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Mayor Paul Soglin proposed a $289 million stay-the-course budget Tuesday that he said preserves basic services, provides raises for city workers and extends more opportunities to the poor and minority residents while coming in under state levy limits.

The budget, which raises property tax collections by 3.24 percent overall, would cost the average homeowner about $65.65 more in property taxes to the city.

Madison budget trends

The proposal, however, does not max out tax collections under the state levy law, meaning the City Council could add another $1.5 million to $2 million in spending. Usually, a mayor’s proposal is just a few hundred thousand dollars under the levy limit.

Soglin said he did not seek to maximize tax collections and spending because there must be an acknowledgment of the impact on taxpayers, and the city has other costs on the horizon.

“This budget is going to be one of the first in years that doesn’t take us close to levy limits,” Soglin said. “I concluded not spending the $1.5 million to $2 million is the right thing to do.”

Under the plan, property taxes on the average home, now valued at $245,894, would go up 2.91 percent to $2,323. That does not include property taxes levied by Dane County, the Madison School District or Madison Area Technical College.

If the city maximizes spending now, it will face layoffs and reductions in critical services in a couple of years, he said, adding that the council has had a tendency to add items to the budget as final decisions are made.

The temptation to increase spending is likely to be the central debate on the operating budget in coming weeks. The mayor and council may also clash on a Midtown police station in the capital budget.

Already, council President Denise DeMarb has asked city finance director David Schmiedicke to provide five-year projections for the operating budget and the impact of coming capital budget decisions on the operating budget. She has also asked Schmiedicke to estimate city spending decisions on the average family, not just homeowners.

“I think it’s important we have as clear a picture as we can when we’re working on this budget and future budgets,” DeMarb said.

The budget seeks to improve access and opportunities for all residents while keeping costs moderate, Soglin said in a four-page statement to the council.

Soglin’s proposal delivers a pay increase for employees and requires no layoffs. There are 31 new positions, some the result of changes in how the police and fire recruit classes are budgeted, Schmiedicke said.

The budget provides funds for a Housing First Street Team to help the homeless get access to housing and support services, expands apprenticeship opportunities and operations of the Theresa Terrace and Meadowood neighborhood centers and expands the Fullmore Summer Youth Internship Program.

The street team, which the city will likely hire under a contract, will likely have members certified in mental health and substance abuse and is intended to buttress efforts to help the chronically homeless, community development director Jim O’Keefe said.

“It’s an attempt to connect with people who are actually living on the street,” he said.

Soglin said the proposal enhances services, safety and security in key neighborhoods by funding 12 new Police Department commissioned staff created in the 2015 budget. The budget has city matching funds for a federal grant that will support three new officers and a sergeant, and full-year city funding for five neighborhood resource officers and three community outreach officers.

The budget adds an information technology security specialist and adds support for Dane Dances and Make Music Madison. Overture Center funding, once a major point of friction between the mayor and council, will remain at $1.75 million next year.

DeMarb said she hasn’t had a chance to review the budget in detail, but said, “There’s so much need out there. It is very difficult. It’s a balancing act.”

Again, the budget presents “significant challenges,” Soglin said in the statement.

The city must cover $3.4 million in continuing costs for covering new initiatives and one-time revenues from 2015, he said.

Revenues from fines, forfeitures and building permits are all down, but those decreases are partially offset by higher proceeds from ambulance fees and the hotel/motel room tax.

Under the budget, the city would meet pressures in part by transferring all city support for Overture from the general fund to the room tax and by using the first full year of revenue from the urban forestry fee.

The 2015 budget increases the towing fee for parking violations from $50 to $65 to raise $150,000, while the city expects to save $1 million on health insurance costs by moving to a deductible plan.

Soglin’s proposal increases overall spending by 2 percent to $289 million. It increases overall tax collections 3.2 percent to $209.4 million, and slightly decreases the tax rate to $9.44 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The Board of Estimates will consider amendments to the mayor’s operating budget Oct. 26.

In early September, Soglin offered a $295 million capital budget that would continue major investments in low-cost housing and begin work on Judge Doyle Square while reducing money for neighborhood centers and significantly delaying a public market and a Midtown police station.

Last week, the city’s Board of Estimates amended Soglin’s capital budget to include $7.2 million in 2016 and $1.4 million in 2017 to build the Midtown station after a heated debate that included tense moments between the mayor, Police Chief Mike Koval and council members. The station would require hiring 11 positions at a cost of $933,000 annually in future operating budgets.

All told, the Board of Estimates increased the mayor’s capital budget to $323.6 million, including $150.6 million in borrowing and $173 million from outside sources.

The council will consider final amendments to the capital and operating budgets the week of Nov. 10.

Last fall, Soglin and the council tangled over the budget. The mayor threatened a veto and ultimately let them take effect without his signature.


Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that the impact on the average taxpayer reflects only the city portion of the tax bill.

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Dean Mosiman covers Madison city government for the Wisconsin State Journal.