Despite misgivings, Mayor Paul Soglin said he will sign the operating and capital budgets approved by the City Council in the wee hours of the morning Tuesday.
The council approved a $314.8 million operating budget that will increase tax collections by 5.2 percent to $231 million, virtually up to the state-imposed limit, and a $332.8 million capital budget that relies on $157.7 million in borrowing early Tuesday morning after roughly nine hours of testimony and debate.
Soglin, who got much — but not all — of what he wanted in the budget, said he’ll sign it.
“The serious problems with the budget are not sufficient to merit outright rejection,” Soglin said Tuesday afternoon.
The main concern is that the city “maxed out on the levy,” the mayor said. “The City Council has raised property taxes as high as they could. I was hoping we’d stay $400,000 to $500,000” below the cap.
In the fall of 2014, Soglin threatened a veto because he said the council added too much borrowing but then let the 2015 budget pass into law without his signature.
Overall, the operating budget provides $1.5 million to start staffing the under-construction Midtown police station and soon-to-be-built Fire Station No. 14 on the Southeast Side.
It also continues a five-year phase-in toward a $15 minimum wage for all city employees, provides a 1 percent raise for non-transit employees and a 3 percent increase for transit workers. The city will also contribute $150,000 next year to the jointly funded homeless day resource center, The Beacon, which opened off East Washington Avenue last month.
During final deliberations, the City Council bumped up Soglin’s initially proposed $350,000 to hire additional police officers to $750,000. The money would provide a full local match if the city is awarded a federal grant to hire up to 15 patrol officers. A decision on the grant is expected soon.
Soglin said he had three main priorities coming into final council decisions on 19 proposed amendments to the operating and capital budgets.
The mayor said he wanted to maintain the city’s commitment to the renovation of the former Griff’s restaurant near Elver Park on the Far West Side into an employment training center. The council passed Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney’s amendment to add $400,000 to close a budget gap on what will now be a $1.6 million project.
Soglin also sought to maintain the city’s commitment to creating a Madison Public Market on the East Side. A proposal by Ald. David Ahrens to reduce city funding by $3 million and replace it with unidentified federal funding failed on a 15-5 vote.
“Thanks to the people of the city who turned out unequivocally in support of those two projects, we will continue to make progress to economic equity,” the mayor said.
But Soglin said he was disappointed by a “dismantling of our commitment to public safety in the lives of young angry people who have access to guns” when the council voted to divvy up $250,000 the mayor slated for a new public health approach to violence prevention.
The council voted to leave $10,000 for startup work on the initiative, eliminated $90,000 in spending and redirected $150,000 to existing adult and youth employment programs.
“Let’s invest in where we know there’s work being done,” Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff said during the budget meeting.
After discussions with staff, Soglin said he is confident the city can begin such programs by mid-year by tapping into $400,000 in the 2018 budget for violence prevention. That money is for initiatives to provide peer support to at-risk individuals or victims of violence and for those about to be released from incarceration.