With a mayoral veto still possible, the Madison City Council on Wednesday night approved a $267.1 million operating budget for 2013 that delivers $1.75 million for Overture Center and raises city taxes by $50.28 on the average home.
On an overwhelming voice vote after four hours of debate, the council at 9:30 p.m. approved the budget, which maintains basic services, forces no layoffs, and raises ambulance fees but will not include a bus fare increase.
The budget also internalizes city golf clubhouse operations that long have been run by contracted golf professionals.
Soglin declined to comment on a possible veto.
Before the final vote, in an unprecedented move, the council voted 16-4 for a comprehensive package of changes proposed by Council President Shiva Bidar-Sielaff and President Pro Tem Chris Schmidt. The changes to Soglin’s original budget proposal delivered $900,000 more for Overture for the total $1.75 million and eliminated a 25-cent adult bus fare hike to $2.25 with corresponding increases that would have raised $686,600.
Alds. Larry Palm, Satya Rhodes-Conway, Brian Solomon and Jill Johnson voted no on the package.
As the council neared a vote on the package, Soglin offered an impassioned, sobering assessment of tight city finances and harsh critique of high spending on Overture.
The mayor said overall city spending has long been increasing faster than inflation, debt costs are rising, and the city is relying on borrowed money for the operating budget while facing major future costs under a tight state tax levy cap that limits tax increases to new construction and growth.
"This is not the city we knew 30 or 40 years ago," he said. "We’ve got to understand, it is a different time, a different city. We’re not special anymore."
Soglin said his major issues with Overture funding are a sense of proportion in funding compared with other needs and the art center’s lack of financial transparency, especially on pay for management.
The mayor unsuccessfully countered with his own package of changes, offering Overture another $500,000 — with strings attached — for a total of $1.35 million, and the elimination of the bus fare increase.
Overall, the $267.1 million budget, a 5.7 percent increase over 2012, will raise taxes 2.4 percent to $2,160.58 on the average home, now valued at $232,024.
The budget raises overall tax collections by 3.6 percent to $193.4 million.
"I feel really good about where we landed," Bidar-Sielaff said. "We were able to make sure some of our big priorities were included in the budget."
But Rhodes-Conway, 12th District, said, "I hope we have not made our job next year significantly harder."
Schmidt added, "If he vetoes it, we’ll deal with it. If he doesn’t that’s great."
Despite Soglin’s views, a big floor fight over Overture never materialized.
Last fall, Soglin offered Overture $1.35 million for the 2012 budget, less than the $2 million the city promised when it entered into an agreement in late 2010 that let the private, nonprofit Overture Center Foundation take over operations of the arts center in January 2012. The council ultimately added money to bring city funding to $1.85 million.
"I do continue to feel very strongly about funding Overture at a level that continues to allow it to be successful," Bidar-Sielaff said.
The council didn’t talk much about eliminating the bus fare increase that would have raised $680,600 and expanded service, which was part of Soglin’s original $266.4 million spending plan unveiled in October.
But the council extensively debated how to deliver service to the isolated Owl Creek neighborhood on the Southeast Side, ultimately delivering an extra $150,000 to Metro Transit for service improvements to the neighborhood.
In approving the leadership package, the council also funded a one-time accelerated police academy, cut the police budget by $60,000, and eliminated a new city clerk position.
The council had a spirited debate on golf course operations. Parks Superintendent Kevin Briski said the change is needed to let the city get control of revenues from cart rentals, food and beverages and driving ranges.
Soglin, who proposed the change to city operations, said it would maintain quality and retain profits for reinvestment. But several council members argued the move is premature and unsuccessfully called for a year of study.
On Tuesday, the council voted unanimously to approve a $192.1 million capital budget, which reduces overall capital spending 2.3 percent and drops borrowing 3.4 percent to $91.4 million.
The capital budget includes funds to improve roads, build a Far East Side fire station and bike trail bridge over the Beltline and support redevelopment projects. It also accelerates funding for the Outer Capitol Loop Southeast reconstruction project and delivers planning money for a biodigester.