The City Council voted Tuesday to no longer fund the city’s operating budget with extra money the city has borrowed unless there is a two-thirds majority vote, which can overturn the ordinance in the future.
Mayor Paul Soglin introduced the ordinance, and said other municipalities do not use borrowed money for their operating budgets because it is irresponsible.
“History has demonstrated that when cities and councils did that they were already in a disastrous situation and it only made the situation worse,” Soglin said. “There must have been a sound reason why it was determined that borrowed money should not be used for the operating budget.”
Soglin said somewhere between $3 million to $4 million in funds went to debt service this year. When it comes to borrowing, Madison should take the lowest bid and use the money responsibly, he said.
Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway, District 12, introduced the amendment, which would allow the City Council to overturn the ordinance with a two-thirds majority.
Ald. Mark Clear, District 19, said he did not support Soglin’s ordinance because it limits the city’s flexibility and seems like a foolhardy decision that would box in the city.
“I appreciate the spirit in which the mayor offers [the ordinance] and I agree in keeping a close eye on it,” Clear said. “We should observe and note carefully when we create and craft our budget.”
Madison already has guidelines in place to prevent over-borrowing, Clear said.
Ald. Anita Weir, District 18, said she supported the ordinance because some Madison residents have already contacted her to say they would be unable to afford the increased property taxes.
“I think it’s time we box ourselves in,” Weir said. “I’ve already received calls from taxpayers on fixed incomes. I think we need some boxes.”
Ald. Larry Palm, District 15, said the parts of the operating budget that could not be covered by extra borrowing would be transferred into the Capitol budget, which can be funded with extra borrowing.
Palm supported the ordinance and said future City Councils will have the ability to undo the ordinance.
“Ordinances have a lot of holes in them,” Palm said.
During the meeting, a proposal for lighting on the Southwest bike path was also passed.
The lighting proved controversial, with supporters of the lighting saying it will increase safety on the path, and opponents of the light saying it is unnecessary, too bright and will spill over into neighboring homes.
Madison Police Department Chief Noble Wray said there is good lighting and there is bad lighting.
“Generally we support lighting because it allows people to understand what’s around them,” Wray said. “It’s a crime prevention tool.”
Wray asked whether there are aspects other than lighting that can be looked at and can impact this particular problem.
Ald. Matthew Phair, District 20, supported the measure. He said it was about doing what is best for the city and the constituents.
“I think there’s a good argument to be made that it will promote more bikers and that’s what we want,” Phair said.
The City Council also made decisions concerning the downtown area. They voted unanimously to approve the Orpheum’s liquor license. The council chose to postpone decision making on the proposed 12 story apartment building on the 300 block of Frances Street to the Plan Commission, which meets next on December 17.