With a focus on addressing racial disparities in Madison while keeping property taxes low, Mayor Paul Soglin introduced targeted investments in equity measures as part of his $299.5 million 2017 operating budget.
Citing the property tax as a possible source of homelessness, Soglin said limiting tax growth is key to establishing measurable and meaningful strategies to accomplish the goals outlined in the budget.
“We cannot price families out of their homes,” Soglin said at a Tuesday morning news conference.
On the issue of homelessness, Soglin said the budget will authorize $70,000 from the Downtown Business Improvement District to address the chronic problem through a downtown-focused street team.
While Soglin has made the decision to invest in some sectors, he has also made the choice to withhold funding for controversial projects like the construction of the Midtown police station.
As he and City Council members have gone head-to-head over the station since its conception, he asked for alders to be “reasonable” and “prudent” in regard to his decision.
Calling it a “question of timing,” Soglin said it seems “silly” to disturb debt service — a matter that has been an issue for Madison — over a three month difference.
Instead of funding the construction of the Midtown police station, Soglin prioritized funding for the public market, stating it “meets Madison’s sincere concerns for equity.”
“We see people adhering to the concept of equity and social justice, but they need to understand that we have to make choices,” he said. “We cannot disproportionately spend money on police and fire services and ignore providing economic opportunities for our citizens.”
Along with the public market, Soglin has dedicated $400,000 in the operating budget to fund the initiatives of the 15-point plan presented by the Focused Interruption Coalition last month.
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Assigning funds for the project, however, will be done in an unconventional way. Instead of redistributing the funds himself, Soglin said he will allow the Council’s Organizational Committee and community leaders who participated in the plan to determine the best way to meet their goals.
Despite getting half of the proposed funding, Michael Johnson, CEO of the Dane County Boys & Girls Club, said he and Focused Interruption Coalition members were pleased to see the effort from the mayor.
“We believe if we don’t begin to invest in the initiatives, it will undermine public safety in the community,” Johnson said.
In a similar move to the Dane County Board, Soglin’s budget will provide $80,000 to begin implementing a $15 minimum wage for all city employees. A couple hundred employees will be affected by the phase-in over the next four years, Soglin said.
To balance the budget, Soglin rebased Metro Transit salaries to actual hours of work, saving $1 million compared to 2016’s base budget. Through examining historical climate data, Soglin said the city will also save $530,000 by reducing the number of major snow removal events.
“How we manage ourselves has two significant bearings in regards to the quality of life,” Soglin said. “It allows us to strategically focus our resources in areas that need more attention in times where there are little funds, and it means doing more with less.”