Alder David Ahrens
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
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Alder Ahrens’ Updates
October 2016: District 15 Update
Police Stations, Fire Stations and a Public Market:
Every year we write two budgets; the capital budget which is mostly for roads, buildings and heavy equipment and the operating budget which is almost entirely for salaries for staff. Each of the budgets is about $270,000,000.
The city borrows the money for the capital budget but pays for the operating budget from our taxes and fees. When we borrow money we get a very low interest rate of about 1%. (This low interest rate can entice us to borrow more.)
The city is growing (we'll soon go over 250,000 people) and our 50 year old infrastructure is getting old. The problem with attempting to construct all of the buildings we need is two-fold: first, the on-going and increasing debt and second, a large increase in the capital budget for facilities (but not roads) can often cause an even greater increase in the operating budget because after their built we have to "staff them".
For the 2017 budget, the council will consider three building proposals: a new police station on the near Westside (Midtown) at a cost of $8 million, a new fire and EMS station in the southeast at a cost of $5 million and a public market on E. Johnson ($9 million).
In addition to the cost of construction, these projects would require substantial new operating costs. The new Fire Station would require an additional $1.2 million in 2018 and an additional $750,000 in 2019 when it is fully staffed. The new Police Station will cost an additional $1 million in staffing.
Operating costs for the Public Market is estimated at least $500,000 in annual subsidies in the first two years and an unknown amount in subsequent years.
These projects add up to about $3 million in additional costs. For every budget we should plan on paying higher costs for fuel, insurance, equipment and have the capacity to address unplanned problems. If we want to keep tax increases to no more than 2% it is clear that we cannot do it all.
From the information now available, I will support the addition of a new Midtown police station. This will take pressure off the largest station on the far west side. Much of the violent crime and population growth is in that area and they need the additional staff. This has been under discussion for many years and now is the time to get to work.
A new fire station in the Femrite area would indirectly benefit much of the 15th District because it would reduce the area serviced by Station #5 (on Cottage Grove Rd). I also recognize that residents there must wait longer for service than most of the rest of the city. While the population is growing in that area it may not merit a new station at this time. But the major reason is that we will not be able to afford all of the additions in staff costs in 2018.
I think that if we are postponing essential services such as fire protection services then we should hold off on the Public Market. This would be a nice addition to the community but it is not a necessity. Previously, the Council decided that two-thirds of the funding must come from non-city funds such as the federal government. None of the funds have been granted. Nonetheless, the Mayor has insisted that we go forward with the Public Market while rejecting both the Police and Fire stations. I hope the Council rejects this backwards sense of priorities.
We will start reviewing the Operating Budget next week and have many meetings throughout October until we vote on the budget on Nov.14-15. So there's plenty of time to hear your views on the budget and city priorities.
When I ask most residents what they view as the major problem in their neighborhood, by far the most common response is speeding traffic. In discussing this issue with my colleagues on the Council all but a few agree that this is number one issue in residential neighborhoods.
Given its importance, last year I was bewildered by the Mayor's proposal to sharply reduce pedestrian safety programs. The Council corrected that error and this year the Mayor did not seek to reduce funds for these programs. These funds are used to build pedestrian safety islands, electronic speed signs and speed humps.
The Traffic Engineering Dept. gets twice as many requests for assistance from neighborhoods to address safety issues than they can meet. I proposed a budget amendment that would provide sufficient funding to meet the needs of our communities.
It was adopted by the city Finance Committee and I assume it will be passed by the Council as a whole.
Sleeping on the Sidewalk and Other Homeless Issues
The large number of homeless and "street people" downtown has posed some challenges for some business owners and residents. In response, the Mayor has made some far-fetched proposals e.g. people can't sit on a public bench for more than an hour and some reasonable requests, e.g. people can't live on the front steps of the City-County Building. Most recently, he proposed a law prohibiting sleeping on the street in front of a downtown business or residence from 7 AM to 10 PM.
It seemed reasonable to me but nonetheless I was in the minority of council members voting in favor of it and it was defeated by a vote of 11-7. The majority of members objected because in their view we are not providing adequate assistance for homeless people. That maybe true, but whether we are doing enough or not should not give an individual the right to sleep or lay down in front of someone else's home or business.
The people who panhandle at traffic exits have gotten quite a bit of attention, because unlike many other homeless, they want to be visible. In the two months we'll consider a measure to bar people from standing in traffic medians. By December they will likely be gone until next year but I think we should pass it and make sure it doesn't re-occur.
I am pleased that County Executive Parisi has proposed major initiatives to assist homeless people. The purchase and renovation of the Chamber of Commerce offices for a Day Shelter, organizing a committee of organizations working on the different aspects of the problems and creating a fund to either keep people who are on the verge getting evicted to stay in their home or to "rapidly re-house" people who are on the street. All are important steps to which the City will contribute funding.
Hope you enjoying the cooler weather and taking the time VOTE EARLY at your neighborhood library, M-F from 9 AM- 8:30 PM.
You can reach, as always, at email@example.com or at 334-1156.
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