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The Numbers Don't Lie

The more I dig into our finances, the more concerned I become. We have a mountain of debt and are continuing to amend our 2021 budget to add more optional expenses like adding two BCycle stations for $23,000 with annual maintenance fees of $7,000.

Now don't get me wrong, I love BCycles! I used to lead tours of Monona's street art on the BCycles and it's a fun way to tour the city or enjoy a ride with friends. I work in the bike industry and give 2,000 bikes to low income and diverse communities throughout Dane County annually. I sit on the Board of the Wisconsin Bike Fed. But, in a year where we're going to see more revenue shortfalls like never before, I do not feel that we should continue to spend when families and businesses everywhere are tightening their belts. Shouldn't we be doing this too rather than incurring more debt and passing that on to taxpayers? Unfortunately, I'm the only one on the city council who seems to feel this way.

I did propose several options to reduce the cost of BCycles on taxpayers. I asked for demographic data but it was not provided despite two requests at two different council meetings. I'd like to have an estimate of how many people in Monona might use the BCycles. BCycles touch more people outside of Monona than in, and I asked if we could hold off for one month to do a Go Fund Me to offset the installation fee ($23K) through my bike networks throughout Dane County.

I asked if we could raise the advertising rates on the kiosks from $1,500/year to $3,000 or $5,000/year. They're like a mini billboard at the parks and thousands of people will lay eyes on them. A full page ad in a magazine can run $2,000-4,000 so surely we could get more for the sponsorships. I also question the timing as the tourism economy has tanked and we're about to embark on one of our largest expenditures of all time, San Damiano, on June 1st. I also felt like we should address making our streets more safe for cyclists this year then add the BCycles next year. My suggestions were not accepted and the amendment to our 2021 budget for 18 BCycle bikes passed 5-1, me being the only nay vote.

As I continue on this journey of running for Mayor, I'm doing more and more research and finding more and more troubling data. This is from a Wisconsin Department of Revenue report titled County & Municipal Revenues & Expenditures. Monona's numbers are featured on page 23. A friend of mine was able to parse the data with a tool called Tableau that allows one to create graphs from the data because it was already parsed into columns. But seeing it in graph form is so helpful. If you watched the City Council Candidate Forum, candidate Patrick DePula stated that we're "spending like drunken sailors" and it appears that we most definitely are. The numbers don't lie.

We closed 2020 with $50 million in debt and are projected to close out 2021 with $55 million in debt. I've illustrated below how that gets spread out for every man, woman and child in Monona.

2020 DEBT: $50 million / 8,000 residents = $6,250 / person

2021 DEBT: $55 million / 8,000 residents = $6,875 / person

An annual debt payment of $3.25 million is 31% of all our revenue (intergovernmental i.e. state aids, licenses, fines and $250K in reserves pulled out in 2020) is going towards repaying our debt. That's a big slice of the pie going to repaying debt rather than paying for services and amenities. No wonder we can't afford a public safety building!

This year, under my opponent's leadership, the levy increased to the full amount allowed by law. Not one dollar less. $209,761 was allowed and that's was the increase. That's not fiscal conservatism. That's maxing things out to the fullest extent.

The incumbents will say that much of our debt is due to TIF (tax increment financing). TIF is an economic development tool that allows municipalities to incentivize developers to develop in their communities. TIF law includes a ‘but for’ provision, which requires cities to affirm that a development project would not happen ‘but for’ the use of TIF to fund the project. This requirement helps ensure that TIF funds are allocated to projects requiring financial assistance (view the What is TIF flier on the city's website). But we're giving TIF out too freely. Monona may be landlocked but we are also a waterfront community that is highly desirable for developers. Our proximity to Madison makes it even more desirable.

TIF debt is actually more risky than other debt. If one of these projects goes sideways, it's the taxpayers that will be left with the debt. If in fact, half of the debt is TIF, that means that about 15 % of the levy is to pay off borrowing for developers. At least with infrastructure expenditures, we have something to show for it like roads or bridges. It seems that we've been sold the line that the only way to develop is to do the borrowing for the developer (providing TIF). Once you start handing out TIF too freely, then they all come up short and expect the city to kick in.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum has a Municipal Data Tool where you can compare our finances with other Wisconsin cities. Some of the findings are alarming. We have the 2nd highest debt per capita in Dane County and the 7th highest in the state of Wisconsin (see graphs below).

It's important to do some research and not just believe what you hear because the numbers don't lie. The best way to change our situation is to elect new city officials to help lead the way. I'm committed to dedicating my expertise and skills to making Monona one of the best small cities in America. We have all of the ingredients, we just need someone with the know how to put it all together in the right way. If elected on April 6th, I will need your help to realize this lofty goal. I lead by inspiring others and I will draw my inspiration from you and your ideas. By working together, we can get there. I hope to earn your vote on April 6th.

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