The Wisconsin Youth Company is not asking for a lot of money. Just $58,800 - enough to expand the after-school program it runs at West Middleton Elementary and start a new program at its youth center on McKenna Boulevard.
"We can run it pretty inexpensively," says Jean Colvin, an agency employee. Most of the money would go to hire new staff, specially trained to work with kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.
"This neighborhood looks safe from the outside, but it's a high-need area," says Colvin, who realized from teaching a youth cooking class last summer that "the kids are hungry. You couldn't fill them up. They just ate and ate. And they'd ask, 'Can I take an extra one home for my mom?'"
But Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's budget guidelines for 2007 make it nearly impossible for the Wisconsin Youth Company - or any other agency that gets city funds - to add programs. The mayor is asking all city departments except police and fire to cut their operating budgets by 3%.
"I think everyone felt shell-shocked by the cut," says Dorothy Conniff, head of the city's Community Services office, which funds programs including the Wisconsin Youth Company. "It was not anticipated."
Indeed, Conniff says the "cheerful things" Cieslewicz said in budget meetings led her to believe there would be no cuts this year. So on July 11, she sent a letter to the agencies anticipating a 3.6% cost-of-living increase for existing programs and potentially money for new programs. Two days later, after Cieslewicz announced the 3% cut, Conniff had to send a new letter taking it all back.
The Early Childhood Care and Education Board, which prioritizes funding requests, last week suggested cutting off a dozen childcare, summer and after-school programs to meet Cieslewicz's budget guidelines.
Mayoral aide George Twigg doesn't know where Conniff got the idea this year's budget would not involve cuts. "Every year since the mayor's been in office, there's always been a request for departments to cut," he says. And with rising costs for fuel and health insurance, the city has no choice but to trim its budget. "We can't absorb all those increases in the property tax levy," says Twigg.
While Conniff supports not cutting the police, she says community service programs are just as vital to public safety: "We know of instances where a neighborhood center provided positive opportunities for kids who had been in trouble." But this program - Life as a Boy at the Vera Court Neighborhood Center - is on the cut list.
Last year, Cieslewicz restored funding to both Community Services and the Community Development Block Grant departments. The 3% cut this year "is really about giving the mayor options," says Twigg.
According to Colvin, the Wisconsin Youth Company's new programs could serve up to 50 kids. "There's nothing else for them out here, no other youth center," she says. Without an after-school program, "I know what the kids are going to do. They're going to walk right down to Elver Park and get in trouble. There are people who deal drugs there."
Arboretum houses on hold
Residents in the Arboretum neighborhood have successfully delayed a proposed development there until at least September. The neighbors oppose a plan by developer Darren Kittleson to build two large houses on Arboretum Drive, saying the new houses' septic systems threaten groundwater and nearby Lake Wingra ("Two Houses Too Many?" 5/19/06).
An attorney the neighbors hired this summer questioned whether the development violates zoning regulations that prohibit houses with septic systems on small lots near shorelines. The town of Madison says the Arboretum lot is grandfathered in under older, less strict zoning rules; the Dane County Board of Adjustment will decide the matter Sept. 28. In the meantime, the town will not process the building permit.
"Nowhere does it say the lot should always be exempt from new zoning regulations," says Ron Kalil, a resident who opposes the new houses. "This is the UW's teaching facility and it's going to get trashed."
The neighborhood has also asked for a town moratorium on new building until the impact of development on the Arboretum can be studied. "It's basically a buying-time measure," says Kalil.
And there's talk of the UW buying the lot from Kittleson. "It's just the germ of an idea at this point," says UW Arboretum Director Kevin McSweeney. "People are considering it as an option."
Armor for the Arb
Meanwhile, efforts are underway to designate the Arboretum as a National Historic Site. McSweeney says the Arboretum has the nation's largest collection of Civilian Conservation Corps buildings. (The corps was created by President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s to put people to work during the Depression.) Famed scientist Aldo Leopold also worked at the Arboretum. "This is where restoration ecology as a science was first developed," says McSweeney.
Being designated an historic site won't prevent nearby development, but McSweeney says it will make people more aware of the Arboretum's historic significance. "It would help us to become more resilient to external threats to our property," says McSweeney. "We need to have better armor for this place."
In the money
Next spring's Madison mayoral race could get expensive. According to the latest campaign finance filings, Dave Cieslewicz raked in $78,134 between Jan. 1 and June 30, nearly half of what he spent in 2003. And the mayoral election is still nine months away.
During the same period, challenger Ray Allen raised $58,552, with nearly $38,000 of that coming from a loan he and his wife, Linda, made to his campaign.
Several city managers donated to Cieslewicz, including City Attorney Mike May and Department of Civil Rights Director Lucia Nunez. Alds. Austin King and Lauren Cnare also gave money, as did Maureen Busalacchi of Smoke Free Wisconsin.
A number of developers and landlords, including Erik Minton, Terrence Wall and Steve Brown, gave to Allen's campaign.
Paul Soglin, meanwhile, is still reporting debts from his race against Cieslewicz in 2003. Soglin, who spent roughly $275,000, has $13,530 in "incurred obligations," including nearly $12,000 to Chamberlain Research Consultants for polling, $974 to Hovde Building LLC for rent, and $286 to SBC for telephone service.
Making a splash
Ride Madison Metro and you could win tickets to a water park in...the Wisconsin Dells. What's wrong with this promotion?
"I wish they'd wake up," sighs Susan De Vos, head of the Madison Area Bus Advocates. Metro's latest customer appreciation contest, she says, "excludes anyone who doesn't have a car. If people are scraping nickels and dimes to get bus fare, how do they afford to go to Wisconsin Dells?" De Vos says Metro should be giving away tickets to Madison events that are accessible by bus.
But Julie Maryott-Walsh, Metro's marketing manager, says the agency got the water park tickets for free, when it bought advertising on a local radio station. "It's just an opportunity for Metro customers to have a bonus."
As for low-income riders, Maryott-Walsh says some folks may find it easier to get a ride to the Dells than to afford the water park. So Metro's giveaway "would be a bonus for those folks."