For more than five hours last night, the Madison Common Council listened to public input on the city’s 2021 budget. Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway has proposed a nearly $350 million operating and $161.6 million capital budget for next year.
The more than $500 million joint budget comes as the city has been wracked by pandemic-induced economic woes over the past eight months. City leadership was initially anticipating a $25 million shortfall going into this year’s budget season, but the mayor’s proposed budgets would shrink that gap to about $16.5 million.
Despite that reduction, some community members at last night’s meeting expressed complaints with the city’s funding priorities.
Mahnker Danweigh, an organizer for local social justice group Freedom, Inc. says that the mayor’s budget doesn’t make substantial investments in Madison’s Black community.
“I don’t feel that it’s a reflection of the values of this community, at least not my community,” Danweigh says. “This budget does not reflect serious investment in Black communities, it does not reflect serious investment in healthcare.
The mayor’s operating budget does include a roughly two million dollar bump in funding for the city’s police department — something many Madisonians expressed issues with last night.
But much of the public comment was pushing alders to reconsider a previously defeated amendment accepting a federal grant for the Madison Police Department.
The half million dollar grant would partially cover the salaries for four new officers over a three year period. 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.
Still, a number of Madisonians voiced their support of the Police Department and for accepting the grant. One of those, Kim Richman, says that the discussion to defund the police has made him question his pride in the City and its leadership.
“We used to love Madison, we used to brag about the city,” Richman says. “I used to show strangers around the city. And when I was travelling, I was damn proud to say I’m from Madison, Wisconsin. That’s no longer the case, and I’m not alone. If you haven’t heard that, you are not listening.”
The future of the Madison Police Department wasn’t the only item up for debate last night. Neil Rainford, speaking on behalf of AFSCME Local 6000, pushed city alders to reconsider layoffs and furloughs of city employees.
“These proposed mandatory furloughs are fundamentally unfair. They fall exclusively on the city’s general employees, who are often lower-paid,” Rainford says.
The mayor has also pushed a mandatory 2-4 day furlough program for city general employees — a step that could save Madison around $1.2 million. A recommended amendment introduced by alders Marsha Rummel and Mike Verveer would make that furlough program voluntary.
Under the mayor’s proposed budget, about nineteen full and part time parking utility positions would remain unfunded for 2021.
Madison’s Common Council is meeting again tonight to consider proposed amendments to the budget. If they’re unable to reach an agreement on the proposals, they’ll also be meeting tomorrow evening for further deliberations.
(Photo: WORT / Flickr)
Editor’s Note: This story was corrected to reflect that the equivalent of nineteen full and part-time positions in the parking utility would be unfunded under the mayor’s proposal.