The Madison Common Council unanimously voted last night to extend services at the Dairy Drive Tiny Home community through 2023.
The Dairy Drive Tiny Home campsite was first set up last year as a safe and legal alternative to the city’s temporary shelters for people experiencing homelessness.
Jim O’Keefe is the city’s Community Development Division Manager. He says that, so far, the campsite has been a success.
“The on-site service providers have run some 50 people through that campground since it opened almost a year ago, and 20 of them have exited to permanent housing, which is a pretty good record. It’s a pretty good record in any circumstances, but the people who utilize the campground tend to be those who have shunned other types of shelter facilities or services, so to get that kind of an outcome of a 40% success rate in the first year is, I think, pretty notable,” O’Keefe says.
The tiny homes campsite, which is operated by MACH OneHealth, was funded through federal COVID funding paid for through the city. When it was first created last year, its lifespan was not specified, but as it was paid for with federal COVID money, it was not created to last forever.
And while O’Keefe says the city has not had much contact with the residents of the campground themselves, he says that complaints heard from both MACH OneHealth and the surrounding community have been minimal.
Last night’s resolution provided additional federal funding for Dairy Drive through December 31, 2023. While O’Keefe says that it is too early to say if the project is successful enough for the city to want to keep it going after 2023, that is not their biggest concern.
“Another very serious challenge that will influence that decision is how to pay for it. It’s currently being supported by almost entirely federal funding, funding that is one-time money and is fairly rapidly being depleted. We have enough money to be able to commit to a second full year,” O’Keefe says.
The decision to extend the Dairy Drive community through 2023 comes as the city prepares to decide on their budget for next year.
Yesterday, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway released her proposed 2023 operating budget.
The operating budget covers the day-to-day expenses for the city, as opposed to the capital budget, which is more focused on creating projects. The capital budget was released by the city last month.
The proposed 2023 operating budget comes out to almost $382 million dollars, over $21 million dollars more than last year’s budget. The bump is due to several new one-time expenses, such as a cost of living bonus to be given to all city employees, and an increase in city revenues from things such as building permits and room taxes.
The proposed operating budget looks to expand several programs run around the city, including the CARES program. CARES, or Community Alternative Response Emergency Services, is a multi-agency program to dispatch crisis workers and paramedics to certain non-violent 911 calls instead of police.
The program began last year, operating out of Fire Station 3 on Willy Street. Earlier this year, it expanded to another location on the city’s west side, allowing CARES to access more than just downtown.
In the proposed 2023 operating budget, CARES would scale up even more: running seven days a week, up from five days a week, and operating 12 hours a day, up from 8 hours a day.
While this means the city will most likely have to hire additional staff to run for these expanded hours, Mayor Rhodes-Conway says that the city is still trying to figure out how much new staff they will need.
Another facet of the 2023 operating budget is an expansion of programs for young adults through Madison. Mayor Rhodes-Conway says that these programs, through organizations such as Urban League of Greater Madison and Operation Fresh Start, will help underserved youth get the step up they need to make Madison a better place.
“It’s really important that we are investing in our community, so that folks can go on to not just jobs, but good jobs, family supporting jobs, and to be able to build wealth in their future. This just creates more wealth in our community, and more opportunities for people in our community,” Rhodes-Conway says.
The programs funded in the operating budget would be focused on young adults ages 18 through 26, targeting BIPOC, LGBTQ, and low-income youth.
The proposed operating budget also aims to make Madison more climate resilient. This would be done through a new City Emergency Manager. Mayor Rhodes-Conway says this new position would work within the city’s fire department to coordinate both throughout the city and with partners across the state to prepare and react to climate events.
“As climate change gets worse, we know that we are going to have more weather-related emergencies that we need to not only respond to, but really plan for, and make sure we have those plans in place so we can take care of our infrastructure, and most importantly our people,” Rhodes-Conway says.
Inflation has not spared the city’s proposed operating budget, as almost every department throughout the city has seen an increase in budget. But through the use of federal funds, Mayor Rhodes-Conway says that this year’s budget was much easier to balance than in past years.
But the ease of balancing the budget won’t last forever, as federal COVID dollars begin to dry up next year. Mayor Rhodes-Conway says that the city is preparing now for the tough choices ahead.
“We project that next year, there will be around a $5 million gap, maybe a little bigger than that. Then the years after that, we think we will be looking at a between $20 and $30 million gap between the cost to continue providing services to the city and what we are able to put on the property tax levy. That’s because of the very extreme limitation the Wisconsin state Legislature puts on municipalities in Wisconsin,” Rhodes-Conway says.
The proposed 2023 operating budget now goes to the city council for budget deliberations. The budget is expected to be finalized next month.
Photo courtesy: WORT Flickr