In response to proposed across-the-board cuts in the Human Services Department, members of the Madison Area Urban Ministry and community residents will gather outside the City Council Building tonight to call for the restoration of the cuts.

County Executive Kathleen Falk’s budget suggests a 2.8 percent cut in county tax dollars for the programs. Human services programs include homeless shelters, food pantries and senior services, among others

Linda Ketcham, executive director of Madison-Area Urban Ministry, said she is advocating on behalf of human services departments across the county. Ketcham said there is a point where agencies cannot continue to take cuts and have costs rise without affecting the quality of service.

“These are very difficult times for many people. I know restoring those cuts might mean an increase to my taxes,” Ketcham said. “The county estimated that for only $10 a year in property taxes, these cuts could be avoided.”

Across the board, more people are asking agencies for help, she said. Homeless shelters have been turning away people, and food pantries have experienced a 20 percent increase in requests, Ketcham added.

“With less tax dollars to fund human services, agencies will lay people off, waiting lists will get long and current services will be less accessible,” Ketcham said.

Topf Wells — Falk’s chief of staff — acknowledged the importance of human services, as Dane County is considered to have the best in Wisconsin. He said the county budget is going to be a difficult one, and the problem is in a recession there is even more demand for human services.

“The county executive tried to balance taxes and cuts in a fair way that preserves the quality of these services as well as possible,” Wells said. “One thing people don’t realize is county tax dollars are only part of the revenue; we aggressively pursue state and federal programs that allow us to earn more funding for human services.”

Wells said the 2.8 percent cut refers just to county tax dollars going to human services — overall, the total budget for these agencies actually went up about 1 percent.

He also said Falk has negotiated agreements with union employees to take a 3 percent cut and has raised taxes more than she wanted to in order to preserve the county’s essential services.

In regards to the vigil to be held tonight, Wells said there is a tremendous amount of respect for those people. He acknowledges one of the reasons why the county has the best human services system is because of the county’s strong tradition of citizen advocacy.

“I certainly sympathize with those who are advocating for more human services funding,” County Board Chair Scott McDonnell said. “The problem is the budget is so intertwined. It is impossible to fix one problem and to simply restore funding.”

The budget will be reviewed tonight and possibly finalized. In order to restore the cuts, a board member would have to propose an amendment.

The vigil will include speakers from a number of congregations and various communities; petitions will be passed around as well. Ketcham said this is the group’s one last effort to urge County Board supervisors to reflect carefully on the budget cuts and hopefully restore them.