After a week of deliberation, the Madison Common Council passed their budget for the 2022 fiscal year last Thursday. It comes out to be one of the largest city budgets in Madison history.
The budget will allow a small property tax increase, around $50 for the average Madison homeowner.
Of particular note during the council’s final night of deliberating: whether to increase funding for Madison’s mental health first responders program. That program is called Community Alternative Response for Emergency Services, or CARES.
CARES began earlier this year as an extension of the Madison Fire Department. It substitutes sending mental health crisis workers and paramedics to some 9-11 calls, rather than sending police officers.
Alders spent over an hour debating an amendment that would add $82,000 to the CARES PROGRAM in order to hire two more full-time mental health crisis workers.
But some alders argued that the program is growing too fast, and that there is not enough data to show that CARES needs more funding. Alder Jael Currie says that we do not have time to waste.
“To me it’s not about defunding the police. It’s almost in the same token as I’ve heard others allude to tonight, of ‘we care about CAREs but…’ We care about addressing our systematic failures, and addressing devastating programs, and at times organizations ending completely due to lack of funding. Tonight, this is about actually producing outcomes that indicate we do need to provide health and human services. Our community is suffering, we are losing people who look like me and my family and those who I love on a daily basis, and it doesn’t have to be that way in such a resource rich place,” said Currie.
Currently, the CARES act employs two mental health crisis workers and two paramedics, and have already responded to around 60 calls since the program launched in September.
The $600 thousand total budget for the CARES act will come out of the Madison Police Department’s approximately $84 million budget.
Alder Charles Myadze noted that the amendment to the CARES budget isn’t even one tenth of one percent of the police department’s budget.
“…and regarding the funding source, President Abbas mentioned that this was somehow another part of defunding the police, as if this was a part of a broader rhetorical statement. Well, let’s look at what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about less than one tenth of one percent of the overall police budget. Allocated to a program that ostentatiously will reduce the burden upon police staff,” said Myadze.
Ultimately, the amendment to the CARES program passed in a 14 to 6 vote.
The council also unanimously voted to approve of the purchase for a new vehicle for the CARES program.
CAREs wasn’t the only thing discussed in the city budget. The Common Council also approved the hiring of two permanent part-time Community Connectors to join the Department of Civil Rights.
These Community Connectors will act as interpreters for those who do not speak English, and will be fluent in Spanish, Hmong, and Chinese Mandarin. Director of the Department of Civil Rights Norman Davis explains,
“We thought that it would be ideal to have representation for our top three non-English languages, Spanish, Hmong, and Chinese Mandarin, and really be able to connect to our communities in a new way, and a more intimate way,” said Davis.
Also on the budget earlier in the week was a one percent wage increase for all Madison city employees, as well as the hiring of eight new police officers, to help cover the city’s acquisition of the town of Madison.
The council also approved funding for a new ambulance and ten new paramedics at fire station 14, on the city’s southeast side. The area has reportedly been under staffed, and have had to rely on help from other nearby stations for ambulances, resulting in those stations not having access to all of their ambulances.
Photo Courtesy: Obi Onyeador / UNSPLASH