Council debates Madison budget

Mayor drops bus fare increase from budget plan
Council debates Madison budget

After listening to three hours of public comment on how to spend Madison’s money, the Madison Common Council chose its own leadership’s version of the budget over the mayor’s proposal.

Alders on Tuesday considered only capital spending, half of the overall $267 million budget. They will likely debate the operating budget, which contains more differences between Mayor Paul Soglin and council leadership, on Wednesday night, alders said.

Fourteen of the 20 alders signed on to council leadership’s budget plans, which included more money for Overture Center than Soglin had allocated. That drew criticism from alders who didn’t side with leadership, saying that the public had been shut out of the process.

It almost felt unnecessary to meet Tuesday because it appeared most alders had made up their minds already, said Alderperson Satya Rhodes-Conway, who co-sponsored the mayor’s amendments.

But Council President Shiva Bidar-Sielaff countered that members of the public had plenty of opportunities to comment about the proposals over recent weeks and that it shouldn’t take the council the three days scheduled for budget talks to come to an agreement.

Although most of the budget amendments are similar or identical, alders and Soglin have clashed again about funding for the Overture Center. The mayor said the city’s priorities should be on safe neighborhoods and limiting the city’s debt.

His opponents, like one woman whose daughter dances at Overture Center events, said Madison has a commitment to maintain a city jewel.

“The experience that (my daughter has) had there has really been more than a hobby, it has become a passion, and it will become something she’ll pursue for the rest of her life probably as a career,” said Kristan Collins, who supports Overture funding.

The split on Overture Center funding is leading to other differences, too. One of those debates is over neighborhood centers.

Council leaders have proposed eliminating some funding for those, which has some south side neighbors worried.

“There are lot more things we want to do that are on hold right now, waiting to see if we’ll have a place for it, (and) have a structure for the dreams we want for our community,” said Sherri Swartz, a southwest side resident.

Council leaders have also offered an amendment to cut the new bus service to the troubled Owl Creek neighborhood, opting for a lower cost shuttle instead. That will likely come up Wednesday during the operating budget debate, alders said.

Others came to the meeting to voice support for four golf pros who could lose their jobs as the city internalizes its golf operations.

Some said the Madison Common Council can do better.

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“You need amenities in this city, as everybody in this room knows, to attract the talent, the taxpayers of the future, and part of that is the parks. Golf is a park,” said Dan Smith, a golf advocate.

The majority of the council and the mayor now agree that there shouldn’t be a bus fare increase.

The mayor had proposed a 25-cent fare increase for adult riders but dropped it because a lot of alders opposed him.