Madison’s $332.1 million operating budget for 2019 will raise taxes $72 on average home

November 16, 2018

After the City Council deliberated past midnight with no major clashes on big items, Mayor Paul Soglin said Wednesday he’ll sign the amended operating and capital budgets for 2019.

In past years, Soglin has threatened vetoes, let a budget pass into law without signing it, or signed it despite objections over spending and borrowing.

Soglin said a few items this year — higher debt payments, less money for peer support to address violence and delays on final decisions on police body-worn cameras — make the budget “less than perfect.” But he said the budget is probably the best in his most recent eight-year tenure in the mayor’s office and praised council leadership.

The council, in discussions that began Tuesday evening and concluded about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday after 18 proposed amendments were decided, approved a $332.1 million operating budget that still builds on the peer support initiative and strengthens a police Special Victims Unit, bumps investments for some neighborhood centers and tourism and sustains community development programs.

The operating budget, approved 19-0 with one absence, increases spending 5.5 percent and increases city property taxes by $72, or 2.9 percent, to $2,582 on the average home, now valued at $284,868.

The budget will raise city tax collections by 4.7 percent to $241.8 million. The schools, Dane County, Madison Area Technical College and the state will add separate collections that will appear on final tax bills.

Late Tuesday, the council, on a unanimous voice vote, also approved a $347.7 million capital budget, which relies on a record $185.4 million in authorized borrowing.

In deliberating capital budget amendments, the council added $5.7 million for flood mitigation after flash flooding and sustained high-water levels threatened parts of the city in late summer.

A lesson, Soglin said, is to pursue more moderate borrowing so the city has capacity to respond to an event like the flood.

The council erased funding the Finance Committee added to Soglin’s initial budget plan for a Police Department pilot program on body-worn cameras.

The city has been studying body cameras for three years and can’t delay a final decision forever, the mayor said, adding that the absence of body cameras could expose the city to legal liabilities if police are accused of improper actions.

Soglin’s initial capital budget proposal put an emphasis on planning projects next year over new construction.

With little wiggle room available under the state-mandated levy limit going into the meeting, the council considered nine operating budget amendments and shuffled around funds that resulted in a reduction of new money Soglin sought for peer support programs in order to provide further funding for other community programs.

The mayor had included $300,000 in his proposed operating budget to be added to the $400,000 the city provides for violence prevention peer support programs. Ald. Rebecca Kemble and other council members sought to move $150,000 of the $300,000 to other community organizations.

But by taking $17,000 out of the Mayor’s Office and using some remaining money under the levy limit, the council was able to offer $209,500 in new funding to the peer support programs. The body then approved $57,500 for Centro Hispano of Dane County and Lussier Community Education Center to offer community building and engagement services for the full year.

“In order to continue the efforts that we are currently doing, we need to be able to hire more staff. It’s a must,” said Anthony Cooper, executive director of the Focused Interruption Coalition, one of the groups that receives peer support funding.

Also, the council voted 16-3 to reject a $110,000 grant from American Family Insurance that would have gone to hiring a new police officer to patrol the neighborhood surrounding the insurance company as part of a two-year pilot.

Several council members expressed skepticism over the perceived privatization of the police department. Ald. Maurice Cheeks called it a “significant policy decision that is being had at midnight.”

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