Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Happy Thanksgiving. No matter how or whether you celebrate, I hope you have some quality time to spend with your friends and family. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to represent some of the most informed, active and civic-minded voters and neighbors in the entire country. In this update, I do a 2019 budget wrap-up.
2019 Budget Wrap-Up
This was my first budget cycle as your county board supervisor. In the initiatives I sponsored, I emphasized opportunities for all of our neighbors, affordable housing, lake and water quality, and open and transparent government. Here are some highlights from the 2019 Dane County Budget:
Dane County is investing $6 million dollars in the Affordable Housing Development Fund. This figure is double the initial $3 million initially proposed due to the efforts led by Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner. In addition, there will be $85,000 for staffing the Rethke Terrace project and $60,000 in assistance to help the chronically homeless with rapid rehousing.
Our district is also feeling the crunch of rising property values which in turn leads to higher taxes. I am happy that the 2019 budget will see a 1% decrease in the county share of property taxes. We still have a lot of work to do when it comes to keeping housing affordable and creating new affordable housing units, but the county is prioritizing this issue.
Lake and Water Quality
In response to the historic flooding we experienced, the county is investing over $18 million dollars in flood prevention and water quality. There is a two-pronged approach that we need to take here. First we must invest in resilience to flooding events as a result of a changing climate and an expanding population base in our county. Second, we must address the phosphorous pollution issues that are affecting our lakes. These initiatives are summarized in this memo from Dane County Land and Water Division, including funding for manure digesters, land acquisition, dam fortification, urban water quality grants, carp removal, phosphorus modeling studies, sediment removal, pinch point analysis and rectification to increase water flow, and aquatic plant harvesters. I have covered some of these initiatives in previous updates, so I encourage you to read some older updates for more details.
I also sponsored $19,000 for a demonstration project for Friends of Silverwood Park. This is for an agro-forestry project where trees and shrubs are planted in between row crops. The native trees and shrubs will yield fruit and nuts, and in addition will assist with insect control, soil quality, and preventing runoff. They take up a small amount of real estate, but provide real environmental benefits. This demonstration project will provide farmers with a real-world template that they can use to promote sustainable and environmentally-friendly farming practices. A secondary benefit of this project is that trees and shrubs will also be planted to form a riparian buffer near the shoreline to prevent runoff and erosion due to large storm events. As we look to prevent phosphorus runoff, we need to encourage innovative techniques that provide economic and environmental benefits to farmers so we can encourage widespread adoption.
In the past, families have been charged fees when their kids are in juvenile detention. This was antithetical to the principles of restorative justice and rehabilitation. I was happy to co-sponsor an amendment that will now eliminate these fees, led by Supervisor Carousel Bayrd. The county made a nominal amount of revenue off of this, and it was not worth the cost to families who in many cases were already struggling.
The county invested $50,000 in an initiative to address barriers to employment in partnership with the Urban League of Madison. I have worked as a public safety specialist for over a decade, and one of the biggest issues we see is that an individual has an incorrect or incomplete criminal history. This will cause issues when seeking employment or housing. When a criminal history is cleaned up by expunging old charges and individuals get assistance getting vital documents like drivers licenses, it helps expand opportunities in the future. Thanks to Supervisor and Assembly Representative Shelia Stubbs for her work on this.
We have seen first-hand the extreme challenges that documented and undocumented immigrants face. A minor legal issue such as a moving vehicle violation can snowball into a situation where they are separated from their family and community. Dane County is adding $70,000 to the Dane County Immigration Assistance Fund held at the Madison Community Foundation. This program will help support programming to provide assistance to those who are facing legal issues.
I recently sponsored a voting drive at The Beacon Homeless Day Resource Center. This was a great success, and the clerk’s office will be getting $8,000 for staff to help with voter registration at the Beacon, County Jail for those who are eligible, and area high schools. Ballots will also be available in Spanish. I am happy to see the county prioritizing making sure everyone who is eligible to cast a vote has the ability to cast their vote.
Open and Transparent Government
I have been one of the supervisors involved in the Engage Dane initiative. We have attended numerous community meetings and surveyed the community with the goal of increasing civic engagement and representation. One of the ways we can increase civic participation is to record standing committee meetings. The county board is investing $10,000 to cover the cost of video-recording two standing committee meetings of the County Board per month. Most of the county work is done in committee rather than on the county board floor, and it is hard for people to attend these meetings due to timing, transportation, child care, etc. By recording these meetings, the community will have a deeper insight into the work of the county board, and it will help provide transparency and accountability to our constituents.
This is not a comprehensive list of the entire 2019 budget, and there are many more programs and initiatives to highlight. I will post a link to this update on social media, and you can share initiatives not listed here which you think are important as well.
Flooding Updates and News
For flood information and updates, please visit this web site: https://lwrd.countyofdane.com/flood-facts-and-initiatives. It has information on the science of the watershed, current initiatives, and legislation.
The city of Madison has made a 5.7 million dollar investment in flood prevention and resiliency as well. Their initiatives are highlighted in the city budget meeting (it starts around hour 4:06:00). Here is an article with details.
Sandbag collection instructions can be found at the following link. A reminder that sandbags need to be out by Sunday, November 25th to ensure collection. Details on flood zone versus non flood zone collection, and instructions are at this link as well: https://www.cityofmadison.com/live-work/extreme-weather/flooding/sandbag-collection
The County recently passed a resolution in support of a revenue neutral carbon fee. The intent is to charge a fee for fossil fuels at the point of production, and return those fees directly to the consumers. This will help encourage a change in behavior, as well as provide an economic incentive that is revenue-neutral to encourage alternative fuel and energy sources, which are already cost-competitive on a large scale. More info here: https://citizensclimatelobby.org/10-facts-revenue-neutral-carbon-fees/