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Madison expects construction budget cuts

Paul Snyder

The state’s financial pain will trickle down to Madison’s 2010 budget, forcing the cancellation or delay of construction projects.

City leaders know cuts are coming but do not know not how deep they will be or how they will affect prominent Madison projects such as Central Park or the recently endorsed Central Library plan.

“A cut doesn’t mean delaying the pain for one year,” said Madison Comptroller Dean Brasser. “It’s reducing the total amount spent well into the future.”

Madison is waiting for hard numbers from the state relating to cuts in shared revenue and other state aid programs. But Mayor Dave Cieslewicz directed city staff this week to find ways to cut 20 percent from capital requests in the 2010 budget and limit borrowing requests in the 2009 budget.

Rachel Strauch-Nelson, spokeswoman for Cieslewicz, said the review could last several months and it is too soon to say what projects might be in jeopardy.

“If a project can grow our tax base,” she said, “then that’s something we want to pursue.”

But with Madison borrowing more money than usual in the last few years for road, storm-water and sewer system improvements, Brasser said, something will have to give.

The city’s Library Surplus Committee recommended an estimated $43.6 million Central Library project as part of a mixed-use development by Madison-based The Fiore Cos. Inc. Other proposed projects already in line for city money include Central Park, a public market and the renovation of Villager Mall.

Alderman Jed Sanborn said council debate could become intense when discussing the 2010 budget later this year.

“My attitude is we have to favor the basics,” he said. “I think we need to continue our commitment to improving streets, but we might have to start looking at things like Central Park and Central Library as luxuries.”

Madison annually receives an about $36 million from all state aid programs, Brasser said, including roughly $8.5 million in shared revenue. Although Gov. Jim Doyle earlier this year told several Wisconsin mayors to expect less in shared revenue, his office and the state’s legislative leadership still must produce a plan for fixing the state’s $6.6 billion budget deficit.

Complicating financial matters further, Brasser said, the city could be looking at a $700,000 shortfall in its projected building permit revenue for 2009.

Although the city anticipated a drop in construction, the first four months of the year produced lower-than-expected returns. Although the 2009 budget anticipated $3.6 million from permits, the comptroller’s office now reports the city might only generate $2.9 million by year’s end.

“It’s very difficult to project into the future,” Brasser said. “But we know no dramatic rebound is going to take place immediately.”

The city also knows it will have to scale back its wish list, he said.

“It’s tough because it’s a great time to do construction for the city,” Brasser said. “We can get great bids. But at the same time, we don’t want to spend the money.”

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