Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced the county’s 2024 executive budget Monday.
The $937 million budget proposal extends funding and adds programs to several sectors of the county government, particularly in social and environmental wellness. In his budget address Monday, Parisi said the budget will expand the scope of vital county programs.
“This budget builds upon popular projects and starts new ones, further enhancing quality of life and creating even more opportunities for wellness,” Parisi said.
Total expenses for the 2024 county budget increased by $103 million compared to last year’s budget. The proposal will be introduced to the Dane County Board of Supervisors in the coming weeks, and the board is set to approve the final budget in November.
Expanded funding for mental health, social services
The single most expensive item on the budget is funding for a new Public Safety Communications (911) Call Center located in the East District Campus. The proposed $36.4 million facility will replace two existing facilities to create a 34,000 square foot building.
As the new site for all day-to-day calls and dispatches, the center adds new technology to monitor public surroundings for safety concerns.
This call center is part of the largest sector of the budget — dedicated to the expansion of the county’s “social safety net” — which totals $242 million in funding for new and existing programs. A majority of these funds will go to mental health and crisis services, including higher wages for first-line responders.
“We know that skills are in demand and the cost of living is rising, so it’s important wages for these critical jobs keep up,” Parisi said.
In addition to higher wages, the budget includes funding for new mental health counselors, physicians and dispatchers. The additional funds are in part due to the expansion of the Community Alternative Response Emergency Services (CARES) program that works to provide mental health treatment in nonviolent emergencies as an alternative to law enforcement.
The CARES program initially launched in Madison Police Department’s Central District in September 2021, but has since expanded to provide citywide service. Parisi announced last week the budget will expand the program countywide.
“Teaming together, we can improve frontline mental health services and reduce unnecessary law enforcement and emergency room contacts and continue to grow toward our goal of ensuring proper and compassionate services for all of our neighbors in need,” Parisi said during the announcement of the countywide CARES expansion.
Other social services receiving additional funding include addiction recovery resources, chronic fall prevention initiatives and over $1.5 million for a new men’s homeless shelter in the city of Madison.
County moves toward clean energy goals
Dane County set a goal in 2021 to release zero carbon emissions through all county buildings and machines by 2030, and the 2024 budget aims to expand the environmental and conservation initiatives that move toward that goal.
The new call center includes design elements intended to keep environmental concerns in mind, with $330,000 allocated towards geothermal heating and cooling meant to reduce natural gas use and overall carbon emissions, Parisi said.
Existing carbon reduction programs receiving additional grants include $1 million for the Continuous Cover program, which helps farmers increase biodiversity by adding acres of grass and prairies. Another $10 million would be allocated to the Dane County conservation fund and several other projects.
New programs including six new solar projects in the Henry Vilas Zoo and the Badger Prairie Needs Network in Verona aim to contribute to the same goal, according to Parisi.
"We want to be a resource for residents, for businesses, for everyone else who's concerned about the climate crisis because this is about our kids,” Parisi said.