Home Madison County budget proposal focuses on equity, justice reform

County budget proposal focuses on equity, justice reform


The $712.6 million operating budget proposal and $121.4 million capital budget proposal put forward by County Executive Joe Parisi for 2023 includes a number of line items intended to support communities of color and promote equity while navigating out of the pandemic.

Parisi highlighted a few of those line items in an interview on the podcast It’s Only 10 Minutes.

“Coming out of the pandemic, we’re still looking at basic human needs,” he said. “We had all hoped that once we got to this point in the pandemic that things would be getting a little easier, and in some ways for some folks they are, but the world was forever changed. Plus the geopolitical situation right now, the incredible inflation that we’re experiencing, really has a lot of folks with their backs up against the wall. Our food pantries, for example. We thought we saw a lot of demand during the pandemic, but it’s even higher now. So we’re really focused on things like food security, housing, just taking care of those basic needs for people.”

Listen to the interview here:

A few of the specific proposals discussed on the podcast include:

  • $6 million to expand the Farms to Food Banks program
  • $1.5 million to help build the McKenzie Family Workforce Development Center
  • $1.5 million to help a Community Life Center at Mt. Zion Baptist Church
  • $1.5 million to expand The River Food Pantry
  • $690,000 to create and supply a mental health crisis team to supplement law enforcement 
  • $135,000 for the BIPOC Mental Health Coalition
  • $500,000 for criminal justice reform proposals from the Black Caucus
  • $60,000 for Centro Hispano to hire a career specialist
  • The creation of a Department of Justice Reform and Equity

Parisi particularly noted the need for mental health workers to support law enforcement, or even replace law enforcement to respond to some emergency mental health calls.

“Last year, over 1,400 of the calls that the sheriff’s department went on had a mental health challenge as a part of that call,” Parisi said. “With this budget, if it’s passed by the board, we will have civilian mental health professionals embedded in each of the four sheriff’s precincts. And we have money in the budget to buy civilian vehicles and equipment. Whenever possible, they will respond to calls by themselves and not with law enforcement. We want to get people the help they need, then those folks will also be ready if there’s a call that a deputy really does need to go on, but there’s a mental health component to it, the mental health team can meet the deputies at the scene and help de-escalate and help to try to provide the best, you know, care for the people who are involved.”

That proposal is one of several addressing racial equity. Another is to create a full department to address justice reform and equity.

“I feel that we’re at a place where we need to dedicate the resources of a single standalone department to pulling all of this together and devote more resources,” Parisi said. “I’ve created a few new positions within this department to further our goals of criminal justice reform and operationalize more of the ideas that people have to move forward to reduce the jail population and to reduce the disparities that we see in the criminal justice system.”

Parisi also set aside $500,000 to implement some of the reforms suggested by the Black Caucus in their proposal for a new smaller jail. He said his proposal offers the County Board some flexibility in how those dollars are spent.

“I want to partner with folks,” Parisi said. “I’m not the only person who has ideas. We have a broad spectrum of people. And so I left that $500,000 for them to make sure that they have the resources to enact some of the reforms they’d like to look into.”

“I am very appreciative that he reached out to me and that he is putting so much money forth for (criminal justice) reforms,” Black Caucus member April Kigeya said in a text message to Madison365. “It shows his commitment to reducing disparities and allows the board some freedom to do the work without having to fight for the money to do so. I am looking forward to working with my County Board colleagues during this budget process to create programs and policies to reduce our nation leading disparities that Dane County unfortunately holds.”

“I think his budget proposal shows he’s listening and paying attention to what some of the priorities are of the board,” said County Board Chair Patrick Miles. “My priority is to try to leverage everything we can to move the needle on justice, justice system improvements, especially in the ways of anything that moves the needle on racial equity.”

Miles said the first public hearing on the budget will take place at 6 pm on October 19 with additional opportunities for the public to weigh in at the County Board meeting on November 3. Miles said he expects the Personnel and Finance Committee to finish its work on amendments by November 1 and the full County Board to begin its deliberations on November 7.