Next week, Community Living Alliance will end its Partnership Program, which provides services to adults with physical disabilities. The Madison nonprofit couldn't afford to keep the program running.
"We want to support people to live independently," says Todd Costello, the agency's interim CEO. "It was a challenge, as health-care costs continued to rise."
It didn't help that the state, which funds the Partnership Program, cut the agency's per-patient rate by nearly 7% in 2008. "That certainly had an impact on our ability to go forward," says Costello.
All of the agency's Partnership Program clients will be transferred to Care Wisconsin, another Madison-based nonprofit. But Community Living Alliance's financial woes - this is the second state-funded program it's been forced to close in a year - has advocates worried.
"It raises a lot of questions," says Kim Turner, chair of the Developmental Disabilities Coalition, which represents 40 local human service providers. Some of these concern "the state's funding assumptions for Family Care," Wisconsin's new managed-care program for the elderly and disabled.
Over the next couple of years, the state plans to implement Family Care statewide. Community Living Alliance was one of the managed-care organizations tapped to run the program, starting in half a dozen counties this year. It has now backed out.
"The state gave all of these contracts to the Community Living Alliance, and all of a sudden, whoops! it's over," says Turner. "It all came unwound pretty quickly. It just raises questions about how financially stable the other managed-care organizations are."
Dane County is still deciding whether to run Family Care itself or turn it over to a private entity. Turner wants the county to run the show, especially given how quickly Community Living Alliance had to abandon the program.
"What if the managed-care organizations can't make it?" she asks. "Where does that leave all the people who rely on them for services?"
Community Living Alliance will continue to run some smaller programs for the disabled. But the agency lost its executive director in February, had to lay off 45 employees, and is looking to sell its building.
Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Family Services, says Community Living Alliance's problems are "a result of business decisions it made during the last several years." She says the per-person rates are set by independent actuaries and reflect "Family Care's more cost-effective approach."
Turner cautions against blindly accepting the state's promises that it will fully fund Family Care, noting the state once promised to fund the Partnership Program too.
The budget, she says, is "a political process. We don't know who's going to be governor in five years."
Getting back to the gardens
This summer, the city of Madison will begin searching for land to give to Olbrich Botanical Gardens. The gardens were originally supposed to expand into the site of the old Garver Feed Mill, but a proposal to redevelop the mill into an arts incubator has put a crimp in those plans. So the city is looking at land in Olbrich Park.
"There's some open space there," says Ald. Marsha Rummel. She notes the park has playing fields, a parking lot for boaters, and other land near Starkweather Creek that could potentially be annexed to the gardens. "This is all going to be on the table."
Rummel is aware that some residents don't want to give the parkland up. The city will hold several public meetings to discuss the issue. "It's going to be an interesting conversation," she says.
The city may have to give the botanical gardens something. The Olbrich Botanical Society holds a deed restriction on the Garver property. If the society refuses to amend its deed to allow the redevelopment, the Garver project would grind to a halt.
"The Olbrich Botanical Society does have veto power," says Si Widstrand, the city's parks development manager. "We've always known this was an issue to overcome." He thinks the city can find a solution. "We've always been pretty confident we could work our way through it."
Breakthrough on the tracks
Madison Gas & Electric has decided to give the Central Park project a little nudge. Plans for the downtown park have been delayed, while the city figures out how to come up with $10 million to move the railroad tracks bisecting the site. MGE has offered to help pay for a new park design - one that does not require moving the tracks.
"A park design that works with the existing rail line could help accelerate development of a park," wrote MGE president Gary Wolter in a letter to the park's planning committee.
There are no details yet on how much a new design would cost or whether the city would have to kick in additional funding. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz endorses the idea, says aide George Twigg: "The mayor has definitely encouraged the committee to look at possibly doing a park that did not involve moving the rails."
Ald. Rummel notes that with so many other city projects competing for assistance, the city council is unlikely to approve funding to move the rail lines. "How could we get 11 votes for that?" she asks. "It wasn't going to happen." MGE's offer, she adds, "helps us break through."
Bury the lines
Add the UW's Faculty Senate to the list of those opposing American Transmission Company's proposal to build a massive overhead power line along the Beltline. Earlier this month, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution asking the state's Public Service Commission to force ATC to bury - "at minimum" - the segment of the line that would run along the UW Arboretum.
"The line would be visible from many locations in the Arboretum," says Ron Kalil, a professor in the UW's School of Medicine and a resident of the Arboretum neighborhood. "If you're at the visitor's center and you looked toward the Beltline, you would see these gigantic poles. They're 13 stories tall."
ATC has resisted burying the line, saying it would double the project's cost, to $500 million.
Kalil says that, besides being ugly, overhead lines endanger the migrating birds that stop in the Arboretum. "It's not rocket science to conclude these lines would result in a lot of bird deaths."
Dead pets society
The Dane County Humane Society has finally posted its year-end statistics for 2007. As predicted, the shelter killed 40% of the more than 3,500 cats it took in last year ("Better Off Dead," 12/07/07).
Last spring, the Humane Society implemented a new policy of leaving half the cages on its cat adoption floor empty and euthanizing animals that showed any sign of illness, including runny noses or eyes. The shelter says the changes will reduce overcrowding and improve the health of surviving animals. But the policy has hiked the number of euthanized animals - 1,400 cats in 2007, nearly 700 of them for "medical" reasons.
In 2006, the shelter took in 3,800 cats and killed 1,200. And in 2004, it killed just 1,000 of the 3,600 cats it received. Shelter director Pam McCloud Smith says the save rate for cats so far in 2008 is 90%, though detailed numbers have not yet been made public.