Soglin: 'The council's got a number of options for what they can do with this money.'
Mayor Paul Soglin was unusually cheerful when he walked into his conference room Monday afternoon for a press conference called earlier that morning.
The reason was quickly evident. On Friday, the state revised its revenue sharing numbers, meaning the city is now scheduled to get $267,000 more than city staff originally expected. Together with roughly $500,000 of cushion room the mayor worked into his proposed 2013 operating budget for the Common Council to play with, the city has $767,000 more it could spend without increasing the tax levy, which under the mayor's proposed budget, would be $193 million, about a $6 million increase from 2012.
"We made a conscious effort this time to leave some flexibility and room for the City Council," Soglin said. "The council's got a number of options for what they can do with this money. They can use some or all of it for Overture or for items such as the restoration of beach and ice skating activities."
The mayor's draft budget cuts funding for Overture from $1.85 million to $850,000. (Editor's note: Isthmus associate publisher Linda Baldwin is a member of the Overture Center Foundation's board of directors.) The mayor's draft budget also calls for closing nine city ice rinks, leaving only Tenney, Elver and Vilas rinks open. He would also cut lifeguards at seven beaches, leaving guards at only Olbrich, Vilas and Tenney beaches.
Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway says she's waiting for the Board of Estimates budget briefings -- Monday and Tuesday night -- before deciding specifically what amendments to offer. However, she knows she'll be fighting hard against one of the mayor's proposals: a 25-cent increase for bus fares.
"It is safe to say my number one priority will be preventing an increase in bus fares," Rhodes Conway says.
"Some bus riders, including people like myself who commute to work, can probably absorb that fare increase. But people who are transit dependent and can't afford to buy a monthly pass, they will be hurt by a fare increase. It would be my preference to lower bus fares. I know that's not going to happen."
Rhodes-Conway calls the hike -- which comes on the heels of a 50-cent fare hike in 2008 -- "regressive."
Soglin plans on proposing two amendments that would eat up some of the extra money the state has provided. One would preserve a new position in the police department to deal with a new law the city passed, monitoring what people sell to pawn shops. The mayor had thought the position -- which costs about $64,000 a year -- hadn't been filled yet, but it has. Soglin will propose adding the money to the budget to save the person's job. He'll also propose adding $53,000 for extra training expenses for the police department. And he will propose $150,000 to do a consultant study for a proposed bio-digester.
Rhodes-Conway credits the mayor for dealing with a $10 million shortfall in crafting the budget. In years past, the mayor and council could have hiked property taxes, but this wasn't an option this year: Gov. Scott Walker has drastically limited the amount that municipalities can raise through property taxes. And to make matters worse, the value of the city's property has dropped about 2% to $20.8 billion.
"The mayor has done a pretty incredible job of filling the $10 million gap he faced," she says. "He deserves credit for that. I might have made some different choices, but that's why we have a process."
She encourages residents to come to the budget hearings this week or watch them on TV. She encourages suggestions, but not just ones on what to fund.
Says Rhodes-Conway: "What's more useful is if people come and say, 'here is a thing I can do without and you should cut.'"