City of Madison

Former City of Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

Former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's Blog

It’s a Problem to be Solved, Not a “Crisis”

July 15, 2009 9:58 AM

Just once I'd like to start a city budget season with this speech: "We've got all the resources we need, so let's plan to meet every need in the community. Be generous. Be creative. Don't hold back."

I am not likely to ever be able to give that speech. Even in good economic times we had tight budgets and now, in the deepest recession of my lifetime, we face the toughest budget in my seven tries.

Yesterday I kicked off the 2010 operating budget season with my annual guidelines for city agencies. I asked them to submit budgets that would just maintain current levels of service. Then I asked them to give me ideas on how they would cut their budgets by 6% if they need to. This is the largest percent cut plans I've ever asked for. It's a reflection of the tough economic times and the condition of our revenues. For the full message to agencies, see below.

The way it works is that I give agencies general guidelines on targets to meet in their budget submissions, which are due to the Comptroller and I in early August. Then I spend the next six weeks or so constructing my proposed budget from the menu of options I've received from the two dozen city agencies. I often also look beyond just the budget submissions to see what else we might cut or ways we might be more efficient. It all culminates in the budget I send to the Council on the first Tuesday in October. Then the Council reviews my budget, makes changes and adopts the budget just before Thanksgiving.

If we work together and we look for efficiencies and innovations we can make it through this without doing too much damage to the services people need and want. We also need to make sure that we position ourselves to take advantage of the recovery when it comes, so I'm conscious of the need to look not just at next year's budget but to plan ahead for the next few years.

Some people refer to this as budget crisis, so here's a final word on the word "crisis." I never use it. We don't have crisis, we have problems that need to be managed and solved. There are those who just ideologically don't like government and so they want to keep it constantly hobbled by budget "crisis," real or imagined. Well, there's no question that the challenges we need to solve in 2010 are very real. But I look forward to a day when our economy comes roaring back and when I can say - maybe not that we've got all the resources we need - but at least that we can meet more of the community's needs.

July 13, 2009

TO: City Department/ Division Heads

FR: Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

RE: 2010 Operating Budget Guidelines

It will come as no surprise to any of you that we face the toughest fiscal environment in my seven budgets. Our current estimate is that a simple cost to continue budget would result in an unacceptable 13% increase on the property tax levy. Revenue is down in virtually all categories: building permits down $700,000, investment income down $1,750,000, state aids down at least $1,500,000 and room tax revenues down by a greater percentage than any other period on record.

Of course, as always, we will deal with these challenges. Just as last year, our goal will be to protect basic services and to maintain our current service levels wherever we can. This is not the year for new spending or new positions.

We will follow the same process as last year. I will ask you to submit your operating budgets based on an adjusted base given to you by the Comptroller. Then I will ask you to submit suggested cuts equal to 6% of your adjusted base. This is the largest cut plan I have ever asked for from you, but it reflects similar guidelines that have been issued from other levels of government this year.

Just as last year, this will be our process:

1. The Comptroller's Office will work with you to establish an adjusted base budget for your agency.
2. Your adjusted base will serve as your budget ceiling. You may not submit a budget that exceeds your adjusted base amount.
3. Any new positions or programs must be funded by cuts in other parts of your budget or through new revenues from sources other than the City's general fund.
4. In addition to your adjusted base budget, I am asking you to submit a list of potential cuts up to an amount equal to 6% of your adjusted base. You should arrange these cuts in order from those that would have the least impact on the services you provide down to the ones with the most impact. My goal will be to find ways to keep your adjusted base budget intact. Your cut plan gives us a menu of options should cuts become necessary.
5. Budget submissions are due to the Comptroller by 4:30pm on Friday, August 7.
6. The executive budget will continue to be tied to the outcomes identified in the Madison Measures program. Andrew Statz will be working with you to incorporate these goals into your budget submission. Other staff in my office will work with you as well during development of your budgets.

Budgeting is never easy, and this year will be our biggest challenge ever. But we have excellent managers and frontline staff. We have met challenges before and I am confident that, working together, we can meet them again. My hope - and there is some evidence that it is not just a hope is that 2010 will be the worst of the recession years and that future budgets will be somewhat brighter. We can all look forward to better days.


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