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Saturday, March 02, 2024
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Madison Common Council passes 2024 budget amid future funding concerns

The final approved budget includes additional funding for the John Nolen Drive reconstruction project, bike path extensions and vehicles for the city's Community Alternative Response Emergency Services (CARES) program.

For the first time in 18 years, the Madison Common Council passed the city’s 2024 budget in just one six-hour meeting.

The capital budget, which allocates funding for large-scale plans that aim to improve the city’s infrastructure, assets or services, totaled $273.1 million, $6.6 million more than Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s initial budget proposal. 

The city’s $405 million operating budget, which appropriates funds to cover costs for government agencies to continue running, also passed unanimously at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting.  

“I want to thank the Common Council for their work to pass a budget that continues to invest in our critical community services and infrastructure,” Rhodes-Conway said in a statement. 

Madison has been struggling with a budget deficit since 2011, meaning revenue the city raises has not kept up with rising costs of government services. Even so, the 2024 adopted operating budget is the largest in Madison’s history, exceeding the 2023 operating budget by about $23 million and the original proposed spending plan by around $592,000. 

The adopted budget calls for all departments to decrease their budgets by 1% and will increase property taxes by just under 4%, a move Rhodes-Conway said was not an easy decision.

“It is increasingly challenging to deliver the high-quality services that Madisonians are accustomed to in a rapidly growing city,” Rhodes-Conway said.

The Common Council discussed ten submitted amendments and one floor amendment to the capital budget during the meeting.

Several amendments passed very quickly. Rhodes-Conway and Council President Jael Currie’s amendments to adjust funding to ARPA-funded projects and to provide $1.5 million in funding for the Permanent Men’s Shelter project in Dane County passed with no discussion. 

District 11 Ald. William Tishler and District 10 Ald. Yannette Figueroa Cole introduced an amendment to add private donations for the construction of water features at Rennebohm Park, which also passed with little fanfare.

New CARES vehicles

District 9 Ald. Nikki Conklin introduced an amendment to allocate $300,000 to purchase three new CARES vehicles for the Madison Fire Department. The amendment was adopted unanimously. 

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CARES, short for Community Alternative Response Emergency Services, dispatches mental health professionals to non-violent behavior health emergency calls that do not require law enforcement involvement. 

Current CARES vehicles are some of the oldest in the city’s fleet, according to District 3 Ald. Derek Field. Conklin’s amendment replaces the current SUVs with new utility vans. The change adds space for consultation, more cargo room and additional seating, according to the city’s website

Current CARES vehicles will be held in reserve or auctioned off.

Funds to John Nolen Drive reconstruction project

District 4 Ald. Mike Verveer introduced an amendment that increased allocations to the construction of the John Nolen Drive causeway and underpass, which passed unanimously Tuesday. 

The city is planning to build bridges along John Nolen Drive near the North Shore Drive and Broom Street intersection with the goal of making cyclists and pedestrians safer.

City engineer Jim Wolfe said Tuesday the current intersection poses safety risks for pedestrians. 

“Just recently, there’s been a fatality at the intersection of North Shore and John Nolen Drive,” Wolfe said. “Signals only work as well as people obey them.”

The City Finance Committee adopted a similar provision in September, according to Verveer, to cover costs for the project estimated by the City Engineering Division. Verveer’s amendment is based on Parks Division estimates of costs for planning and construction. 

The approved amendment included a $200,000 increase in General Fund General Obligation (GF GO) borrowing in 2024. That means funds will come from the General Fund — comprised mostly of the city’s tax revenue and unrestricted revenues. 

Also allotted for was a $2.5 million increase in 2026 of non-GF GO borrowing, funding that comes from other sources, for the project. A significant amount of federal funding is also expected to aid in construction. 

Bike path funding

District 14 Ald. Isadore Knox proposed a floor amendment to move funding for the Autumn Ridge Path Project to the 2026 budget. 

The project will connect the Garver Path and the Capital City Trail, two major bike paths in Madison.

“We really need to be looking at how do we reduce our borrowing so that we take the burden off of taxpayers, and citizens who pay in other ways,” Knox said.

Knox said he thought the Common Council would do better to focus on development of affordable housing and helping the unhoused population of Madison rather than on extending bike paths. 

Wolfe said deferring construction could put federal funds in jeopardy in the future. 

Knox was the only alder who voted in favor of the floor amendment.

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