Last night, alders adopted nine proposed capital budget amendments in about twenty minutes. That included the allocation of $3.5 million for a new men’s homeless shelter.
The move comes as homeless shelters throughout Madison have experienced significant strain during the pandemic — particularly with finding enough space to socially distance.
After a setback finding a location last month, the city’s Fleet Services Building on the East side will temporarily house homeless men through this winter with a maximum capacity of 250. But it’s also the home of the future Madison Public Market, and officials say it’s not a permanent solution.
Ultimately, the nine approved amendments increased the cost of the 2021 Capital Budget to around $166.4 million, up three million dollars from the Mayor’s initial proposal.
The eleven proposed amendments to the 2021 operating budget did not go as smoothly — as the council spent more than five hours debating the proposals.
The adopted operating budget clocks in at $349.5 million, about $400,000 more than the mayor’s initial proposal. It will increase taxes on the average Madison home by about $42.
Alders approved several measures to alleviate other housing issues, including an amendment to shift a quarter million dollars to the city’s COVID-19 relief fund, which will go in part to help prevent evictions during the pandemic.
Alder Barbara Harrington-McKinney spoke neither against nor in favor of the amendment. She argues that the move, at its core, is a good idea — but $360,000 is nowhere near enough to help prevent a potential flood of evictions come winter.
“I won’t be voting against this, but I absolutely know that this is not enough,” Harrington-McKinney says. “It is a good faith effort.”
Alders also moved to increase the Community Development Division’s Affordable Housing budget by $175,000 in order to hire a new outreach specialist position and cover common housing related expenses for residents — including security deposits and first months’ rent.
An amendment to increase funding for PFAS testing at the Truax Airfield by $50,000 was also unanimously approved, while a proposal to fund resident engagement in city government did not pass.
One of the most hotly debated proposals surrounded whether to accept a $500,000 federal grant to partially fund four new officer positions for the Madison Police Department. The city would have to foot the bill for the rest of the officer’s salaries, to the tune of over half a million dollars over the next three years.
The four new officers would have been part of a Downtown Entertainment Zone team tasked with addressing violence and quality of life issues in downtown Madison — and, in particular, State Street.
Alders voted 15 to 2 to place the grant on file, without taking any further action.
Two amendments that sought to alter a furlough program for city general employees also failed.
Under the Mayor’s executive budget, all city general employees will take between 2-4 mandatory furlough days in 2021. The measure is anticipated to save the city around $1.2 million.
A proposed alternative would have made the furloughs optional — and any shortfall from the anticipated $1.2 million savings would have been pulled from the Madison Police Department.
According to Alder Rebecca Kemble, the recommendation isn’t beyond the pale. The mayor’s budget assumes roughly $1.5 million in savings from contract renegotiations with the police and fire unions. Madison Fire Fighters Local 311, Madison’s fire union, has come to the table to renegotiate its members’ contract in recent weeks.
But Madison’s police union has declined the Mayor’s requests. Rhodes-Conway has repeatedly said that if the savings don’t come from contract renegotiations, they’ll come from somewhere else within the department.
Kemble says the MPPOA’s refusal to negotiate is hypocritical, as the city’s other employees have been forced to make concessions for the 2021 budget.
“We felt that was not only fiscally responsible, but also equitable given that MPPOA has refused to come to the table and negotiate the way every other city employee has done or been forced to do,” Kemble says. “Fire employees gave something and the general municipal employees gave more than one thing. And now they’re being forced to pay for MPPOA’s intransigence with mandatory furloughs, and that’s not fair.”
Speaking towards the tail-end of last night’s meeting, Mayor Rhodes-Conway said that this year’s budget entailed tough compromises — ones very few city employees, alders or even community members are likely to be satisfied with.
“But, we are obliged to deliver a balanced budget and there were very few options to make that possible this year. So this is a painful budget no one will be happy with, but I think it does try to spread that pain around,” Rhodes-Conway says.
(PHOTO: WORT / Flickr)