Child care during city boards. commissions and committee meetings became the main focus of final 2020 budget discussions during the Tuesday, Nov. 19 Sun Prairie City Council meeting.
Although alders ultimately adopted the budget reflecting a 1.77 percent mill rate increase, it took a significant reduction in the amount of money budgeted for the pilot child care program to move the budget across the finish line for alders.
The pilot child care $23,012 budget initiative was approved at the Oct. 29 Committee of the Whole meeting, but alders heard strong reaction to the proposal — enough so that one alder said she could not support the proposal.
Another alder, District 3’s Maureen Crombie, changed her stance on the issue. During the Nov. 6 issue, she supported the initiative.
“This will give people more opportunity for people to attend meetings because as a young mom, I never attended any meetings unless I brought my kids,” Crombie said at the Nov. 6 Committee of the Whole meeting. “I think people will be encouraged to attend more meetings and be on committees, so I am going to support this despite what social media has to say.”
Since that statement, Crombie said, she received plenty of feedback and phone calls on the proposal — so many, in fact, that she changed her support based on what her constituents told her they wanted.
The child care pilot project, initially proposed by District 2 Alder Theresa Stevens and District 1 Alder Emily Lindsey, proposed covering child care costs for all 32 boards, commissions and committees in the city.
But it was pared back by Stevens, who wanted to limit the number of boards, commissions and committees the child care could be used for. The new amount proposed was $14,687 for just the city boards, committees and commissions established by city ordinances.
District 1 Alder Steve Stocker asked when any person has been denied the opportunity to bring their child to a city meeting. As an example, he said during one of his commission meetings, a member brings their infant daughter. The infant coos or burps during the meeting and is a welcome distraction from the meeting content, according to Stocker.
But later during the meeting, Stocker wondered who would use the child care. He requested alders study the issue before funding it as part of the budget.
Mayor Paul Esser said he did not think it was extensive enough. But he wanted a task force to be formed to study the issue and return with some recommendations about all the barriers that could be removed from public service.
Members of the public were less than enthusiastic about the prospect of their taxes funding child care.
In an email expressing his opinion about the proposal, former aldermanic candidate Chris Astrella called it “wasteful.”
“I believe this proposal is irresponsible, wasteful and frankly a slap in the face to all of us that live in Sun Prairie. Before anyone accuses me of being ‘against kids, participation in government or not thinking outside the box’ let me explain why I feel this way,” Astrella wrote. “A couple of years ago when I ran for city council, not once did I hear this issue come up when I was knocking on doors in my district.
“I never heard 1 resident ask me what I was going to do to encourage more people to participate in government. Never did I have anyone ask me when the city was going to start childcare so THEY could participate in city government or on a committee. Is this representative of the whole city? Of course not . . . but you can extrapolate it out and get to my point: this proposal is a solution looking for a problem.”
“We don’t need babysitters for $23,000 a year, in my opinion,” city resident John Holmes said.
District 4 Alder Al Guyant offered a compromise: Using high school students who need service hours as child care providers, delaying implementation until May and returning to the council with facts and figures about the use of the child care.
District 3 Alder Mike Jacobs compared the implementation of child care to the passage of Social Security during the Roosevelt administration. He noted that initially, all excluded employee classes in Social Security were in jobs predominately filled by African Americans. He said the child care proposal is the first step in inclusion, not exclusion like Social Security.
But Jacobs also noted that even though he received plenty of opposition from his constituents, he was going to vote in favor of the proposal. He said the reasons he heard for opposition to child care — which he said included statements like “I had to do it” were not valid reasons for opposing the pilot program.
Jacobs offered another amendment, which ultimately passed, to halve the amount of the pilot program to $7,000 and four months.
While Mary Polenske said she would initially oppose it based on feedback from constituents, she relented and voted in favor of the proposal and the city budget after the amount was reduced to $7,000. Crombie also relented, voting in favor of the proposal after the amount was reduced to $7,000.
Stocker remained opposed, being the lone vote against the budget, which passed on a 7-1 vote.
2020 city budget approved
Alders adopted a 2020 budget that reflects a levy of $24,547,024, or a 5.1 percent increase over the 2019 levy. The city purpose mill rate will be $8.0860 per $1,000 valuation, compared to $7.9455 last year. That means city purpose property taxes on a median valued $260,000 city property will be $2,102.36, compared to $2,065.83 last year.
The total mill rate — including county, city, Madison Area Technical College and Sun Prairie Area School District — is $24.9258.
That represents an 8.78 percent increase from 2018-19. The SPASD mill rate increased by nearly 14 percent from 12.8591 to 14.653 this year.
The total mill rate means taxes on a $260,000 median valued property in the City of Sun Prairie will be $6,480.
Fees will also be increasing, including sewer and meter charges increasing by 12.43 percent for an annual average cost. Sewer fees effective Jan. 1, 2020 will range from $11.54 to $80.44 depending on the size. Fire suppression system permit fees will increase from a half cent to as much as 3 cents per square foot depending on construction type. Fire Alarm permit fees will also increase from 1 cent per square foot to as much as 3 cents per square foot depending on construction type, and plan examination fees will be $250 for examining plans for footings or foundation only.
Plans that need to be revised, but have already been approved, will be assessed a $100 fee, as will re-submittals for plans that were previously rejected or held by the city.
The fee for using Public Works equipment such as barricades and cones will also increase from $10 to $25.
The charge for compact disc media is also increasing to $15. Park shelter fees will also be changing; contact the Sun Prairie Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department at 608-837-3449 to find out which fees have changed.