Soglin Sets Priorities in Tough Times

–submitted by Valerie Johnson; photo by Jeff Smith

From left: Rotarian Janet Gray, Mayor Paul Soglin and Club President Ellsworth Brown

From left: Rotarian Janet Gray, Mayor Paul Soglin and Club President Ellsworth Brown

Mayor Paul Soglin began his annual fall review with our club by thanking Rotarians.  “The premise of government is that while we have elected representatives, what makes Madison function is active participation of citizens.”

“I’ve learned when you are trying to accomplish several economic goals, it makes a difference if the mayor makes the ask,” he said. He had two asks for Rotarians.

“My first ask is to support employment, both summer youth and adult employment.  We’ve made big advances in employment.  City employment has an expanded internship program. We provided 32 teens jobs this past summer. We have several partners: Operation Fresh Start, Simpson Street Free Press, Centro Hispano to name a few. These are real jobs with real pay.  We love it when at the end of the summer an employer calls and asks if they can keep on the student part-time for the rest of the year.”

Minnesota just released a study examining why there is a disparity on race in incarceration.  Mayor Soglin said we have an even bigger gap here.  Why the gap? “Poverty,” he said.  “Lack of participation in the workforce.  If we can change that, we can change a bevy of outcomes.”

Mayor Soglin’s second ask is about housing.  We are one of 100+ cities in the US that have signed a pledge to end veterans’ homelessness by the end of 2015 and end chronic homelessness by 2016.  We are doing poorly compared to other communities, he reported.

“There are reasons,” Mayor Soglin said, “particularly as it relates to the availability of housing and the cooperation of state government.  What is most upsetting is we have 31 veterans with VASH vouchers (for veterans only, pays for housing) who are still on the streets because they cannot find housing. So my second ask is for Rotarians to contact the Community Development office and figure out a way to make an apartment available for one of these 31 veterans.

The Mayor listed the city’s top three priorities:Affordable housing

  1. Affordable housing
  2. Improving equity and reducing poverty through job creation, training and employment, afterschool
  3. Food security

Three key financial facts:

  • City bonds rated AAA by Moody’s
  • Debt retires in 10 years typically
  • City goal is to stay under 15% of our budget going to debt. With significant cuts, we are still at 17%.

Where do our tax dollars come from?  Almost 75 percent comes from taxes; 13 percent from state aid, eight percent from fees.  This property tax burden is much higher than when he started in politics. The mayor reported he has made large cuts in CIP, the capital improvement plan.  This has lowered our borrowing to keep our good bond rating and allow us to retire debt.

“What is really crushing us,” he said, “is infrastructure replacement. We are replacing more pipes from the 60s than the 20s.”

CLICK to view the video.  Our Thanks to City Channel for taping our meeting this week.

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