During recent budget deliberations by the Dane County Board, one group has consistently stood out.
They come dressed in black T-shirts that read: "DCDSA: Dane County Deputy Sheriff's Association." Most of the deputies stand silently, while spokespeople condemn the board for contemplating 3% salary cuts with eight furloughed days.
Jim Brigham, vice president of the Sheriff's Association, spoke at last Thursday's county budget hearing, which was attended by perhaps 100 sheriff's employees. He said the board has overspent its budget by $113 million between 1999 and 2008, an average of $11 million a year, and asked, "Where did that money go? I didn't have a say in it. My 400 members didn't have a say in it."
"Some of you have said our appearance has made you feel uncomfortable," Brigham told the supervisors. "I beg to differ. I think it's your conscience that is making you uncomfortable."
Supv. Scott McDonell, the board chair, denies that the supervisors are intimidated by the officers' presence, but not that this may be the intent.
"I think maybe [the deputies] think they are being intimidating," he says. "It's good that they show up."
McDonell expresses sympathy for all county employees, but adds that constituents "don't want to see an increase in the levy."
Last Friday, the leaders of five AFSCME bargaining units representing 60% of county workers agreed to a 3% salary cut, in exchange for a no-layoff pledge, subject to member ratification. The deputies union expressed its "regret" at this development, with Brigham saying in a press release, "The county executive sees the employees as a bank that she can borrow from to cover up for her lack of foresight." [Note: The print version of this article did not make clear that the AFSCME leaders agreed to this cut, and not the membership.]
Brigham says the deputies are willing to make sacrifices, like the 5% cut they took last summer so the county could balance this year's budget. But he suggests that the county ought to look elsewhere for additional savings: "If they can come up with less than 1% cut [in other areas], then no county worker has to be laid off, no county worker has to take a furlough."
A plan for the police
Madison's Downtown Safety Initiative (DSI) began in 2006 after a string of downtown muggings. The $100,000 annual fund was created to provide for overtime to get more police on the streets late at night.
Ald. Mike Verveer was upset to learn earlier this year that police getting paid from this fund were sometimes doing ID checks in bars.
"The idea behind DSI was to provide high-visibility patrols to prevent muggings and other violence," he says. "I don't see why DSI officers should be in bars carding patrons."
Now the city, seeking ways to save money, is hoping to get private businesses to help foot this bill. But, Verveer says, "I don't think we have a prayer of securing private funding if officers are being ordered to provide tavern enforcement or inspections."
He's proposed a budget amendment requiring police to come up with a plan for using the fund, to be approved by the Public Safety Review Committee.
"We need a written report with goals and benchmarks to leverage private funding," Verveer says. "Before one penny of the 2010 budget is spent on DSI, I want policymakers to review the document." He wants the plan ready by March.
Capt. Mary Schauf, the MPD's Central District commander, doesn't have a problem with the idea. She says bar checks have never been a priority for DSI officers, but adds sometimes "officers are out checking something and it leads them back to a bar: I would expect them to check that out."
Downtown MATC eyes new mission
Madison Area Technical College is looking to expand and repurpose its downtown campus into a center for the arts, possibly adding a public gallery and a gourmet dining room.
MATC is preparing a request for proposals and seeking a developer to partner with at the site, located a block from Capitol Square on Wisconsin Avenue.
"It just is a natural fit," says Mike Stark, director of facilities services, citing downtown's many arts attractions, restaurants and hotels.
The campus now has 200,000 square feet of space, hosting classes for cosmetology, health and dental care, among others. Many of those classes would move to other campuses, and the downtown campus would be used for visual arts, graphic design and culinary arts, as well as hotel, restaurant and event management.
The college won't need more space at the site, but may seek an expansion on the Wisconsin Avenue side of the building to allow for partnerships with private entities allied with the art-food mission.
"The site we have is underutilized," says Stark, adding that specific plans and a construction timeline will have to wait until a partner is found. "The list of entities we could bring into that site is large."