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Mayor Releases Operating Budget that Works to Maintain Quality Services

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October 3, 2023


Today, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway released her proposed 2024 Executive Operating Budget at the Madison Central Library. The City of Madison’s operating budget funds the numerous services, programs, and skilled staff that sustain high-quality City services and keep Madison a strong and vibrant community. The operating budget released today complements the 2024 Executive Capital Budget, released in September, which funds City infrastructure, buildings, and other capital investments.

The 2024 operating budget strives to maintain a high level of service for residents in a fast-growing city while facing the reality that Madison does not receive its fair share of state funding, and is unable to utilize revenue streams that are commonly available to cities in other states because of state restrictions. If annual state aid had simply kept pace with inflation from 2000 levels, Madison’s share would be $9 million higher than it is today. Instead, Madison recently received the lowest increase in state aid per capita of all major cities.

“Madison is the fastest growing city in Wisconsin, and that is in large part due to the high quality of life created by local investments,” said Mayor Rhodes-Conway. “Our challenge now, as it has been for many years, is to find ways to maintain the City services our residents expect while facing extraordinary fiscal constraints imposed by a state legislature determined to undermine a City that is a key contributor to our state’s economic success.”

Madison has delivered quality services to its residents for many years, boasting exceptional parks, libraries, transit, water systems, snow plowing, and more. It has done so with fewer revenue sources than cities in almost any other state in the country, forcing a disproportionate reliance on local property taxes. Unlike most major cities throughout the country, Madison is not permitted to have a local sales or income tax, to fund essential services like transit via regional authorities, or to institute progressive fee structures.

Additionally, the State Legislature’s restrictions on property taxes make it virtually impossible for City revenues to keep up with the cost to provide services. Since at least 2011, Madison has had an annual gap between the cost to serve residents and the funding available to do so – called a structural deficit. As Madison has grown, so has that gap. And while the City has been able to find efficiencies, it has meant that City services have been limited in their ability to scale in kind. Today, there are 10% fewer city employees per 1,000 residents than there were in 2011.

This is why the City has been forced to take the unusual step of implementing a 1% across-the-board reduction to agency budgets, a measure which will save $3 million.

Compounding the issue, the 2024 budget represents the last year of federal and local COVID relief funds to support City programs, with nearly $17 million of these and other one-time funds allocated to balance the budget next year. As a result, the forecast beyond 2024 is bleak. Maintaining current service levels to residents (e.g., libraries, snow plowing, parks, etc.) is expected cost $75 million more than our maximum allowable revenues by 2029.

“If we are to keep Madison a place we all want to live, work and play, we have to keep investing in the staffing and infrastructure that supports our vibrant economy and diverse community. We have to have resources to tackle the challenges that are holding back our economy, like lack of housing and childcare. But the Republican-led State Legislature has told us loud and clear that we have no option but to raise property taxes to do so. It’s clear there will be little “sharing” of income and sales taxes sent to the state’s coffers by Madison’s hard working families. Because of their mean-spirited policies, we will face significant challenges in future budgets without fundamental changes,” the Mayor said.

Despite the restrictions from the state, the Mayor’s proposed budget makes modest investments to improve city services. Changes in the 2024 Executive Operating Budget include:

· Additional funding for free and fair elections in 2024, including a presidential election.

· A new civilian Emergency Medical Services (EMS) coordinator in the Fire Department to support our top-notch paramedic and emergency services programs.

· A contract with a 3rd party transport system to more efficiently take residents to Wisconsin’s secure mental health treatment facility in Winnebago.

· A City-wide public information officer to help engage and respond to residents about City services, a top priority of the City’s Neighborhood Resource Teams.

· A combined park ranger and parking enforcement officer position to ensure overnight enforcement.

· New positions to support an expanded electric transit vehicle fleet.

· A modest pay increase to general municipal employees to provide parity with unionized employees, keep up with inflation, and secure a quality workforce.

· Increased City support for community programs and services that address basic needs such as housing stability, early childhood care and positive youth development, employment training and career development, successful aging, crisis intervention and prevention, and access to neighborhood-focused resources. This budget provides a 5 percent cost-of-living adjustment over previous contract cycles to help these organizations recruit and retain key staff and respond to the effects of higher inflation.

The Mayor’s Executive Budget will be introduced at Common Council October 3. Staff will present briefings to the Finance Committee on October 9 and 10, and the Finance Committee will consider amendments at the meeting planned on October 23. Final Common Council action is scheduled for November 14-16. The full 2024 Executive Operating Budget can be viewed at https://www.cityofmadison.com/finance/budget/2024-budget/2024-operating-budget.

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