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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 33.0° F  Overcast
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Dane County officials question funding for Regional Planning Commission
Human services vs. urban growth
McDonell: 'We're going to lay off people because of this.'
McDonell: 'We're going to lay off people because of this.'

The way Dane County Board Chair Scott McDonell sees it, the county must choose between subsidizing sprawl or human services.

McDonell is frustrated with efforts to rein in spending by the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission, a somewhat obscure body that oversees urban growth in Dane County by deciding when to allow sewerage districts to expand.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi made several budget-cutting proposals Wednesday morning to the four-person committee that oversees the commission, including Parisi, Mayor Paul Soglin, Verona Mayor Jon Hochkammer and Jerry Derr of the Dane County Towns Association. Each proposal failed. The committee approved the planning commission's budget at $926,000, which is $4,000 more than this year. The commission has a staff of 13.

"Every one of us here are facing massive deficits," Parisi told the committee. "All of our programs are being cut. I've already cut $1 million from the sheriff's budget. Why does [the commission] get to take a pass when no one else does?"

Hochkammer countered that the commission has long been underfunded.

The matter doesn't end here. The commission's budget still has to be approved by the Dane County Board, and McDonell says he'll request arbitration.

"They act like they can't lay anyone off," he says. "But we're going to lay off people because of this. It's just going to be deputies and social workers."

The commission's most visible job is to approve the expansion of sewerage districts, which allows municipalities to annex land and expand. McDonell, who would like to have a two-year moratorium on any urban expansion, says municipalities have no business growing when there's a surplus of housing on the market.

With the county facing an $8 million budget shortfall for 2012, McDonell says that the commission is an obvious place to cut. "If I can't bring [the commission's] budget down, then I'm going to have to cut social services," he says. "How can I look the Salvation Army in the face if I don't challenge this money?"

McDonell was particularly critical of Soglin: "He ran on an agenda that cares for the poor. Well, who pays for programs that care about the poor? The county."

Redoing redistricting

The Republican state legislators' redistricting plan -- released last week to accusations of "gerrymandering" -- could pose headaches for local municipalities, which have been working on the redistricting process for months.

"This is a drastic change that's going to be a great inconvenience to municipalities," says Dane County Supv. John Hendrick, who was involved with redistricting in 1990, 2000 and this year. "It may create contradictions that municipalities can't resolve."

In Wisconsin, redistricting traditionally starts at the local level, with counties creating supervisor districts and then municipalities creating wards. The wards are given to the state Legislature, which creates legislative districts out of them.

Municipalities were due to adopt new wards by August, with aldermanic and supervisor districts due in October. The Legislature had until April 2012 to adopt its districts.

The Republican leadership, in proposing a new map, jumped 10 months ahead in the process.

"We're basically three weeks away from adopting our plan," says city planner Brian Grady, who is overseeing Madison's redistricting. "It comes in at the tail end of the process."

Grady says the Republican plan won't cause major problems for Madison, though "any change is going to be a detrimental change." The city will likely have to create six new wards to accommodate the Republican plan. Some of those wards may have to be smaller than the current minimum of 1,000 residents (a deviation Grady thinks the Republican plan will allow).

Smaller wards complicate elections, forcing two wards to vote in the same polling place. Grady says that the poll workers need to be a lot more careful to make sure people are getting the right ballots.

Bus budget blues

Chuck Kamp, general manager of Metro Transit, is one of many people unhappy about the state budget. He has to figure out how to make up a $1.8 million drop in state funding, which amounts to about 4% of Metro's $50 million budget. As Kamp says, "It's a big hit."

How Metro will deal with the cut won't be determined until the city finishes its budget later this year, but Kamp says "nothing has been removed from the table."

Potential consequences include a fare hike, service cuts and an increase in rates for bus ads.

The state budget also eliminated a potential new source of revenue by dissolving regional transit authorities, including one in Dane County.

"Regional governance and financing make more sense than individual municipal transit budgets," Kamp says. "It improves upon the system where one city owns the transit system and contracts out to other municipalities."

Despite the bleak picture, the new budget isn't all bad news for city transit. The state exempted transportation workers from losing the right to collectively bargain. Had they lost that right, the state could have forfeited $46 million (including about $7 million for Madison) in federal transit funds for not adhering to federal public employee protections.

Says Kamp, "It's an odd thing to describe as good news things in this budget, but there were some."

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