Fitchburg Mayor Jason Gonzalez says he won’t oppose a budget amendment to form a public-private partnership and restore some funding for nonprofits in the 2018 Fitchburg budget, if the Common Council passes one.
“I would let the majority speak as to what they would like in the budget,” he said in a message to Madison365.
Gonzalez’s proposed budget, published September 22, would zero out all funding for nonprofits, which totaled $110,000 in 2016 — a $50,000 contract with the Boys and Girls Club to provide transportation and food for 850 students, $10,000 for the Badger Prairie Needs Network food pantry, and $50,000 in competitive grants for any other local nonprofits who choose to apply. That has prompted backlash from members of the community, including strong statements on social media from Boys and Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson and an announcement by other Fitchburg leaders of a plan to recall Gonzalez if the funding is not restored.
A proposal to restore some funding was hammered out in two meetings this week between Gonzalez, Johnson, members of the business community and other civic leaders.
According to a document obtained by Madison365, the proposal would allocate $32,500 for a contract for essential services with the Boys and Girls Club to continue providing the same services they have been providing for $50,000 each of the last four years, with $17,500 to be raised by the local business community. It would also provide a $7,500 competitive grant for a food pantry, with another $2,500 to be raised by the business community. Additionally, it would restore a $60,000 fund that would allow local nonprofits to apply for funding for the arts, eldery, organizational capacity building or youth programming. Applicant organizations would have to demonstrate financial commitments of $2,500 from the business community before applying.
Johnson said local businesses had already marshaled enough commitments to meet the business community’s obligation under the proposal.
“The mayor went on the record with ten people in the room that he believed this was a good path forward,” Johnson said. “Yesterday we walked out of the meeting saying this is a good path forward. It would have been a win-win for everybody.”
Gonzalez said he would not veto any amendment the Council passes, including one to fund nonprofits, but he isn’t sure yet that an official amendment is forthcoming.
“I said I would support any alder amendments, but of the two alders I talked to, no one was willing to make an amendment with that language,” he said. He declined to say which two alders he spoke with. “Alders are working on other amendments that will be made public on October 14 after 4:30 pm when they are due.”
None of the eight alders responded to requests for comment on the proposal.
“I believe my budget is fiscally responsible and addresses the needs of our growing community,” Gonzalez said. “The council has the opportunity, if they so choose, to amend my budget. I cannot and will not lobby the council in any regard about my budget as it is their duty and their choice to address concerns they have with my budget.”
Johnson isn’t buying that.
“If the mayor was motivated to make this happen he could make this happen,” Johnson said. “As the mayor of the city, he needs to rally the council and not have the community divided over this issue. They need to be willing to hear the concerns of the members of their community. They need to be willing to meet us halfway. If they continue to draw a line in the sand and play politics with this thing, they will lose.”
Since Gonzalez is prevented by ordinance from amending his proposed budget, Johnson said it’s time to start talking to members of the council.
“(Gonzalez) said he didn’t think it had enough support from the alders, so now we’re going to turn our attention to them,” Johnson said.
The next public hearing on the budget is Tuesday, October 10 at 7:30 pm. Johnson has promised a big turnout of community members.
“I’m not sure this place is big enough,” he said at a Finance Committee meeting Tuesday.