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Madison City Council slowly works through amendments to 2022 budget
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Madison City Council slowly works through amendments to 2022 budget

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The Madison City Council trudged Tuesday through proposed changes to the 2022 budget, calling it a night before debating the route of bus rapid transit through Downtown, whether to modestly expand an alternative emergency-response program, and deciding on differing funding approaches to violence prevention.

The council voted on just four out of 26 initially proposed amendments to Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway's capital and operating budgets before recessing deliberations until Wednesday afternoon. The annual budget process typically stretches into the early morning hours. Apparently looking to avoid lengthy, often sleep-deprived debates, the council set a ground rule to recess meetings by midnight unless two-thirds of the body wanted to continue.

After hitting its deadline, the council chose to pick up deliberations on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. Another meeting is scheduled for Thursday if it becomes necessary. No public comment will be taken those days.

The City Council had yet to get to Tuesday some of the more contentious and commented on amendments, including a proposal that would withhold money for BRT until an entire bus network redesign is approved and would direct staff to explore an alternative BRT route through Downtown.

Of the four decided-on amendments to the capital budget, the council:

  • Approved a $400,000 pilot loan program to assist property owners in building so-called Accessory Dwelling Units, such as backyard cottages
  • Reassigned the purpose of $1.5 million in federal COVID-19 dollars from converting hotels into housing to a proposal to rent rooms in and provide social services at a Far East Side hotel for people experiencing  homelessness
  • Rejected $65,000 for the Northside Planning Council to buy and retrofit a RV to provide neighborhood center services to areas without a brick-and-mortar center
  • Committed to investing $2.5 million in federal money to purchasing property in the Darbo-Worthington neighborhood to support nonprofits if a plan to purchase the Salvation Army of Dane County's property in the area doesn't occur by mid-2023.

During a public comment period earlier Tuesday, Jason Ilstrup, president of Downtown Madison, Inc., said his organization has been "zealous advocates" on behalf of BRT, lobbying federal elected officials and federal agencies for funding.

"We continue to be zealous advocates and believe bus rapid transit is important to Downtown, however we have not heard proof that the current route is what's best for Downtown," Ilstrup said.

Currently, the east-west BRT route, which would run roughly from East Towne to West Towne, is planned to operate around Capitol Square and on the 100 to 300 blocks of State Street. Business owners and interest groups have strongly opposed the Downtown path, arguing it could hamper the viability of Downtown and other routing options have been ignored.

But city staff have warned the amendment could significantly delay implementation of BRT or put it in jeopardy altogether. Several speakers urged the council to not delay the long-sought public transit system, which is slated to begin construction in late 2022 and start operation in 2024.

By Tuesday, two of the amendment's five sponsors — Ald. Mike Verveer and council President Syed Abbas — offered a lighter proposal that wouldn't withhold BRT money. It would, though, direct city staff to consider BRT stations on West Gorham and West Johnson streets instead of State Street, but not require alternatives be explored for Capitol Square.

Other amendments

Heading into Tuesday, the City Council was set to consider 26 amendments to the $356.4 million capital and $360.3 million operating budgets for 2022 before it adopts the spending plans.

Throughout public comment, which lasted about 2½ hours, many speakers lambasted the council for not cutting the police budget and redirecting money to social programs.

"We don't need more police cars roaming around, stopping people and just creating more potential police violence," said Julia Matthews.

Many spoke in favor of the Community Alternative Response for Emergency Services — a recently launched pilot program that dispatches a paramedic and mental health crisis worker to certain nonviolent 911 calls. One amendment would redirect $82,000 from the Police Department to add two more crisis workers to the CARES program for six months next year.

"CARES is something that we should all be behind, every single citizen in Madison should be behind CARES," said Shadayra Kilfoy-Flores.

Last month, though, the Finance Committee defeated three amendments to redirect higher amounts of money to the CARES program in the 2022 budget. Fire Chief Steven Davis, whose department oversees the program, said at the time it was "a little premature" to expand because the pilot just began Sept. 1.

Additionally, the council is set to consider various amendments to deliver potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars to Focused Interruption to help the nonprofit with a gun violence prevention strategy that's shown positive results in other large cities.

Spending proposals

The proposed operating budget, which leans on millions in federal COVID-19 dollars, directs more money to public health and safety, funds housing initiatives, prepares for climate change, and makes further commitments to racial justice and social equity.

The mayor's executive budget also includes money for the addition of eight police officers, 10 firefighters and other municipal positions for when the city absorbs most of the town of Madison next fall.

Before Tuesday's meeting, the proposed operating budget would increase spending 3.1% to $360.3 million for 2022; increase tax collections 1.2% to $259 million; and raise city taxes on the average home, now valued at $335,200, by 1.8%, or $49.99, to $2,786.05.

The council has only about $79,000 more to spend in the operating budget before hitting a state-mandated levy limit.

Dramatically inflated by the $166 million price tag to start the first phase of a largely federally funded BRT system, the proposed capital budget would be the largest in city history.

Capital spending would also go toward housing and homelessness initiatives like converting hotels into housing, reconstructing Atwood and University avenues, investing $16.5 million in electric vehicles, and converting all city street lights to high-efficiency LEDs. The proposed capital budget includes $142.8 million in borrowing and $213.6 million from other sources.


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