The Madison Finance Committee convened Monday to amend Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s proposed 2020 operating budget, addressing vehicle registration fees and shifts in department agency — but not without heavy resistance from the public.
The $340.4 million operating budget — a plan appropriating annual funds to agencies for operating costs — highlights accessible and efficient transportation, equitable and affordable housing, as well as opportunities for youth.
A key component of the budget is a proposed $40 vehicle registration fee, per vehicle — a $12 increase from the 2018 budget.
The revenue projected from the fee would total $7.9 million, raising revenue in the state. Rhodes-Conway stated in the meeting that the amount was settled on after consulting both transportation and finance staff.
"Its a function of wanting to make sure we can support and expand services for communities,” the Mayor said. “We will be able to make low-income bus passes available at the unemployment center where we wouldn't have otherwise been able to do that. [We’re] looking forward to what our needs will be not just this year, but 2021, 2022, 2023.”
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, expressed hesitation in making an immediate recommendation on the fee — the decision was referred to Oct. 10, as a result.
“This is obviously a huge decision for all of us,” Verveer said. “$40, I believe, would be the highest vehicle registration fee in the state.”
Even the Mayor herself acknowledged the “very real constraints” of the budget.
Rhodes-Conway explained in the budget proposal her attempts to achieve the city’s priorities while navigating shrinking federal aid and state-imposed levy limits. Additionally, while creating the financial plan, a funding gap of $9 million grew to $11 million.
The mayor’s proposal includes several measures to fill that gap. One contested component is reassigning 12 non-patrol Madison Police Department officer positions to patrol duty in 2020, much to the frustration of several community members.
Mike Thomsen, President of the Orchard Ridge Neighborhood Association, stated that public safety was identified as a major concern of his neighborhood.
“The most important part of this is when people say they need more cops, how many more do they need?” Thomsen asked the committee.
He added that 76 percent of residents opted to hire 31 new police officers.
Wendy Breckle, a community member, asked the committee directly for more police officers to be added to the budget. Every year Breckle schedules at least one police ride-along to see what is happening in the city and how police are responding.
"I am very concerned about the changes I [saw] just over the last year," she stated. "Officers can't pull someone over for running a red light and they won't respond to a residential burglary call or uninjured crash because they have to stay available to take only the most serious calls.”
Breckle highlighted MPD’s struggle to meet it's mandatory minimum staffing requirements. However, this isn’t a new issue for the committee. Former MPD Police Chief Mike Koval said in July that the department is short 31 patrol officers and suggested a gradual increase in staffing of 10 officers per year for four years.
More citizens gathered in opposition to an item in the budget that would transfer parking enforcement from the MPD to the Parking Division.
Hannah McKaren, who has worked in parking enforcement for the past five years, said she does not support the potential shift for two reasons: efficiency and safety.
McKaren said if the proposed change to parking enforcement is accepted, response times will decrease and tickets will increase. She added that the change would remove PEO’s lifelines — radios — and affect their ability to instantaneously call for assistance.
“I've seen PEO's assaulted, threatened, guns pulled on them; I've seen people blindly throw themselves in front of parking enforcement vehicles,” McKaren said. “It's very important that we have that lifeline.”
Rebecca Bedford, a parking enforcement officer since 2005, shared with the committee how the Madison Police Department saved her life — twice.
Bedford explained that growing up in rural Michigan, as a woman and member of the LGBTQ+ community, she was told to “stay in her lane.” When she moved to Madison, she was shocked to meet a woman cop — even more so when she learned the cop was a lesbian.
Bedford said, at the time, she was a “screw-up.” But then, she applied to be a PEO and got the job.
“I was hooked on parking enforcement and MPD,” Bedford said. “I was able to get myself back on my feet and could be 100 percent me. That was the first time MPD saved my life.”
In 2018, she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. Suddenly, Bedford was relying on the city’s health benefits, and the kindness of the MPD community, for survival.
“It is more than just a job that pays bills for me,” Bedford said. “When I know I’m supported by MPD and the city, I support my community right back.”
Bedford left the committee with one question.
“I ask, can you guarantee this job will remain whole under Parking Utility? I think the answer is no. If you move [to] Parking Utility, you will be tearing apart 31 jobs, 31 lives, and 31 families.”
The Finance Committee will hold an additional budget hearing on Oct. 10 before voting on the final operating budget proposal on Oct. 21.