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Monday, November 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 45.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Zach Brandon looks to set budget priorities
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Zach Brandon and other Madison alders present their list of budget amendments at the City-County Building on Friday, Nov. 10.
Zach Brandon and other Madison alders present their list of budget amendments at the City-County Building on Friday, Nov. 10.
Credit:Kristian Knutsen

In what has become an annual tradition, Ald. Zach Brandon is targeting the city of Madison budget for trims. Flanked by six other alders at the press conference in the City-County Building, Brandon today called for reducing the city's planned 5% property tax increase to an approximately 3.3%.

Unlike previous years in which Brandon has promoted fairly standard fiscal rhetoric in terms of taxpayers savings, this year he is constructing a somewhat different frame. Pointing to the Social Security and city wage numbers as starting points, he is announcing this list of amendments as a program to "keep Madison affordable for working families and seniors."

To this end, Brandon has organized a group of ten alders, his core group of allies elected in 2005 and other members falling on the conservative side of the body. They are Lauren Cnare, Larry Palm, Paul Skidmore, Paul Van Rooy and Judy Compton, who were present at the press conference, and Jed Sanborn, Isadore Knox, Noel Radomski and Cindy Thomas, who weren't. Together, they came up with a list of 27 budget amendments, all of which have at least six co-sponsors.

Twenty-five proposed amendments are listed in the related downloads at top right, along with Brandon's press release. The other two, says Brandon, are not cuts but rather proposals for changes in the budget process, including one to initiate zero-level budgeting in future cycles.

Some of Brandon's targets are familiar, from the $10,000 allocated to the city's Sister Cities program to the $300,000 earmarked for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, cut attempts that annually generate considerable opposition. The largest and most aggressive cuts, however, are directed at programs which Brandon and his allies criticize as remaining in stasis. "Unless you have a plan," Cnare says, "we're not willing to tax people for that."

These large targets include: $3 million in funding for the mid-State Street parking ramp; $1.7 million in borrowing for the Badger-Ann-Park and Todd Drive developments on the south side; $1.2 million in funding for a revamped James Madison Park, $900,000 in borrowing for new railroad crossings downtown; and $500,000 in borrowing for the Allied Terrace project.

Both the State Street ramp and James Madison Park cuts have the support of all ten participating alders. And most of these big-ticket items are located in the districts of alders who are not part of this budget-cutting caucus.

One item likely to stir controversy is a plan drill a new well (sans exclusive pumping equipment) to replace Well #29, rather than place a filter on the existing well contaminated with high levels of manganese. While this will not have a direct effect on property taxes, Brandon and Cnare (who sits on the city's water committee) say it ultimately saves city taxpayers money through reduced utility bills.

Only two items in the list hike spending or revenues. The first adds $4,250 to fully fund police overtime ("for the first time in recent history," the list boasts). The second would raise $350,000 by transferring excess Room Tax to the city's general fund. Notably not on the list this year is anything to do with the Madison Metro Transit System, which was probably the biggest bone of contention when the 2006 budget was finalized.

If all of the promoted amendments pass, Brandon says the city would reduce spending by about $2.3 million in the 2007 budget and roughly $0.5 million per year over the next decade. These will not be the only amendments up for discussion when the city finalizes its budget next week, though, only those that are making the biggest splash because of political coordination amongst Brandon and his allies on the council.

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