The City of Madison was facing a $25 million shortfall going into this year’s budget season. Some of that — about ten million — is due to revenue lost from the pandemic. But more — fifteen million dollars — exists from a structural gap, where the city spends more than it makes.
In Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s proposed operating budget released today, that shortfall would be reduced down to a $16.5 million gap — a reduction the Mayor described today as “slightly less dire.”
The city’s operating budget covers day-to-day expenditures and personnel costs. The document serves as one of the city’s financial guides, alongside the Capital Budget and Capital Improvement Plan–those cover the cost of physical goods, infrastructure improvements and long-term, multi-year projects.
The proposed operating budget totals almost $350 million.
Public Health and Safety services — that is, funding for police, fire, and public health services– are the largest sector, at nearly 152 million dollars.
Some city services would be cut in 2021 under the proposed budget. A total of 34 operational reductions across city agencies would save Madison about $3.5 million — or one percent of the total operating budget.
The proposed reductions also omit some large cuts the city is still negotiating.
One of those cuts, and likely the most difficult the Mayor will face in the coming weeks, is a renegotiation of provisions with the city’s fire and police unions. The city’s previous contract with the unions was negotiated in 2019 — under a different mayoral administration and a pre-pandemic economy.
Mayor Rhodes-Conway says the city had made some strides in negotiating with the local fire union, but the city’s police union has proved a tougher nut to crack.
“I’m happy to say that Local 311, the Fire Union, has engaged in conversations with us,” the Mayor said at a press conference today. “We have yet to have those same conversations with MPPOA, the police union.”
As part of the mayor’s proposed executive budget, the police department is slated to receive about 83.6 million dollars from the city’s general fund. That’s half a million less than the Madison Police Department requested, but that’s up about two million dollars from the department’s approved 2020 operating budget.
According to City Finance Director David Schemdieke, the city pays more into Police and Fire employee’s health insurance plans than other city employees’ plans. But, as part of union negotiations, the mayor is looking to alter those health insurance packages to make them equivalent to other city positions. Doing so would save the city around $1.5 million.
Mayor Rhodes-Conway said that she hopes the police union will come to the table to negotiate; but if they don’t, that one million dollars in cuts will still need to be made.
“The cuts have to come from somewhere. In the police department, that’s up to the Chief and how he wants to handle that…That’s not a decision I or the city council get to make, that’s a decision the chief will have to implement.”
Some city workers may need to take several furlough days next year, which will save the city an anticipated $1.2 million. The mayor’s budget proposes 2-4 days of furlough for city employees, and the system scales, so higher-earning employees will take more furlough days than those who make comparatively less.
“How many days an individual staff person will take will depend on what compensation group they’re in, since we’re trying to make sure that there’s not a disproportionate impact on the city’s lowest-paid employees,” Rhodes-Conway explained.
In addition to the proposed reductions, the mayor’s budget proposes pulling nearly eight million dollars out of the city’s rainy day fund to help cover one-time costs and temporary losses incurred during the pandemic.
In her budget memo, the Mayor pointed to the failure of state and federal governments to dole out aid to cities, which she says are on the front lines of the pandemic. Rhodes-Conway also pointed to a perpetual grievance with state government — that cities are limited by the amount they can tax property, and other taxes are more regressive.
Only one city department was spared from the budget cuts this year: Madison’s Community Development Division, which funds and maintains the city’s community organizations and social service delivery.
Local community organizations will be allocated around eleven million dollars under the proposed budget.
The city’s Finance Committee will take up the Mayor’s Proposed Operating Budget at a meeting later this month. Following that, it will be considered by the full Common Council in November.
(Photo c/o Brian Standing)