Madison Municipal Building

Council members approved early Tuesday morning a $332.8 million capital budget that relies on $157.7 million in borrowing and a $314.8 million operating budget, which includes $231 million from property taxes.

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The Madison City Council adopted its 2018 capital and operating budgets early Tuesday morning, which will increase the total tax levy by 5.2 percent next year.

Council members approved a $332.8 million capital budget that relies on $157.7 million in borrowing and a $314.8 million operating budget, which includes $231 million in property taxes, after beginning deliberations Monday evening before taking a final vote around 2:40 a.m. Tuesday.

Overall, the capital budget keeps on track major city projects, such as a new fire station, while laying the groundwork for a community center/library on the Far East Side.

During the meeting, the council defeated a move that would have reduced local funding to the Madison Public Market project and removed money for a police body-worn camera pilot program.

Next year, the capital budget provides $6.3 million for building Fire Station No. 14 on the Southeast Side, $4.5 million for improvements to Olbrich Botanical Gardens, $8 million for a new Pinney Library on the East Side and funds for major road projects, including the $15.3 million reconstruction of Monroe Street on the Near West Side.

It also kicks off work on a facility in Reindahl Park on the Far East Side by including $500,000 in 2018 for community outreach and pre-design.

Construction on the $17.1 million, 40,000-square-foot "Reindahl Imagination Center" project is slated to begin 2023. The building would include space for city agencies, such as Parks and Public Health, as well as a library and community center.

On the operating budget, the City Council increased its financial commitment to hire more police officers if Madison is awarded a federal grant and shifted funds to provide more help to employment programs.

That budget will also provide $1.5 million to begin staffing of the under-construction Midtown police station and the soon-to-be-built Fire Station No. 14 on the Southeast Side.

It would continue a five-year phase-in of reaching a $15 minimum wage for all city jobs, while providing a 1 percent pay increase to non-transit employees and 3 percent increase for transit workers.

Its impact will raise the tax bill on an average Madison home, valued at $269,377, by $93 in 2018 for a total average tax bill of $2,510.

Capital budget amendments

Council members voted 15-5 to reject a plan to reduce Public Market funding.

Ald. David Ahrens, 15th District, sought to drop the city's contribution to the Public Market project by $3 million and have the gap made up by unspecified federal funds for the market slated at the corner of East Washington Avenue and First Street.

In his proposed 2018 executive capital budget, Mayor Paul Soglin altered some of the funding streams for the $11.8 million market that allowed for an additional $3 million from one-time sources. Under Soglin's plan, the market requires $5.5 million from federal and private contributions.

Ahrens argued the project has aspects that go beyond what is needed to provide a space for entrepreneurs, calling the current plan "a palace for food vendors."

"If we're focused on doing the Public Market, we could do it for far less," Ahrens said.

Soglin said it's unlikely to receive the needed federal funds from the administration of President Donald Trump and the removal of the $3 million would effectively kill the project.

Some council members argued, though, that upping the city's share to the project goes against a previous agreement on how the financing should be divided between local, federal and private sources.

In other changes, the council voted 17-3 in favor of removing $123,000 to conduct a pilot program on body-worn cameras for Madison police officers.

Several council members argued the city should wait on the recommendations of a report by OIR Group into the practices and policies of the Madison Police Department before directing money toward the technology.

But Ald. Paul Skidmore said the pilot program would have allowed the city to "test the waters to see if it works."

Council members also added $400,000 to the capital budget Monday to make up a financing gap on a planned employment center on the city’s Southwest Side.

The center is set to be in the former Griff’s restaurant, 1233 McKenna Blvd., and is expected to cost $1.6 million after a recent round of bidding suggested the city did not budget enough for the project.

Operating budget

The adopted 2018 operating budget will increase total spending by 4.8 percent compared to this year's adopted budget. Changes to it during the meeting ultimately left only about $4,000 until the city would hit a state-imposed levy limit.

The City Council voted 14-6 to added $400,000 to the budget to fully fund a local match for hiring up to 15 more patrol officers.

Soglin offered $350,000 in his executive budget as the city awaits the results of a $1.87 million federal COPS Hiring grant. The $750,000 included in the budget would provide a full match to the grant.

"I think the case to having additional officers has been made repeatedly and clearly," said Ahrens.

Other council members, though, attempted to move the $350,000 included in Soglin's initial budget to the city's contingent reserve fund, saying the results of the OIR Group study of the police department, which are expected soon, should be known before fully committing to matching the grant.

If that action had been approved, it would have required a super-majority vote by the City Council later to release the funds to hire officers.

Ald. Rebecca Kemble, 18th District, said the city should wait on fully funding the pending grant as it is on "the cusp of potentially making big changes." 

The council also redirected $250,000 Soglin included in his executive budget that he intended to use for a public health approach in preventing violence that would require hiring two new employees next year.

An amendment was accepted that reduces the $250,000 amount to $10,000 to get started on developing a public health strategy, and instead moved $150,000 to existing employment programming for adults and youth.

The remaining $90,000 was dropped from the operating budget.

"Let's invest in where we know there's work being done," Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff said.

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Madison budget trends

2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Operating budget (in millions) $275.8 $283.1 $289.5 $300.3 $314.8
Percent increase 3.4% 2.7% 2.3% 3.7% 4.8%
Levy (in millions)* $198.4 $202.9 $209.9 $219.7 $231
Percent increase 2.6% 2.2% 3.4% 4.7% 5.2%
* Total city property tax collections

Property tax comparison

2017 2018
Average home assessed value $254,693 $269,377
City tax rate* 9.495 9.32
Average city property tax bill $2,417.49 $2,510
Percent increase 3.55% 3.86%
* Per $1,000 of assessed valuation

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