It's a good problem to have, says Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, reflecting on the city's need to decide quickly where to spend gobs of federal money headed its way from the economic stimulus package.
"There's probably tens of millions of dollars coming to the city," Cieslewicz says. "I've asked each of the managers who have stimulus money coming to them, or who can apply for stimulus money, to put together a memo to me by the end of [this] week outlining their suggestions on how the money might be used."
Len Simon, Madison's Washington, D.C., lobbyist, has been scouring the voluminous economic stimulus bill signed last week by President Barack Obama, and reporting back details of what's in it for Madison.
Among the bigger items: $9.5 million in transit funds, earmarked for new capital spending. The city plans to use the money to order 18 new hybrid buses; these will be delivered in 2010 to replace buses retiring from Madison Metro's aging fleet.
The buses, which cost about $500,000 each, will join five existing Metro hybrids, added to the fleet in 2007. The buses are quiet, emit much less exhaust than regular diesel buses, and get an estimated 20% to 30% better gas mileage.
"As an environmentalist," he says, "I think 18 new hybrid buses is pretty exciting." But he hastens to add that the federal funds cannot be used to avoid bus fare hikes.
"This money can only be spent on capital and new projects and can't supplant existing projects," says Cieslewicz. "It doesn't help on the fare increase."
Cieslewicz included a 50-cent hike in cash bus fares in the city's 2009 budget, to avoid service cuts and make improvements. The city's Transit and Parking Commission initially rejected this increase, then agreed to raise fares by 25 cents, to $1.75.
Early Wednesday morning the Common Council voted 11-8 to overrule the TPC and raise the cash fare to $2; the new fee will go into effect April 5. Fare-hike opponents, who fear low-income riders would be severely affected by a 33% hike in per-ride costs, insist there are other options.
"There's information coming out of the mayor's office that suggests to me that they're being less than truthful about this," says Susan De Vos, president of the local Madison Area Bus Advocates. "You can't trust that what they say is the whole picture."
Metro recently reported that fixed-route ridership rose 6% in 2008, and revenues were up $500,000. The critics say a fare hike could reverse those trends, with one estimate predicting a 4% ridership decrease for each 10% rise in fares. Madison Metro projects a 1% increase in bus riders this year, despite the rise in fares.
"If the mayor were really interested in trying to save the bus system, he'd be willing to have some flexibility about this," says De Vos. "The mayor has made his stand. I'm not sure he wants to do any more political negotiation on this."
A referendum on Konkel?
The much-watched five-way primary for Madison's second aldermanic district is over. The two top voter getters in last week's primary were incumbent Brenda Konkel and challenger Bridget Maniaci. And already it's being pitched as a battle for the soul of the Common Council, or at least a referendum on Konkel, to both candidates' discomfort.
"A lot of people have a lot of interest in the race, which is a good thing," says Maniaci. "That's not why I'm running. I'm just trying to be out there talking about the issues and what I want to do."
Maniaci, 25, is a Madison native and former Cieslewicz press intern. She's currently a manager at Empire Photography on Monroe Street.
Although Cieslewicz didn't recruit Maniaci, he openly sought to replace Konkel, an outspoken progressive council member seeking her fifth term. But Konkel, 40, who heads the local Tenant Resource Center, says this race is about more than that.
"I certainly acknowledge that people don't always agree with my style," she says. "But I'm proud that even those who disagree with me on style know that I am a passionate, hard-working and dedicated representative of our district's neighborhoods and needs."
Maniaci says that, if elected, her priorities would be: 1) Joining with businesses in the 800 and 900 blocks of East Johnson Street on promotional opportunities and long-term priorities, such as getting a grocery store in the neighborhood. 2) Carefully choosing infill projects to refurbish older housing stock, rather than moving to tear them down. 3) Working to solve ongoing issues of public safety and crime.
Konkel's top three list: 1) Focusing on transportation and traffic, making sure these are a consideration in land-use and development plans. 2) Making neighborhood voices heard on development projects, including the Renaissance Property Group redevelopment on the 600 block of East Johnson Street. 3) Making sure federal stimulus money is used to address the "needs of everyone in our community," through an open and transparent decision process.
The general election is April 7. Of the 20 council seats, seven are contested.
WYOU (services) for sale
Last year, when the city moved to cut funding for WYOU, interim director Guy Swansbro was pessimistic. He predicted that Madison's community access television station, on the air since 1975, could go belly-up.
Now, the station has renewed hope but also a fresh sense of urgency. The mayor restored $140,000 in city funding for 2009, but called for its elimination by 2011. In the meantime, WYOU is looking to fund operations through other revenue streams.
Barbara Bolan, the station's new executive director, is pitching the station's rental studio space and other services to local nonprofits and companies. WYOU is also seeking opportunities to partner with the UW-Madison or MATC, among others, to stay afloat.
"Nothing is off the table," says Bolan as the station prepares for its early March fund drive. "We have a lot to offer. We're not asking for something and offering nothing."
In the meantime, in the switchover to digital, WYOU's digital channel 991 and analog 95 have disappeared from the lineup for some Charter Communications customers. Bolan urges customers to address this issue with Charter. Starting March 1, the station will broadcast online at Among the items on Mistele's green list: creating a "Green Business Czar" post, keeping the county's mitts off land protected as green by other municipalities, and putting the "brakes on [Dane County Kathleen] Falk's commuter rail." "I think that a lot of people would have you believe that growth and conservation are mutually exclusive," says Mistele. "We can and often do both. Developers are not an insensitive bunch, and we clearly recognize that in order to sell a development it has to be appealing. And typically for that you have to have greenspace, park space or swimming pools."
Among the items on Mistele's green list: creating a "Green Business Czar" post, keeping the county's mitts off land protected as green by other municipalities, and putting the "brakes on [Dane County Kathleen] Falk's commuter rail."
"I think that a lot of people would have you believe that growth and conservation are mutually exclusive," says Mistele. "We can and often do both. Developers are not an insensitive bunch, and we clearly recognize that in order to sell a development it has to be appealing. And typically for that you have to have greenspace, park space or swimming pools."