Boys and Girls Club of Dane County CEO Michael Johnson pleaded with Mayor Jason Gonzalez to revive funding for nonprofits at the Fitchburg City Hall late Tuesday night.
The City of Fitchburg Common Council was meeting to discuss Mayor Gonzalez’ proposed 2018 budget. The budget calls for the gutting and loss of funding of all non-profits. If the Mayor’s budget is approved entities such as the Boys and Girls Club and Badger Food Network will lose the funding vital to continue providing services to some of the neediest citizens in Dane County.
Mayor Jason Gonzalez addressed the Council at 6pm saying that he didn’t want to have to choose between one non-profit or another, so he made the decision to stop funding any non-profits.
“One of the things I will say is the two non-profits are very worthy non-profits,” Mayor Gonzalez said. “There’s many entities that do good work. I didn’t want to choose between one or two so I chose to cut them across the board.”
Gonzalez said he was aware of the growing backlash against the decision but stated that his budget proposals have been public record for a long period of time. He said that there were applications open for two months that could have been filled out to address these needs but no one applied.
Mayor Gonzalez also doubled down on previous assertions that shoddy management by previous administrations had cost him the ability to have the additional funds he would surely have used to fund these non-profits. He lamented the loss of $650,000 in state funds that Fitchburg didn’t qualify for.
“If we had the $650,000 we could have funded these things,” Gonzalez said. “We could have funded things like a detective for the police department, an extra fire inspector and things like that. That $650,000 loss significantly hurt us this year. As far as this process goes, i proposed my budget. I cannot go back and change it.”
One of the controversies surrounding the budget has been the police’s need for more ammunition and money that is used to provide gym memberships for police officers. Gonzalez addressed that issue as well.
“The police line items include more than just bullets,” he said. “It includes tasers, other non-lethals. But we have state standards we have to meet. We’re at war in multiple countries so the demand for bullets is high. Emotional and physical health is important in making sure we have great police service. That’s just not an item I can go after and remove in terms of the gym memberships.”
Line items that the City of Fitchburg are able to approve include $30,000 to maintain the Nine Springs golf course and $10,000 to make sure the Fire Department is able to provide meals and refreshments at Fire Department functions and to feed trainees on site so they would not have to leave the facilities to eat.
Arriving mid-meeting, Michael Johnson had missed the allotted time for public comments. Mayor Gonzalez, however, insisted that he be heard. Gonzalez, who had been under fire earlier in the afternoon Tuesday amid the announcement of a recall effort, seemed eager to have an exchange with Johnson.
“I reached out to you prior to submitting this proposed budget,” Gonzalez said to Michael Johnson. “You declined to meet. You wouldn’t get together with me so we could talk about it.”
Johnson’s attempt to reply directly to Mayor Gonzalez in response was disallowed by the Council Chair. He was, however, allowed to address the Common Council.
“What’s being done in the budget is wrong,” Johnson said. “You have zeroed out funding for the most vulnerable children in this city. You have not met with me or with mothers or community leaders. I am open to that meeting. I implore you to do the right thing for the kids in this city. For the kids in the Boys and Girls Club, the kids in King James Way that deserve to have a place to play and food pantries. We didn’t come to the city asking for funding. This city came to us five years ago.”
Johnson asked the Council to revive the funding when they approve the budget.
“I’m asking you to do the right thing,” Johnson said. “Listen to your constituents when we show up next week at the public hearings. I don’t know if this place is going to be large enough. Listen to the parents of Allied. Listen to the parents of King James Way. Don’t zero out kids in your budget.”
The full Common Council meets to debate and vote on the 2018 budget at 7:30 pm on Tuesday, October 10.