Alder David Ahrens
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
WI Relay Service
Alder Ahrens’ Updates
October News: Capital budget, District meetings, Public Market and more
City Budget Discussions Begin:
The annual city budget for capital expenses was discussed this month and completed by the Finance Committee last night. The committee approved a $326 million budget with about half of that amount borrowed.
The major items in the budget are:
- $79 million for streets. This includes $15 million for reconstruction of Monroe St. and $20 million for the continued work on Highway M.
- $21 million for parks. This includes a potential $9 million to build a park over John Nolen Dr. that would connect with Law Park on Lake Monona. It also includes the 50% share of a new visitor and education center at Olbrich Gardens. Private donations have provided $4.5 million for the project.
- $7.3 million for a public market. (More on that below.)
- $10.5 million for the Pinney Library. The city and the developer still have not come to an agreement on the construction of the library but design work has begun. It is possible that construction work may actually begin this year and it will open in 2019.
- $6.3 million for a new fire station in the southeast part of the city.
- $6.8 million for a dozen new diesel buses. We also received a grant to purchase three electric buses.
Next week, the Mayor will issue the proposed budget for operating expenses. I assume the budget will be somewhat above $300 million. Given the very big increases in assessments for homes and commercial property, I don't think the tax rate will increase and in fact may decline; nonetheless, we will still end up paying more.
Budget Listening Session:
You are invited to a "Budget Listening Session" for this Saturday, Sept. 30 at 10 AM-Noon at Pinney Library. My hope is that many people will have an opportunity to speak, ask questions and that the rest of us will listen. Feel free to come in at any time during the scheduled meeting.
Golf Course Controversy:
There has been quite a bit of concern expressed by some golfers and the neighbors of the Monona Golf Course (owned by the City of Madison) about the Mayor's proposal to: 1. Close the golf course, 2. Sell some of the land facing Monona Dr. for a development of some kind. 3. Use the proceeds from that sale to turn the golf course into a park with multiple uses. 4. Use the remainder of the funds to repair the drainage problems of the larger Yahara Hills Course.
It's worth noting that there is nothing in the budget that about this proposal or for planning for such a transaction. Typically, there are funds or "placeholders" for complicated projects of this kind in the budget. However, that is not the case in this instance. Has the project been shelved? Is the new strategy to do nothing and run bigger deficits in the Golf Enterprise Fund? Stay tuned for further developments.
Meetings You May Want to Know About:
Atwood Ave Public Involvement Meeting:
The City is embarking on a project that would substantially change Atwood Ave (from Cottage Grove Rd. to Fair Oaks Ave). These changes may include adding parking on one side of the street, a bike lane, a pedestrian bridge over Starkweather Creek, and replacing much of the infrastructure of sewage, water, etc.
The project will not begin until Spring of 2020 because it will take time to get agreement from many stakeholders, as well as the extensive design and engineering of the project.
The first, of what will probably be quite a few meetings on:
Wednesday, Oct. 4
6:30 PM- 8:30 PM
Olbrich Botanical Gardens Atrium.
What does a "renewable city" mean to you?
Earlier this year, I sponsored a resolution that required the city government to become carbon-neutral. That is, we would not create more carbon than we create through the use of renewable and other technology.
We hired a group of engineers to start to help put a plan together on how to do it in the most cost-efficient way and to get it done as quickly as feasible.
The first meeting to discuss this project is Wednesday, Sept. 27 from 6-8 PM at the Central Library. I am excited to hear their initial findings and the direction of their work. You can find more about it at this site:
Cottage Grove "Activity Center" Plan:
The draft plan for the redevelopment of the intersection of Cottage Grove Rd. and Monona Dr. will be reviewed by city committees this week. If you would like to be heard on the plan, there are three meetings in the next week on the plan:
Economic Development Committee: Wed. Sept. 27th at 5 PM at Ground Floor Room 21 in the City-County Building.
Housing Strategies: Thursday, Sept. 28 at 4 PM, 30 W. Mifflin St., 10th Floor.
Common Council, Tuesday, Oct. 3rd, starts at 6:30.
Olbrich Park: Walters St. Bathroom:
The Parks Dept. is planning on replacing the bathroom building off Johns St and Walters. This building is adjacent to the playground and the softball diamonds. Are there special features that should be included?
The meeting will be held at:
Thursday, Oct. 12
6:30- 8:00 PM
Last Sunday's edition of the State Journal had a front-page story on the plans for the proposed public market. The story stressed a very positive aspect of the market- it encourages new entrepreneurs, especially from minority communities, to get a start in making and selling goods or foods. These folks have received thousands of dollars from the city to get started and have been selected to have a place in the market.
By making these gifts and promises for the future, the city administration has built a constituency for the construction and operation of the market. Last year, at the budget hearing, I asked the chair of the Market Committee if all of the community meetings about a future market was part of a political strategy to create pressure on the Council to fund the project and (to my surprise) she said, "Yes, it is."
Thus far, I estimate that under the Mayor's direction, the city has spent about $1 million on start-up grants, designers, architects, consultants, and staff overseeing the project.
When it was first proposed in 2014, the Mayor estimated the city's cost at $3 million. For 2018, the proposed city share is over $7 million. The financial plan also expects to receive private donations of $2.5 million and $3 million from the federal government. If either or both of these other entities don't contribute their share, will the City contribute more?
If the construction of the market was the end of our commitment, I would be less concerned. My fear is that the public's interest in exotic food, expensive organic and local food is insufficient for the enterprise as a whole to make money. Wouldn't folks rather go to the Farmers Market on the Square on a summer morning? Many of these Public Markets have failed and/or turned into high-end private food markets (See Milwaukee Public Market).
The other possibility is that it becomes another Monona Terrace which requires major annual subsidies. Next year, in addition to the subsidy of $5 million for operations, the City will pay an additional $2 million for promotional fees, new capital costs, etc. In total, we spend about $20,000 per day to keep it open.
I doubt this project will cost that much but daily operating expenditures, debt payments, upkeep, etc. can be expensive and are on-going. It also raises the same fundamental question that I raised during the Judge Doyle Sq. hotel controversy: Why is the city going into the hotel business? Similarly, why is the city going into the retail food industry?
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