After four and a half hours of discussion, the City of Fitchburg voted to keep the Boys and Girls Clubs on Allied Drive’s funding in their operating budget.

The City of Fitchburg’s 2017 proposed executive budget includes an allocation of $50,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County to transport and feed kids at its Allied Drive location. A proposed amendment would have removed that funding from the budget and placed the money, along with $10,000 allocated for Badger Prairie Needs Network, into a fund administered by the eight-member Community Economic Development Authority (CEDA), which would then decide how to allocate that money. The vote on that amendment failed.

“I think it was unfortunate that we even had to go through all that,” Boys and Girls Club President and CEO Michael Johnson tells Madison365. “The original amendment was very clear and would have called on us to compete for funding that we already got every year.

Michael Johnson
Michael Johnson

“The City [of Fitchburg] came to us five years ago and said the Parks and Recreation Department didn’t have the capacity to provide these services and told us that we were actually saving them money because we were here,” Johnson adds. “They said, ‘you’re actually providing the services because you are here and we want to help pay our fair share like the city of Madison does.’”

A large crowd of 256 Boys and Girls Club of Dane County supporters overflowed the City of Fitchburg meeting last night opposing the budget amendment that would pull funding from the club. Many of the testimonials got very personal and very heartfelt.

“There were CEOs of Fitchburg businesses, Boys and Girls Club alumni, grassroots community leaders, and undocumented Latino students who spoke of their support,” says Johnson. “It was amazing. It was my understanding that they’ve never had that many people come out to oppose an amendment like that.”

Johnson says the $50,000 for them in the budget represents 18 percent of the club’s operating budget. “We provided 17,000 meals last year. I would either have to cut the number of meals that I was serving kids,” he said. “I would have to cut tutorial support or staff and I would have had to cut some of our transportation routes of kids that we pick up from school.”

After the initial amendment failed. Alder Patrick Stern introduced an amendment with new funding without any policy changes which every alder voted in favor of except for Alder Julia Arata-Fratta.

Arata-Fratta feels like she has been misunderstood and misrepresented during this whole debate.

Julia Arata-Fratta
Julia Arata-Fratta

“What I am trying to do is to have a process because this is taxpayer money,” Arata-Fratta tells Madison365. “My duty as an alder is to monitor the taxpayer money. We are simply trying to move the fund from a general fund to a grant fund and then every organization goes through a process. We don’t have that now.

“We need to have a transparent process for this. Every organization when they go to look for money, they go through a grant process. There is a procedure. This is what I tried to do, and people took it all the wrong way,” she adds. “This is Fitchburg taxpayer money. It’s levy money. We believe in the mission of the Boys and Girls Club. Nobody is against them, but we need to have a process.”

Arata-Fratta feels that she and other alders were the victim of an intimidation campaign and is saddened by the accusations that have been levied against her on social media, the past few days especially. “That was no good. You know me and you know my work with Latino Chamber and in the Latino community. I work for minority rights. I am part of that,” she says. “I’m disappointed. I just want to be clear, though. I don’t want to defund anything. I just want to have a transparent process. We need to have checks and balances.”

With this behind him, Johnson says that he will begin to advocate for the Fitchburg Fire station (#2) to be turned into a community center. “The fire department I believe is moving out in July. It’s a beautiful building and it’s in a residential area,” he says. “We are going to lobby the Council to, instead of building a new community center, use that as a community center and to be able to serve all of those kids at King James Way.”