Mayor Paul Soglin on Tuesday proposed a $313.9 million operating budget for 2018 that he says will promote upward mobility and address violence while minimizing taxpayer pain by adding $64.50 to the average home’s bill.
Soglin’s proposed budget, which increases spending by 4.5 percent, contains no sweeping new initiatives but targets spending to priorities.
The budget delivers $250,000 and reallocates vacant positions to create a public health-style, data-based approach to preventing violence that has plagued the city.
“I wish it could have been $450,000,” Soglin said at a press conference.
For public safety, the budget adds $1.5 million to begin staffing a new Midtown police station and soon-to-be-built Fire Station No. 14 on the Southeast Side. It also provides $350,000 to match federal grant money to add 15 police officers over the next couple of years, $50,000 for a new mental health sergeant, and $50,000 for smartphones to improve use of data in decision-making.
The mayor’s budget reflects a Room Tax Commission decision to direct $1.9 million to Overture Center.
The budget makes major changes to Metro Transit-operated paratransit services due to a loss of $3.9 million in federal Medicaid funds related to implementation of Family Care in Dane County. Paratransit services would be provided through contracts between Metro and private vendors, with fares rising by 75 cents to $4, replacement of door-to-door service with curb-to-curb service, and elimination of some service options.
“If you haven’t noticed, Madison is growing,” Soglin said. “With growth comes challenges. We have stable neighborhoods with great amenities. We also have neighborhoods that need greater support.”
Soglin said he is able to seek only a modest tax increase due to growth in property values and new construction. City tax collections from all property would increase 4.8 percent to $230.3 million, with taxes on the average home rising 2.7 percent to $2,481.99.
“My 2018 budget seeks to strike a balance between the significant costs to staff new public safety facilities, broad-based investments needed to combat the root causes of violence, and keeping city services affordable,” Soglin said.
The city could still increase tax collections by about $700,000, or another 0.3 percent on the average home, before hitting state-mandated levy limits.
Soglin, noting that he was unable to fund roughly $3.8 million for various items, said he hopes the City Council will limit additions to the budget to hold the tax increase on the average home to no more than 2.8 percent. “While some have asked us to do more in some areas, we have to set priorities,” he said.
The mayor and council have tangled over the budget in recent years.
Council President Marsha Rummel said she’s only beginning to review the proposed budget but predicted broad support for the public health approach to addressing violence. “We need a public health strategy because we appear to be in an epidemic of gun violence,” she said.
The proposed budget will be considered by the city’s Finance Committee later this month, with final council decisions on the capital and operating budgets in the week of Nov. 13.
In June, Soglin set a goal of a 2 percent increase in city taxes on the average home for next year, but the goal was based on preliminary property assessment values, city finance director David Schmiedicke said. It turned out that values were higher than projected in tax incremental financing (TIF) districts, meaning less net taxable property, he said.
The single biggest spending increase is $3.2 million more for the Police Department, followed by debt payments, with construction of new facilities and replacing aging infrastructure driving debt costs up more than 6 percent, or $2.9 million, next year.
While Soglin’s budget lacks major new pushes, it continues and expands some efforts and offers a series of investments.
Last fall, the council approved $400,000 in the current budget to fund initial pieces of a 15-point anti-violence plan offered by the Focused Interruption Coalition of community and faith leaders.
This summer, the city and a nonprofit finalized a $50,000 contract to begin a short-term effort, which offers a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week program offering peer support and connections to services aimed at de-escalating possible retaliation and further harm. The city is now considering proposals to run the long-term program, which would be funded with part of what’s left of the original $400,000.
Soglin’s new $250,000 initiative would try to get at the root causes of violence through a public health and data-based approach, Schmiedicke said.
The proposed budget also provides $10,000 to support Downtown programming to help reduce crime and violence on State Street, $50,000 to assist immigrants, $100,000 to expand language access services, $10,000 for Food Policy Council outreach, $200,000 for two new information technology positions, and $50,000 for a new director of transportation position.The budget would provide $125,000 to replace one-time grant funding for the library’s Bubbler program, $35,000 to replace declining private support for the Ride the Drive weekend, and $50,000 to continue the Big Step job training program.
For employees, Soglin provides $80,000 to continue the five-year phase-in of a $15 minimum wage for all jobs, provides for a 1 percent pay increase for all non-transit employees and a scheduled 3 percent raise for transit workers, and $250,000 for health insurance for domestic partners of city employees, coverage of which was dropped by the state this year.
The mayor’s budget anticipates raising the city’s room tax rate from 9 to 10 percent, which would generate more than $1.8 million annually. Of those new funds, $1.3 million would be allocated to help tourism marketing and more than $500,000 would go to the city’s general fund.
The budget would increase reserves by nearly $2 million to an estimated $44 million, pushing the balance to the target of 15 percent of spending in 2018, which is important for the city’s AAA bond rating.