Last year at this time, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz was looking to discontinue maintenance at some of the city's 10 ice rinks as a way of shaving about $38,000 from the budget.
But in a town full of skaters, that proposal didn't go over well. Hundreds of people complained, and the money was restored, albeit with a proposal to recruit volunteers to help with maintenance.
This year, some alders would like to move in the other direction, by adding two new rinks, one at Nakoma Park on the city's west side and one at Heritage Heights Park on the east side. But these, apparently, won't get built without a fight.
On Monday evening, the city's Board of Estimates rejected the budget amendments, which would have cost the city $5,300 for each rink. The six board members split 3-3, and the mayor cast the deciding no vote. The city's proposed operating budget is $247 million.
Ald. Lauren Cnare, who represents the Heritage Heights Park neighborhood, vows to bring the rink amendments to the full council.
"I know we're tight on money, but c'mon, $5,000?" says Cnare. "The mayor has been adamant that we cannot tax people out of their homes. And he's right. But he bought Union Corners and I can't have $5,000 for an ice rink that I have to shovel?" The Union Corners brown field cost the city $3.3 million, out of a designated land-banking fund.
Ald. Brian Solomon, who represents the district with Nakoma Park, says residents would love a rink there. "It depends on your definition of needed, but I think there's a great demand. It's a relatively small price tag, and it'll get a lot of use."
Steve Doniger, the Parks Division's community services manager, calls the volunteer maintenance program started last year a huge success, with groups stepping forward to help maintain all of the city's rinks. They primarily come out to shovel snow, getting to it much sooner than city crews were able to.
The arrangement, says Doniger, saves the city money and "allows us to have better quality ice and extend the season a few weeks."
Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway, who voted against the new rinks on Monday, says, "I feel so bad. I don't oppose the rinks at all." She just thinks other amendments are more important.
Be careful with that ax
Ald. Jed Sanborn is the Common Council's reigning fiscal hawk, and usually every year at this time he's proposing amendments to the Board of Estimates, on which he serves, to trim spending from the city's budget. But not this year, Sanborn says, "not out of sour grapes, but because they won't stand a chance, so I'm tired of wasting everyone's time."
Instead, Sanborn will propose amendments to the full council, which he expects to give his ideas consideration. Sanborn hasn't yet drafted specific cuts, but he thinks the proposed 5% tax hike is intolerable, especially when wages and property values are stagnating. He's aghast that the mayor and others are "patting themselves on the back for only raising taxes 5%."
None of the 27 amendments to the city's $247 million operating budget proposed by council members to the Board of Estimates have called for reductions in spending.
Ald. Rhodes-Conway calls the budgeting process "incredibly frustrating," noting that it falls to alders to defend worthy but tangential items. "Often, the council is under pressure to restore things the mayor has cut so the pressure is on us, not the mayor, to raise taxes."
Like Sanborn, Rhodes-Conway plans to look for places to trim (budget amendments are due to the comptroller on Nov. 9). But, she adds, "Frankly, I don't think I'll get 11 votes [a council majority]. There are plenty of things to cut, but they're not politically palatable."
Bracing for bedbugs
As bedbugs continue their horrific invasion of the United States, they've found a new way of spreading: public libraries.
People read in bed, so if someone's got a bedbug problem, it's not surprising that one or two of the critters could hitch a ride in a borrowed book and end up in the library or the next borrower's home. Libraries in New York, Denver and Cincinnati have all found the vermin in books, causing community panic.
Barb Dimick, Madison's library director, says a few bugs were found in a book about five years ago in the basement of the central library, and a fumigation ensued. Since then, no bedbugs have been sighted.
But Dimick is still plenty concerned, saying a bedbug outbreak would be devastating. "We would have to take drastic measures," she says. "I don't know what it would mean, but we'd have to do whatever we could. If we found them, we'd have to go through everything in our collection. It would be terrible. It'd be really expensive, and we might have to [temporarily] close down."