Since Labor Day, County Exec Kathleen Falk has been calling it “the toughest budget since the Great Depression”. Her mouthpiece, Josh Wescott, echoes the depression line, and adds another cliché - “the perfect storm” of declining revenues. Falk has proposed a 7.9% property tax increase and is hoping for a 3 percent wage cut from county employees.
Mayor Cieslewicz calls his plan “a budget for hard times”, and says “the primary theme is steadiness”. He’s proposed the lowest spending increase in the past fifteen years. His operating budget will increase taxes 3.8% on the average Madison home. He’s hoping other city employees will join the firefighters, who’ve agreed to no raises for two years, and then 3% at the end of the two-year period.
Meanwhile, a couple weeks ago, Madison teachers hauled in a 4% raise in each of the next two years - a quarter of it in salary increases (1%) and the rest in other bennies, mainly insurance. They get a small pay increase, while county workers may take a cut, and city workers will likely get nothing.
Moral of the story: you want John Matthews on your side of the bargaining table.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t begrudge the teachers’ tiny raise one bit. I’m proud of the firefighters and any other city employee group which is willing to stand pat in these tough times. And I feel the pain of the county workers. My income this year is substantially less than last year, when the radio station threw me under the bus after 30 years with the company.
The teachers union deal is done; it just has to be rubber-stamped by the school board a week from Monday, the 19th. But the city and county budgets are far from set in stone, and there will be weeks of debate ahead. We’re just seeing the broad strokes now. The County Board is gonna have some “interesting” discussions ahead. And Alder Thuy Pham-Remmele may provide us with more YouTube moments in the city’s budget debate.
Most folks, I’ve learned, after 30-some years of covering local news, don’t pay too much attention to budget announcements, discussion, or debate. They mainly give a hoot about how it’s going to personally impact them financially. Unless, of course, you draw your paycheck from the city or county.
So, although I don’t have anywhere near solid numbers from all the entities that make up the property tax bill - the state, the municipality (which in my case is an urban township, not the city), MATC, and the school district, my first wild guess is your tax escrow will go up about twenty bucks a month next year.
That is, if the budgets settle anywhere near where they’re talking now, and given that you own an “average” home in Madison, worth about a quarter-million dollars, and given that you send a check to some mortgage company 12 times a year. I’m guessing taxes on the “average” home will go up a couple hundred bucks.
It’s only a guess. Since I follow this stuff, I’ll be glad to let you know in a few months if my crystal ball was clear - or cloudy.