Fitchburg alders pass compromise to non-profit budget cuts; overall budget passes

Budget passes Common Council unanimously
Fitchburg alders pass compromise to non-profit budget cuts; overall budget passes

Fitchburg’s Common Council voted to approve what some alders describe as a “compromise” amendment to allow funding in the city’s 2018 budget for a competitive grant program that would distribute funds to local nonprofits.

It was part of an ongoing debate between Mayor Jason Gonzalez and local nonprofit leaders when members vote on the budget tonight. The roughly $20 million proposal increases overall spending, but removes $125,000 for services provided by non-profits.

Tuesday’s meeting, like the ones before it that dealt with this issue was at times tense and acrimonious, with one speaker, former Urban League of Greater Madison CEO Kaleem Caire being gaveled and ordered to leave by Gonzalez, after Gonzalez accused him of making personal attacks against the mayor and city alders during his allotted time.

After Caire refused to leave, the council adjourned its meeting and Gonzalez, city administrator Patrick Marsh and a group of alders left the council chambers.

Several alders proposed amendments that would add funding for those organizations, but it would be distributed differently than it has been in previous years, with nonprofits competing for the grant money.

Michael Johnson, Boys and Girls Club of Dane County CEO, has been outspoken about the cuts. He said the organization receives about $50,000 from Fitchburg for their Allied Drive location. Without that funding, Johnson worries the club would be forced to cut programs, remove staff and reduce operating hours.

One amendment–proposed by Alders Julia Arata-Fratta, Daniel Bahr and Tony Hartmann, invests $76,000 in the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative. That initiate supports the Verona Road West, Belmar/Renaissance on the Park and the North Fish Hatchery Road neighborhoods. The amendment passed unanimously.

“These nonprofits are what we call community partners. They will cover the areas where the city doesn’t have the skill or the knowledge to what’s in those areas. WE are going to match those needs with those services,” Arata-Fratta said.

To receive the money, capped at $10,000 per grant, non-profits that serve one of these communities will be required to submit a proposal outlining what the money would be used for and how their services affect Fitchburg.

“The council and the board in the city are the ones that decide what to do with the taxpayer money. We are the ones that are going to decide how to apply the money,” Arata-Fratta said.

Johnson, before Tuesday night’s meeting, called the compromise proposal a partial win.

“To some degree, it’s a win,” Johnson said. “I don’t believe that there will be a fair process, but I’m glad that the amendments are there. I’m glad that we raised the issues. I’m glad that people from the community have stepped up.”

“It’s clear that there are three or four other organizations in Fitchburg that (the alders) are trying to steer these funds to,” he said. “I’m all for a competitive process, but, again, we built a $4 million facility, the city spent $600,000 a year to provide programming for senior citizens and the fact that we’re having this debate, I think, has been absolutely ridiculous.”

Another amendment, submitted by Alder Dorothy Krause, would add $100,000 of property tax funding for the existing Community and Economic Development Authority grant process. Krause said all nonprofits benefiting neighborhoods identified in the Healthy Neighborhood Initiative could apply for a grant. After alders passed the Healthy Neighborhoods amendment, Krause moved to zero out her proposed amendment, which passed.

“Understanding as I do that the county can’t do it all, and the city really shouldn’t be a direct provider of social services, if we want to concern ourselves with the well-being of residents of our city that are not taken care of through other avenues, we should play some part in ensuring that people’s most basic needs are met,” Krause said in her proposal.

The council addressed 17 amendments at Tuesday night’s meeting before voting on the full budget, which passed unanimously.