An interview with Mayor Dave Cieslewicz
spent on the terminal itself not to speak of the improvements made to the rail line.
“We think we can get the trains up and running in about three years,” Cieslewicz said. “So in 2013, you should be able to board a
train beneath the DOA building and be on your way to Milwaukee and get there in about an hour and on to Chicago if you would like. We
also think that can stimulate a lot of redevelopment of this whole side of the square. We need new parking to accommodate the train
station, but also to replace an aging parking ramp that we have here. So we are going to put that parking underground, which is good
urban development. You don’t really want above ground parking ramps. So we’re going to increase the amount of parking and put it
underground. We’re going to put in a bike station, which will be a first for us here in Madison. A bike station is essentially indoor
parking for bikes, which comes with other amenities too like a bicycle repair shop. This will probably be across the street from the train
station on Wilson Street. We’re also looking at a public market, which is a way to continue the movement of local foods and healthy
foods and a new hotel to help our convention center. We turn down some business at the convention center because we don’t have
enough hotel rooms. This will help support that. So these are some pretty exciting ideas and I think it can all be spurred by the train
People in South Madison are hoping that more capital improvements will occur in the area, both commitments made and needed
future improvements. At the mayor’s budget hearing held at the Urban League August 10, Kaleem Caire talked about some of the
improvements he would like to see made. “I would like to see a continuation of the plans for the redevelopment of The Villager Mall,”
Caire said. “I would definitely like to see some of the construction that is happening on the beltline here leading down to Park Street, a
lot of the projects be completed. I would like to see the dollars in the 2011 budget to do that. Second, I would like to see continued
development in the community. We need spaces for people to meet. I would like to see investment in social space that people can
convene in, whether it be retail, cafes or whatever. I would like to see a city investment in that. At the same time, we also work
diligently to secure private investments in helping to establish some of these things too. And then begin to use this as a hub for the
development of social enterprises like the Urban League and business enterprises that will support communities of color.”
One possible capital project that people have been talking about is wholesale improvements to Penn Park. The Urban League, the
Boys & Girls Club and other agencies have held some talks about the redevelopment. “We talked to the mayor about revitalizing Penn
Park and making it a place that people actually use,” Caire said. “It’s a very underutilized park now. We’ve been talking about some
strategies there that people will get excited about. It could be big. It’s been years since Penn Park has had significant improvements.
We’ve not done anything significantly over there for decades. The mayor is interested. We walked the community last night for about
two hours and we talked about some strategies to put a club or facility there or somewhere near it. It would be at the park or linked to
the park. We could do different things in the park to make it more useful to children and families and draw people into the neighborhood
again like we used to.”
Cieslewicz said he is open to a Penn Park project. “We’ll be looking at making improvements to Penn Park in the capital budget,”
Cieslewicz said. “I’m very open to it. I hope to be able to find money in the capital budget to make that happen.”
While conditions look favorable for spending on capital items, due to the stimulus funds, low interest rates and a more long-term
economic outlook that steers capital spending, the 2011 city operating budget will be facing some very difficult economic conditions.
According to Cieslewicz, about 70 percent of the city’s revenue comes from property taxes, 15 percent from state aids and 15 percent
from locally generated taxes and fees. Property values in Madison have been holding relatively firm with about an overall drop in value
of about 3.3 percent with residential dropping 1.8 percent. Cieslewicz feels that the last time that Madison lost property values was
during the Great Depression.
While one would think that a drop in property values would impact the budget, it actually has little impact. “We have to meet a
certain property tax levy,” Cieslewicz said. “It means that in order to meet that levy, we simply adjust something they call the mill rate.
The property tax levy is pretty simple. It’s based on the total value that you have of all of the property in the city multiplied by a mill rate.
When all of those values go down a little bit, it simply means that we need to adjust the mill rate. It means what you are paying per
thousand dollars of assessed valuation is going to go up compared to what it was last year.”
Since the state is in the middle of a two-year budget cycle, the state aids to Madison will remain relatively constant. It is the other
15 percent of the city’s revenue that creates the greatest concern.
“It is other revenues such as investment income that the city would get,” Cieslewicz said about the lower funds the city receives.
“Those great low-interest rates I was talking about for infrastructure projects are the other side of a double-edged sword where we get
low interest for the city’s investments. Room tax revenues are down dramatically from what they were and down even below the very
conservative number that we put in the budget for 2010. Building permits are obviously way down.”
While possible shortfalls in revenue could force some reductions in city spending, Cieslewicz anticipates that funding for
Community Services and CDBG funds will remain constant.
“We’ll probably look to do what we did in 2010, which is essentially not cut them,” Cieslewicz said. “An increase is going to be
tough. When you look at the county, which cut its human services programs by three percent, we were able to keep ours even and as a
matter of fact, the council increased it by $100,000. If we would do that again, I think we would be doing well. We have substantially
increased Community Services and CDBG spending in the last seven years. It’s up 47 percent. Just to give you a benchmark, the
county’s increase over that time is 14 percent. The 47 percent is much greater than the rate of inflation over those seven years. It
probably has been half of that, about 21 percent. So we have been giving pretty substantial increases over the course of seven years.
And that doesn’t count some of the capital expenditures that we did during that time, for example, $1 million for the new Urban League
Economic Development Center at the Villager Mall. I think we gave something like $500,000 for the Lussier Community Education
Center and then a similar substantial investment for the Goodman Community Center. That’s not counted in that 47 percent increase. So
I think we’ve been making pretty substantial investments there. This year, like last, if we can just hold on to that and not have to cut, I
think it will be a good day’s work.”
While creating and passing a 2011 city budget will have its challenges, Cieslewicz feels the budget will be passed by balancing
the various interests. “The overall trend is that we’ve had difficult budget years before. We always find a way to get through them. My
goal is to maintain the services we have and not slash and burn. I understand that means there is going to be some tax increase. We
want to keep that as light as we can because the rock and the hard place here is people like their services and they need those
services. At the same time, if you increase taxes too much, you’re also affecting people who are having a hard time paying because
they may not have a job or their wages have been cut. So we have to find a balance between maintaining services and not increasing
taxes too much to affect the same people you want to help. That is always the tricky part. I think we found it pretty well last year. But we
are facing a similar environment for 2011.”
Difficult economic times bring difficult budgetary times. Hopefully, as the saying goes, this too shall pass.
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 2 of 2
When Mayor Dave Cieslewicz travels around the city of Madison this
summer, he gets a warm feeling when he encounters the multitude of road
construction projects that seem to be everywhere. He might be personally
inconvenienced, but he feels good knowing that a lot of people are working
this summer of the Great Recession, people who may not be working if it
weren’t for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Obama
stimulus package passed in 2009.
Overall, it has been a good season for capital projects in the Madison
area. With historically low interest rates, it is easier for the city to borrow
now for capital improvement projects — and put people to work — and
have less pressure to borrow later on when the economic recovery is in
gear and interest rates begin to rise.
One large capital improvement project that will be impacting Madison
is the creation of a high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison
and the building of the train station within the Wis. Dept. of Administration
building on E. Wilson Street. In the neighborhood of $10 million could be
Mayor Dave Cieslewicz (l-r), Congresswwoman Tammy
Baldwin, Darcy Luoma, aide to Sen. Herb Kohl and Katie
Crawley, aide to Sen. Russ Feingold with one of 14 hybrid
buses purchased for the city of Madison using Obama