Every fall, the Mayor releases three separate budgets: The Capital Budget, the Operational Budget and the Capital Improvement Plan.
The capital budget, which was released last week, sets the city’s spending strategy on physical infrastructure. That includes structural improvements to city buildings, roads, parks and purchases of major equipment.
The mayor’s capital budget calls for nearly $49 million less than was anticipated in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan last year.
“We’re just at the beginning of understanding how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact our financial situation in the City of Madison for years to come,” Rhodes-Conway said in a press briefing last week. “But even in the midst of this challenging budget situation, we have to find ways to build the Madison that we want, not just the Madison that we’ve always had.”
Mayor Rhodes-Conway’s $161.6 million 2021 Executive Capital Budget comes as the city’s finances have experienced pandemic-induced woes. Lost revenue streams and unforeseen costs have impacted virtually every corner of the city.
as a result, Mayor Rhodes-Conway warned all city departments earlier this year to prepare for significant budget cuts for 2021.
The Capital Budget is different but related to the Capital Improvement Plan, which provides a spending map for large-scale city projects for the next six years. It also sets spending expectations for future Capital Budgets. Under the Mayor’s proposed 2021 Capital Improvement Plan, the city would spend nearly one billion dollars on 156 different projects through 2026.
Some major spending items over the next six years include a one million dollar funding increase in affordable housing, investing an additional ten million dollars in the city’s renewable energy programs and establishing the beginnings of a Bus Rapid Transit program by 2024.
Bus Rapid Transit has been a major policy item for Rhodes-Conway since she took office. More than half of the mayor’s proposed Capital Improvement Plan, about $519 million, is being put toward the project, as well as improvements to streets and walkways.
The program could, upon its completion, reduce bus ride times by up to 35%.
The mayor’s plans to increase funding for affordable housing is also an effort to increase social and racial justice in the city. According to Rhodes-Conway, Madison is on track to add 100,000 new residents and 50,000 new households by 2050.
“The supply of housing has not been able to keep pace, resulting in a chronic shortage of housing and rapidly rising prices,” she says. “This means that people have less choices about where they live and fewer opportunities, particularly in our communities of color.”
Currently, only twenty percent of Black households in Madison own their home.
But, for all the programs the mayor announced in this year’s Capital Budget and Improvement Plan, several proposed projects from previous years’ plans have been temporarily shelved.
“I don’t have the number in front of me, but I believe we cut upwards of forty million dollars from the departmental proposals in the capital budget and we moved a significant number of projects around to balance our borrowing year over year,” Rhodes-Conway says.
Some of those delayed projects include a new Metro Transit facility, construction work on University Avenue, the Old Middleton pedestrian path and improvements to the Madison central library.
Meanwhile, the operating budget, which funds day-to-day costs such as payroll, materials and supplies, has not yet been released. The Mayor will release her draft of that budget in October.
That budget, too, faces a financial shortfall to the tune of twenty to twenty-five million dollars.
But, while Mayor Rhodes-Conway ordered all city department’s to slash their individual operational budgets by five percent earlier this year, City Finance Director David Schmiedicke says the funding for the capital budget won’t really affect the operational deficit.
“The capital budget has very little impact on the operating budget, other than the extent to which there may be new facilities constructed that might have the need for positions or staffing,” he says.
One of the COVID-19-induced wrinkles the city encountered while making the budget was moving to remote work. In March, businesses around the country switched their employees to working remotely.
Essential employees aside, the city followed suit, compelling a significant number of its employees to work from home until further notice. As a result, the city is rethinking how best to handle its office facilities going forward.
“I think [the Pandemic] is generating a rethinking of the extent of facilities, remodeling or expansion as we’ve been forced to work remotely,” Schmiedicke says. “That could have some effect on the number of facilities, remodeling projects and things like that that could be somehow affected by COVID.”
One of the most heavily scrutinized city departments in recent months, the Madison Police Department, dropped its 2021 Capital Budget request by about $100,000 from last year’s budget to $635,000.
The Mayor’s current executive capital budget only allocates funds for roughly half of the Police Department’s 2021 request and shifts building and maintenance costs for the department to the city’s Engineering-Facilities division.
The mayor’s 2021 Executive Capital Budget and Capital Improvement Plan is currently under consideration by the city’s finance committee. The capital budget and improvement plan, along with the forthcoming operational budget, will head to the Madison common council, when alders can deliberate and propose changes.
This story has been edited to refer to the Engineering-Facilities division.