Last night, the Dane County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to adopt a new 2021 budget. The board will spend $615.5 million on an operating budget and $80.7 million on its capital budget.
Notably, the budgets will fund various affordable housing projects, more construction on the Lower Yahara River Trail, and provide funds to purchase land for a new Center for Black Excellence and Culture on Madison’s south side.
A few county positions have been added back, including two roles to handle pretrial assessment and a half-time position to help veterans. And the Board increased funding for a mental health crisis worker contract by over $80,000.
But four proposals, focused on various aspects of policing, did not make the cut.
One of those items is funding for a new mental health first responder program, a cooperative effort between the city of Madison and the county. A pilot program has been greenlit by the city, and it already has the county’s support — but no firm funding commitment.
Two separate amendments to fund the project failed to pass.
One would have cut two Sheriff’s deputy positions from the Dane County Sheriff’s Office in order to fund the county’s stake in the mental health first responder program.
A number of supervisors expressed concern that the cuts to the Sheriff’s department would limit services to rural areas of Dane County, arguing that the amendment prioritizes Madison over the rest of the county.
Supervisor Melissa Ratcliff says that adding additional funding for the mental health program while the county is attempting to reign in spending isn’t feasible.
“Once it gets to the point where we can expand this, then we can put it in our budget,” Ratcliff said. “I don’t understand why we want to fund this for 2021 when there are other programs that have been cut or reduced.”
Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney says deputies have been receiving mental crisis training, and — so far — they’ve proved more than capable of handling mental health calls. And, since the forthcoming mental health first responder program will be exclusively in Madison, they’re the only mental health crisis service available to rural residents.
“As it relates to rural Dane County… we would support a county-wide program,” Sheriff Mahoney says. “But we’re not there yet. In the meantime, our deputies are responding to these incidents with very successful conclusions.”
Another amendment that didn’t make the cut is a ban on chemical weapons used by the Sheriff’s Department.
The proposal would have tied the future use of tear gas by Sheriff’s deputies to the results of a study currently under way by the City of Madison. That study is looking at the City of Madison’s Police Department, and a final report is expected in January.
The final budget amendment that failed to pass would have appropriated 3.7 million dollars from the city’s capital budget to lay the physical and operational groundwork for a mental health triage and restoration center.
The budget already includes $300,000 to study the feasibility of the center, but contains no firm plans for construction or acquisition.
Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner says that, while she’s happy that the county is moving forward with the triage center, board members have dragged their feet on the project for nearly five years.
‘This is something that’s been recommended to our Board with Resolution 556. That was five years ago! People who have tried to navigate our mental health system have known we’ve needed this for years. This is a huge gap in our system,” Wegleitner says.
Supervisor Carousel Bayrd argues that setting aside millions of dollars before the details of the center are dialed in would be premature, and a risky financial move as the county is attempting to control spending.
“I don’t understand how we know how much this is going to cost,” Bayrd says. “At this moment we don’t know the size, we don’t know the location, we don’t know the needs for renovations, for additions. We have no idea if this is going to cost $1.2 million or $5.3 million.”
The 2021 budget includes a levy increase of 3.4% — increasing taxes on an average Dane County home by about $30. Both the operating and capital budget will now go to County Executive Joe Parisi for his signature before being adopted.
(Photo: WORT News / Flickr)