current trends; and $25,000 for smartphones for all police field staff.

In his budget request, Police Chief Mike Koval called strengthening the Special Victims Unit his “top priority.” But Koval also said the department remains understaffed and requested six more officers, a $310,500 cost, for 2019. Soglin didn’t fill that request.

Alds. Paul Skidmore and Mike Verveer offered the amendment to add three officers that would begin at the May academy, which would have an annualized cost of $237,200. Verveer offered the alternative to add just one officer with an annualized cost of $76,600.

“It’s less than six, but it’s a recognition that we need patrol officers,” Skidmore said, adding that the funds for nine firefighter paramedics are a recognition of inadequate service for the Southeast Side.

Council members are also seeking to beef up Soglin’s funding for the Special Victims Unit, with Ald. Amanda Hall, 2nd District, seeking to add a new detective and investigator with an annualized cost of $210,800. Meanwhile, Skidmore is seeking to reassign a lieutenant position overseeing human resources functions in the department and create a civilian manager to assume those duties with an annualized cost of $94,200.

Koval said he’s pleased Soglin’s executive operating budget acknowledges a desire to establish an investigative presence into human trafficking and gratified that council members agree. The chief said he hopes council members will support civilianizing the lieutenant of personnel and is “encouraged” to see some support for more patrol officers.

“Our workload/staffing indices reflect a need of at least 16 more cops; but understanding that this is a very lean budget, my request was for six,” Koval said, adding, “I will continue to strike a clarion call for more cops in the streets.”

Of the public safety amendments, Soglin voiced concern about the firefighter/paramedics, saying the city added a fire station prematurely and is now doing the same thing in terms of equipment and staff.

Capital budget changes

Already, the Finance Committee has approved Skidmore’s amendment to Soglin’s proposed capital budget that would provide a pilot program for police body cameras, an issue the city has struggled with for years.

In early September, Soglin offered a $336.6 million capital budget. Later in that month, the Finance Committee approved an amendment to buy 47 body cameras and associated equipment to be used in a pilot program in the Police Department’s North District. It would not start until the City Council adopts policies regulating the use of the cameras.

The amendment was among 15 changes to Soglin’s proposed capital budget and the non-binding, five-year Capital Improvement Plan. The Finance Committee’s changes upped the proposed capital budget to $341.6 million.

The full council will make final decisions on the operating and capital budgets the week of Nov. 12.


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