By Dylan Deprey
As the days grow shorter, air grows crisp and leaves descend across Milwaukee’s streets, Fall has officially arrived. Along with construction crews packing up their gear and readying for the new year, so has Mayor Tom Barrett.
Mayor Barrett announced his 2020 City Budget to a packed Common Council meeting on Sept. 24, 2019.
“The budget I present today includes difficult cuts throughout city government. At the same time, we will, as we’ve done in the past, produce a balanced budget,” Barrett said.
Barrett commended those who had worked in public safety, he said the City has paid out around $70 Million a year since 2009. His main concern was the looming 2023 payout for the public safety employer pension plan that could extend upwards of $100 Million.
“Obviously, I hope and pray we don’t reach that number. But, to reach that number, you’d have to entirely eliminate the budgets of the Health Department, Employee Relations, City Development, the Department of Administration, the Treasurer, Neighborhood Services, the Library, and the Common Council-City Clerk. And, even after eliminating all those departments, you’d still be millions short,” Barrett said.
His solution was to put $8 Million towards the pension fund reserve, along with creating a new benefit structure similar to State employees that would provide stability for retirees, City employees and the taxpayers.
According to Barrett, next year’s police salaries would be increasing as the staff decreases with the reduction of 60 positions due to retirement.
The 2020 budget is also familiar to the past five years as the Milwaukee Police budget exceeds the property tax levy.
“I recognize it’s an uphill battle, but we have to have an additional tool to allow us to help ourselves. Let me be clear: We are not asking the state for more money. We are asking for the ability to go to our voters and to address the pressing financial issues that we face,” Barrett said.
Barrett said City Government’s core functions, like plowing, paving and public safety, would only be available by passing a 3.5 percent tax levy referendum in April 2020.
According to Barrett, an average residential property tax payer would see a $59 a year increase, which includes the property tax rate and fees. The property tax would drop just a penny.
Barrett also included over $21 Million towards reducing lead exposure. He said blood levels are down 70 percent since 2004, and around $13.6 Million would be dedicated to lead service line replacement, testing, and filters for nearly 1,000 at-risk households.
He noted that if the tax revenue increase passed in April, the 60 retired MPD position could be filled.
There would also be funding for lead service line replacement on an additional 300 homes.
“I appreciate the work many of you have done to support the local option sales tax. I’m hopeful that this will add to our fiscal stability this coming year, and for the long term. Colleagues, I’m asking each and every one of you to understand the gravity of our situation and to focus on the big picture. Citizens, I ask you the same. Let’s work together to try to convince the legislature to allow our citizens to decide the level of services they need,” Barrett said.
Aldermen and #LiberateMKE Respond
#LiberateMKE has been at the forefront of the Budget battle as the grassroots organization has pushed to divest $25 Million from the MPD budget towards the root causes of poverty and violence in Milwaukee.
The organization’s greatest concern was that there was little to no real investment in public safety that would sustain communities and allow opportunities for its citizens to thrive.
Darrol Gibson, Leaders Igniting Transformation managing and political director, said it was alarming that half of the city’s general purpose budget was for MPD.
“While our city continues to heal from trauma inflicted upon it by misconduct of a few officers, little has been done structurally to address the root needs of the community and negative social determinants of health. This over-policing is counterproductive. It redirects taxpayer resources desperately needed in poor communities to perpetuate a criminal justice system that systematically incarcerates Milwaukee communities of color, creating a birth to prison pipeline,” Gibson stated in a press release.
Alderman Bob Donovan and Alderman Mark Borkowski held a press conference on Sept. 26 to address the city budget and public safety.
The two cited the lack of partisanship across party lines at the city and state level has left Milwaukee gridlocked and the citizens were paying for it.
“What is the gist of local government? It’s making sure the garbage is picked up, the street lights come on and that our streets are patrolled. There’s nothing Republican or Democrat about that,” Ald. Donovan said.
Ald. Borkowski said public safety was his number one concern for the community. He said the perception of rampant crime countered the positive work being done, and grew wary with the loss of 60 police officers.
“Alderman Borkowski and I believe that if passed as is, the mayor’s budget will have serious consequences in terms of public safety for the citizens of Milwaukee,” Ald. Donovan said. “There’s no other way to describe it, but the budget would be an absolute disaster for our neighborhoods if it stands as is. I wish it were different, but that’s the way it is.”
Alderwoman Milele Coggs hosted a town hall at Siloah Lutheran School on Sept. 26 for constituents to learn and express their concern regarding the “challenging” proposed budget.
“The Mayor’s proposed budget includes several cost-reducing measures that could impact vital services residents expect in the 6th District and across the city,” Alderwoman Coggs said.
The Common Council will host a public hearing of the Mayor’s proposed budget on Monday, Oct. 7 at 6:30 p.m. in the Common Council Chambers at City Hall.