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New Madison city budgets reject police body cameras and add money for flood mitigation

November 14, 2018

The Madison City Council adopted the 2019 capital and operating budgets early Wednesday morning after it again rejected a plan to introduce body-worn cameras for police officers, added funds for flood mitigation and shuffled around money for various social programs.

Council members approved, on a unanimous voice vote, a $347.7 million capital budget, which relies on a record $185.4 million in authorized borrowing, while the body also took a 19-0 roll call vote to finalize a $332.1 million operating budget that draws from $241.8 million in property tax revenues.

After debating 18 proposed amendments to the spending packages -- ultimately accepting 13 of them -- the City Council formally adopted the budgets a little before 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, about eight hours after starting its meeting Tuesday evening.

The capital budget puts an emphasis on planning projects next year over new construction. Some of the major projects include $30 million for a new fleet services headquarters on the Far East Side, $7 million to begin a four-phase, $57 million overhaul of Metro Transit’s worn facilities on the Near East Side, and $2.9 million for planning the reconstruction of John Nolen Drive.

Mayor Paul Soglin offered in September a $336.6 million executive capital budget, but amendments made by the Finance Committee and the City Council increased it up to the $347.7 million budget that passed.

The adopted operating budget, which the total cost of is largely unchanged from Soglin’s executive budget, will strength the Madison Police Department’s Special Victims Unit by adding new positions to the unit with the goal of addressing sex trafficking and crimes against children. It also bumps some investment in neighborhood centers and tourism.

It is expected to add about $72 in property taxes on the average-value Madison home of $284,868, for a total bill of $2,583.

Capital budget changes

The most expensive change the City Council made to the capital budget was adding $5.7 million for flood mitigation projects in light of the flash flooding and sustained high-water levels that threatened parts of the city in late summer.

About $1 million in the capital budget was also shifted to be added to the new $5.7 million targeted for flood mitigation. The funds will provide $775,000 for watershed, flood and planning studies, $1.17 million for land purchases, and $5 million for public works projects resulting from the August flooding.

“There are many spots in my district that were horribly affected by these floods as well as other folks on the West Side,” said Ald. Arvina Martin, 11th District.

In what is becoming an annual debate, the City Council pulled out funding for a Police Department pilot program on body-worn cameras.

In September, the Finance Committee put $104,000 into the capital budget to purchase 47 body cameras and equipment to run a pilot program, but Ald. Amanda Hall offered an amendment that would remove that money. It passed the council on a 16-3 vote.

“We’ve gone around and around as a city on body cameras and whether they are part of the solution, not really much of a solution or what have you,” Hall said. “This is once again not the right answer for Madison.”

Some argued that body cameras could negatively impact undocumented immigrants and victims of domestic violence, while members of a city committee examining the Madison Police Department urged the council not to fund the equipment until the committee makes its recommendations on police policies and procedures, which are expected to come in February.

An amendment to the operating budget also got rid of $26,000 slated for the cost of running the pilot program.

The council unanimously approved $100,000 for 2019 and placed $100,000 in each of the subsequent four years under the non-binding Capital Improvement Plan to speed up the installation of concrete pads at Metro Transit bus stops that don’t have them in order to make them more accessible for people with disabilities.

Action on operating budget

With little wiggle room available under the state-mandated levy limit going into the meeting, the City Council shuffled around funds that resulted in a reduction of new money for peer support programs in order to provide further funding for other community programs.

Soglin included $300,000 in his executive operating budget to be added to the $400,000 the city provides for violence prevention peer support programs. Ald. Rebecca Kemble and other council members sought to move $150,000 of the $300,000 to other community organizations.

But by taking $17,000 out of the Mayor’s Office and using some remaining money under the levy limit, the council was able to offer $209,500 in new funding to the peer support programs instead of the $150,000 bump under the amendment. The body then approved $57,500 for Centro Hispano of Dane County and Lussier Community Education Center to offer community building and engagement services for the full year.

“In order to continue the efforts that we are currently doing, we need to be able to hire more staff. It’s a must,” said Anthony Cooper, executive director of the Focused Interruption Coalition, one of the groups that receives peer support funding.

Additionally, the council voted 16-3 to reject a $110,000 grant from American Family Insurance that would have gone to hiring a new police officer to patrol the neighborhood surrounding the insurance company as part of a two-year pilot.

Several council members expressed skepticism over the perceived privatization of the police department. Ald. Maurice Cheeks called it a “significant policy decision that is being had at midnight.”

Going into Tuesday’s meeting, the council had about $16,000 left until it would have reached the levy limit and ended around $92,000 under the limit through various cuts to the operating budget and shifting of funds.

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