The dismal economy may mean the city of Madison will face a quiet year in 2009.
"It will have to be a year of basics," says Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. The city will seek to maintain current services and identify further efficiencies. "People need to know city government will operate as efficiently as possible."
Private developers have few major projects on the horizon in 2009. "We've seen the end of the building boom for now," says Cieslewicz.
But the city is moving forward with its own projects, including a Central Park downtown. A new park design keeps the railroad tracks, which currently bisect the land, where they are. "I couldn't support spending $10 million to move the tracks 300 feet," says Cieslewicz. "We got beyond that this year."
The park's new design is simpler, with a large green lawn. "Simplicity means it's affordable," says the mayor.
Plans for a new Central Library downtown are less affordable. Two developers responded to the city's recent request for proposals, but each design would need at least $16 million in private fundraising. The city of Madison would also have to contribute about $16 million.
"The Central Library would be more problematic because of the cost," says Cieslewicz. "That may mean the project won't go forward in 2009."
Cieslewicz included both the Central Library and Central Park on a list of projects he'd like to fund if the city of Madison receives any stimulus money from the federal government. The request was sent to the state's congressional delegation and Gov. Jim Doyle.
Susan Schmitz, president of Downtown Madison Inc., expects the library project will have to wait. "That's a really big project," she says. "I don't know if it's something that would have happened in 2009 anyway."
Meantime, downtown businesses, including bar owners, are discussing ways to address the perceived public safety problems. Schmitz says they'll come up with a plan next month. "It'll be a little more of a carrot than a stick," she promises.
Plans are also moving forward on improvements for Lisa Link Peace Park off State Street. Private fundraising will begin to build a visitor's center in the park.
"We need to work on who's going to be running it and how it's sustained year after year," says Schmitz, who thinks progress can be made despite the poor economy. "There's still plenty of optimism out there."
Cieslewicz, too, believes many of the city's projects will go on as planned. For instance, the city will continue redeveloping Allied Drive and the Villager Mall on the south side. As he puts it, "Moving forward in an environment where a lot of other things are being stopped still represents progress."
Falk's goal: Git 'er done!
Dane County also doesn't have any grand plans for the new year. County Executive Kathleen Falk says she has a lot of unfinished work to do, which is why she's running for re-election this spring.
"What I love about my job is taking problems and making things happen," says Falk. "That's what I don't want to walk away from."
Falk put $1.4 million in the county's 2009 budget to begin designing a manure digester project in the Waunakee area. The digester would convert manure on several dairy farms into energy, which could power the farms or be sold back to the electrical grid.
"We don't have the oil fields of Texas, but we've got something better - a renewable resource," says Falk. The county is working on a business model to decide how the digester will be run, either as a cooperative or by the county or some other entity.
"I just want to get that done," says Falk. "It's really exciting."
Falk included a request for funding for the manure digester in her wish list (PDF) to the Obama administration, as part of the economic stimulus package. She also wants nearly $7 million in funding for road and infrastructure improvements. "He wants stuff that can be built" right away, says Falk, noting the county is ready to go on many construction projects.
In 2008, Falk launched several initiatives to combat alcohol abuse. "Misuse of alcohol is dragging us down," she says. "That's a job not done. That's another reason I'm running again."
The county expanded Project HUGS, which works with students to prevent alcohol abuse, into Sennett Middle School in Madison and River Bluff Middle School in Stoughton. And a coalition of business, health and community leaders will begin holding public meetings early in 2009 to come up with recommendations.
"It's exciting and energizing work," says Falk, "because we're tackling a really big problem."
Family Care delay?
The state of Wisconsin is facing a projected $5.4 billion budget deficit. So plans to expand Family Care, the state's new long-term care program for the elderly and disabled, may be put on hold.
The state Department of Health Services did not include funding for Family Care expansion in its 2010-11 budget. Instead, the department asked only for funding to continue running Family Care in the 25 counties where it's already been started. Stephanie Marquis, department spokeswoman, says Gov. Jim Doyle will decide on expansion plans.
"They're still working on a budget and looking at all the options," says Marquis. "Obviously these are difficult budget times. Literally everything's on the table right now."
Lynn Green, head of Dane County's Human Services Department, says the state had originally planned to have Family Care in all 72 counties by the end of 2011. But she doubts that will happen.
"Clearly, it's not a given that they can expand at the rate they were intending to," says Green, noting the high start-up costs for the program, which includes a resource center and the elimination of all waiting lists.
Dane County still has not heard whether it will get Family Care in 2010, as planned. "We have not had any word from the state," says Green. The county, which must decide if it will run Family Care or opt out, will continue its research into different Family Care models.
"We've decided we don't want to slow down the pace," says Green. "We want to have an informed recommendation as soon as they're ready."
Kim Turner, head of Options in Community Living in Madison, says it's "hard to imagine" the state will have enough funding to begin Family Care in more counties next year. "Unless they are really convinced managed care is the way, in the longer run, to save money," she says. "I maintain there is no evidence of that yet."
Without a hitch
On Dec. 1, Dane County's new ordinance mandating its contracted agencies provide employees with domestic partner benefits went into effect. Human Services' Green was braced for a backlash, but it never came.
"We were waiting to get calls from people who had concerns about it," she says. It didn't happen. "Everyone has returned a signed contract."
Including the Salvation Army, which will get $750,000 next year from the county to provide homeless services. In 2001, the national Salvation Army forced several chapters to rescind their domestic partner benefits. But Green says the Dane County branch signed its new contract without complaint. "It turned out to be not controversial, as far as I can tell."