Mayor Paul Soglin’s proposed 2016 operating budget would limit tax increases, continue supporting existing programs and add some new positions.
Soglin’s budget does not call for maximum tax increases as seen in previous years and does not call for any layoffs of city employees. Several alders said the council is liable to increase the taxes, but generally expressed contentment with the proposal.
The operating budget differs from the capital budget because it covers all operations of city government, while the other covers new purchases and projects.
Ald. Zach Wood, District 8, said many of the downtown safety programs that affect his district remain in place, though he admits he would like to see more funding for such programs. He said the city will likely have to get accustomed to making do with less.
“This is not a one-year shortfall; this is the new normal,” Wood said.
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 2, said the budget will not make cuts to Downtown Safety Initiative, which provides extra police on State Street during the weekend, or metro bus lines. He said the modest tax raise should also mean students living off campus won’t face rent increases.
Wood said he was surprised taxes were not raised to the levy limit, which caps tax increases based on growth and inflation. Soglin said the relatively modest tax increase is an attempt to maintain the affordability that makes Madison so attractive.
Verveer said the decision to not raise taxes was possible because of savings from the city switching to a deductible insurance program for its employees.
Ald. David Ahrens, District 15, said he supports the mayor’s conservatism because his district is home to many lower-middle class families and retirees.
“Taxes are a huge part of their expenses, so if they’re paying $3,000 in taxes, adding another $66 doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s real money to someone who’s really watching the thermostat,” Ahrens said.
Still, Ahrens said it is likely the council will try and expand the tax increase. He said he had hoped the construction of a new Penny Library would move forward given all the progress that has been made toward that end.
The budget provides funds for a new IT security position as well as a new program to help link homeless people with shelters, called the Housing First Street Team.
The street team will be composed of social workers with the intent of getting more people to use shelter resources, according to Wood. He said the move to create the IT security position makes sense as it’s the next level in modern security.