Fitchburg Council public hearing

The Fitchburg City Council voted to include a competitive grant process for nonprofit funding in its 2018 budget. Above, Latoya Greer-Bey distributes shirts backing the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County during a Fitchburg City Council meeting in October.

JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL

FITCHBURG — The Fitchburg City Council approved setting aside money for nonprofits to compete for grants as it finalized the city’s 2018 budget on Tuesday, but not before two critics of the funding plan were kicked out of the meeting.

Council members put $50,000 in next year’s budget for nonprofits to provide services in the city through a grant process, after Mayor Jason Gonzalez removed money for some nonprofits in his proposed 2018 budget. The move to eliminate the funding prompted a swift rebuke from organizations, particularly the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County and its CEO Michael Johnson.

“This was never, ever a charitable donation,” Johnson told the council Tuesday.

He also questioned how fair the competitive grant process will be.

To receive grant money, organizations will need to provide services to three disadvantaged areas: Verona Road West, Belmar/Renaissance on the Park and North Fish Hatchery Road neighborhoods.

Each nonprofit will be capped at an award of up to $10,000.

Before deliberations began, though, the meeting got heated when Gonzalez ruled two speakers’ comments out of order and told them to leave the meeting or they would be removed by police.

Kaleem Caire, who used to live in Fitchburg but now lives in Madison, claimed City Council members and Gonzalez “refused to meet with people in this community.”

Gonzalez said Caire’s comments were not appropriate for the meeting, adjourned deliberations and temporarily left the council chambers with City Administrator Patrick Marsh and some council members.

Nathan Royko Maurer, of Madison, was also ruled out of order by Gonzalez after Royko Maurer said he was flabbergasted by the previous decision to rule Caire’s comments out of order. Both Royko Maurer and Caire eventually left the meeting after Gonzalez ordered them to leave.

The idea to drop nonprofit funding drew criticism, particularly from Johnson, whose Boys and Girls Club received $50,000 in each of the past three budgets. The club runs a location in Fitchburg at 4619 Jenewein Road.

In this year’s budget, two other nonprofits received a total of $25,000 and the city also funded a $50,000 grant for nonprofits.

The approximately $20 million budget would also make changes to the fire department.

The budget includes $84,400 in new operating expenses for a recently constructed fire department station off Marketplace Drive, but the council removed $17,200 to run another fire station on South Syene Road that is expected to open in late 2018 or early 2019.

All non-union city employees would also receive a 2 percent cost-of-living raise under the budget.

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Logan Wroge has been a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal since 2015.