The Common Council will meet for their regular meeting tonight, where they will go over their usual alcohol license changes and debate how many chickens you can keep in your yard.
And, they’ll decide how to use money originally set aside to raise alder pay.
In last year’s budget, the council put aside around $91,000 to increase alder pay. While the money was approved and set aside, the resolution to actually increase alder pay was voted down just one week later. Tonight, there are four proposals on the table looking for new ways to utilize that money.
All four resolutions would amend the 2023 operating budget to transfer the money that was approved for alder raises into other programs across the city. But different alders are envisioning different uses for the money, which range from investigating discrimination complaints, paying interns, funding violence prevention efforts, or expanding Madison’s alternative police response.
The first proposal, introduced by District 7 Alder Nasra Wehelie, would move around $74,000 to the Department of Civil Rights to hire a new Equal Opportunities Investigator.
Equal Opportunities Investigators investigate complaints of housing discrimination, discrimination by police, and other violations of equal opportunity laws.
The position was originally included in the department’s budget request last year. According to their 2023 budget request, the added position would help address the increased workload taken by the department after the City of Madison absorbed the Town of Madison.
At a finance committee meeting back in January, Byron Bishop, the city’s Equal Opportunities Division Manager, said that the majority of those living in the town of Madison are renters, meaning that they need their help as much as anyone else in Madison.
“…as I had already mentioned, we had already been requested by different members of the public for our services, but because they weren’t inside the geographic boundaries of the city of Madison, we could not provide those services to them,” Bishop said. “So now we can, and now we are obligated to provide those services, and it’s very very helpful to have those additional resources.”
Another proposal, also introduced by Alder Wehelie, would keep the money within the Common Council, and use $15,000 for Intern stipends.
Currently, alders don’t have any interns. All of the help they receive in creating legislation comes from either city departments or from one of the four council staff members. Those council staff members are split between the entire council.
Currently, alders are given $250 for interns and other expenses. This proposal would give each alder $750 specifically as a stipend to pay interns. At a finance committee meeting in January, Alder Wehelie said that $250 is not enough to attract students.
“That would not help attract students, in terms of collaborating with students from various institutions, and this would be an entry for those students to learn public service and policy, so that it would be attractive for students to get engaged in city government,” Alder Wehelie said.
The third proposal was introduced by Alders Yannette Figueroa Cole of District 10 and Sabrina Madison of District 17, and would move around $91,000 to the city-county health department for Violence Prevention Services.
Violence Prevention Services views violence through the lens of mental health, and includes programs like CARES and services for unhoused folks in Madison.
Alder Figueroa Cole says that the money will be used by the Strong Neighborhoods Committee to assist local organizations in addressing the root causes of violence.
“We’re already working in the neighborhoods to make them stronger and healthier,” Alder Figueroa Coles says. “These funds, what they do, is supplement the work of community organizations that are providing services directly related to violence prevention.”
Figueroa Coles adds that she’s requesting the money to show that she is actively working to address public safety in Madison.
“It’s for the council to show that we are committed to addressing violence prevention,” Alder Figueroa Cole says. “It’s not just a campaign promise, it’s not something that we just say when we are trying to make a point, but that we are actually backing up all those words with actual money.”
The final proposal, introduced by Alder Tag Evers of District 13, would move $82,000 to help expand the city’s CARES program.
CARES began in 2021, and sends a qualified paramedic and crisis worker to non-violent behavioral health emergencies instead of police. According to their 2022 annual report, CARES responded to 57% of the estimated number of mental health calls in their first year of service.
With the expanded funding, Alder Evers says that the program would be able to hire the staff to create a third CARES team as early as April. This, he says, could help the program respond to some of the remaining 43% of mental health calls.
“It seems to me that one thing we all agree on on the council, (is) the idea has been an unqualified good for our community,” Alder Evers says. “I thought that perhaps we could all come together and say ‘with this remaining money, why don’t we use it to continue the good work that we started with CARES, and see it expand even more.’”
The council will have to choose which proposal to go with carefully, as they only have around $91,000 to distribute. Three of the four proposals will receive a final vote tonight, those three will go without the recommendation for adoption by the city’s finance committee. The fourth proposal, to move the money to the CARES program, will be introduced tonight. After being introduced, the CARES proposal will head to the finance committee on Monday.
Photo courtesy: Brian Standing / WORT Flickr