After last year’s tense city budget process left Madison with what some have called an unaffordable budget, City Council members and Mayor Paul Soglin alike have stressed reining in the city’s finances, making tough decisions and being fiscally responsible.
In recent months, it looked like they would uphold that commitment. The Board of Estimates took a deep dive over the summer into evaluating which major projects could be delayed and Soglin introduced a budget that removed or delayed numerous projects to bring spending and borrowing down.
Now, however, the budget is on track to end up back where it started.
A series of amendments the city’s finance committee approved in September would move construction of the Midtown Police Station back up to 2016, reinstate funding for Monroe Street reconstruction and add a new firefighter training center, undoing many of Soglin’s delays of projects.
One of the few major projects the committee didn’t alter was a public market planned for the east side, which Soglin had delayed until 2021.
This week, Soglin introduced an amendment that would move that up, too.
“If we’re going to spend $30 million above what I think is a responsible level, we should at least spend it wisely,” Soglin said.
His amendment would put construction of a $21 million Fleet Services facility in the budget for 2017 and 2018, with design work in 2016. The move of Fleet Services to that building from its existing home on East Johnson and North First streets would free up that building for the public market. Under Soglin’s amendment, the design for the $14 million market facility would take place in 2017, with construction in 2018 and 2019.
“I think that this is a higher priority than the additions that we’ve made to the capital budget,” Soglin said.
Council members disagreed, emphasizing public safety and infrastructure over the market.
“We can’t afford it," said District 13 Ald. Sara Eskrich. "We can’t afford it when we have to provide the basic city services that residents count on us for."
District 10 Ald. Maurice Cheeks said the mayor’s decision to expedite the public market “really surprised” him.
“The challenge that we have with budgeting right now is not that we fundamentally disagree on things that need to happen in this city, the challenge is priorities,” Cheeks said. “The mayor has made it very clear that his priority over all other things at this point is the public market, and I think the council has demonstrated that their priority is infrastructure — projects like Monroe Street — and public safety, so projects like Midtown and the training facility on the east side.”
Soglin would like to see Midtown delayed again and emphasized that it will not immediately involve hiring more officers.
Last year, Soglin left the budget unsigned after threatening to veto it, and he has said a repeat of last year would get a veto this year. Friday, he said he doesn’t know how much the City Council will have to bring down spending from the Board of Estimates amendments to get his signature, but part of it depends on leaving room under the levy limit to carry over into future years.
“This isn’t about next year,” Soglin said. “We can fund so many things for next year. The question is what’s our legacy in 2020? I don’t want the next City Council or the Council of 2020 to have the nightmares that we’ve had since 2011.”
Eskrich said she and a few other alders have been working to make sure they have a plan going forward for the next five years that is responsible and properly timed, a goal that will involve changes from what the Board of Estimates has already adopted.
The Board of Estimates will consider amendments to the operating budget Monday evening, and the full City Council will take up both pieces of the budget the second week in November.