City budget: Where do we cut?

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Tomorrow will be the second of the mayor’s three public hearings on the 2010 operating budget. It will take place at 6 pm at the East District Police Station, at 809 S. Thompson Dr.

City budgets can be interesting – trust me. Those blowhards on CSPAN who bitch and moan about the $47,000 federal money earmarked for a Montana museum celebrating the game of horse shoes might actually be worth a damn in city policy. Because when discussing city budgeting, $47,000 means something. That’s something you’re looking to cut – that might be the salary of one city employee (or two). And just in case you this weather made you forget that you live in Wisconsin, 47 k gets quite a bit of snow of the streets in the winter. But probably not enough.

The only thing that is certain about the budget process this year is that at least politically, the mayor is set on conveying a sense of fiscal prudence. The press releases he’s put out on the budget portray perhaps not a dire situation but a hard one, in which the city will be forced to deliver some tough love to certain agencies. Mayor Dave has not set a concrete goal for cuts, but he has stated that for tax increases to be kept at their 15 year average of 4.3 percent, the city would have to make a 6.2 percent across the board spending cut. As his communications rep emphasized emphasized emphasized, that does not mean the man is setting an ultimatum for city managers – what he will do is ask every agency to submit a list of potential cuts. Supposedly he will then look to that list if he determines cuts necessary.

The mayor’s office was more clear about new projects – they won’t happen. What about that new library? “Well, ok, that might happen, we don’t know yet.” Dave does seem to be into libraries – I’ve got to hand it to the man. During his tenure the city has built two new libraries. Here’s a question: Can a non-UW student get some kind of membership to the UW libraries? Because I must say, it’s going to hurt to live in Madison next year and be deprived of Memorial Library. I’d enthusiastically pay some kind of fee to still have access to it.

Dave has overseen other significant capital investments, including the construction of two new fire stations and a five-year goal to “reduce substandard roads by two-thirds.” Here’s an idea for cutting spending: simply lean on the commission charged with determining what “substandard” roads are and get them to re-evaluate which ones really do need fixing up. After review, all roads in Madison are perfectly standard! But Dave instead settles on the goal of reducing borrowing from the Capital Improvement Plan by 20 percent. Taking such a stab at capital investments might seem like a gutsy move for the mayor who wanted to leave office on a trolley. However, like I said, many of the biggest projects have already been approved or finished. Moreover, the city has gotten some very good deals from the federal government, including 15 additional hybrid buses that are soon to come from the stimulus package.

In a different manner, Mayor Dave is putting his foot down on the operating budget. He vows to not lay off any cops or firefighters, and continues to push public safety as the top priority of the budget. It is inherently a city priority – it and health eat up 42 percent of the budget. The next biggest item is public works, which comes in at 24 percent.

The mayor’s outlined some loose guidelines – how will they be implemented? What does the Council think? Are members going to dive into cost-cutting or are they going to push for more stimulus, heavier borrowing. Is there going to be somebody who’s going to push for cuts in the police department? There are concerns on the left that all other services are getting shafted in favor of an overzealous police department. What do you think?

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5 Responses to “City budget: Where do we cut?”

  1. Ordinary Jill Says:

    Yes, you can buy access to Memorial Library, provided you are a Wisconsin resident. The fee is $30 per fiscal year (renews every June 1). Information is available at http://www.library.wisc.edu/visitors/borrow.html#wiscres

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  4. Amanda Werhane Says:

    Q: Can I borrow library materials if I’m not affiliated with the UW?
    A: Yes!

    A) Wisconsin residents can borrow items from Steenbock, Ebling, and the Water Library for FREE (get card at Steenbock/Ebling, Water Library sends items to public libraries around the state).

    B) For $30/year, Wisconsin residents and corporations can borrow materials from all campus libraries (get card at Memorial Library).

    C) For a fee, anyone can borrow items through Wisconsin TechSearch (http://wts.wisc.edu).

    D) And these patrons can borrow items from ALL campus libraries for FREE (get card at Memorial Library):

    o Spouses/domestic partners/children of UW-Madison faculty/staff/students
    o UW System faculty/staff/students
    o Visiting scholars affiliated with a UW campus department
    o Faculty from WI private colleges or CIC or OCLC institutions
    o State/county/city employees (including WI Historical Society)
    o Faculty/staff/students at MATC or Edgewood or Beloit College
    o Friends of the UW-Madison Libraries (also known as “donors”)
    o Wisconsin public school K-12 educators
    o Social Work coordinators
    o UW Credit Union staff
    o Memorial Union staff

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