By David Crowley
Milwaukee County Executive
Budgets are about priorities and despite the difficulties we have faced the 2023 Recommended Budget continues to prioritize targeted investments in public health and safety, mental health, substance abuse, youth services, public transportation, parks, and neighborhood amenities. Despite the many challenges ahead of us, this budget builds on the strategic plan we implemented in 2020 and remains a reflection of our organizational vision of achieving race and health equity.
This commitment is significant as the County continues to face an ongoing crisis on two fronts: systemic racism and the societal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve seen these crises manifest in overdose deaths, mental health crisis, domestic violence, and community violence.
The budget addresses important community health needs through a $21 million investment in the Community Access to Recovery Services (CARS) to expand services and help adults with behavioral health needs by facilitating access to appropriate community services and supports. This is an important investment to address an acute need for Milwaukee County residents as we work to meet people where they are and connect them with the tools to lead long, healthy, successful lives. The shift to trusted, culturally competent community-based services is a critical strategy in eliminating the racial health disparities we see in our region.
The last two years have been incredibly disruptive for everyone in our community. It’s been especially difficult on our youth who’ve had to adjust to major changes in their schooling, social life, and work environments. The budget invests $500,000 into the Credible Messengers Program which promotes advocacy, mentoring, emotional first aid, community engagement, and violence mediation for youth justice system-involved youth.
Credible Messengers are making an impact on our neighborhoods preventing youth from entering the justice system in the first place. For those youth who are justice-involved 77 percent of participants who enter the program have not re-offended.
Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of our County Departments, we’ve passed a budget with no cuts to services despite the current constraints on revenue. However, we couldn’t put this budget together without making some tough decisions. Small scale service reductions had to be made for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Milwaukee County Transit System.
The budget is rooted in our financial realities and the reality is Milwaukee County is having to do more with less year over year as the structural budget gap persists. These were tough decisions for Milwaukee County to make in this budget, but it is indicative of the many tough decisions that may lie ahead if a new revenue stream is not introduced to close our annual structural deficit.
We’ve gotten creative with streamlining government, creating new positions to pull down federal and state grant dollars, and maximized the federal dollars that have come down the pipe over the last two years.
When we have resources, we can do amazing things to serve our residents. In order to continue doing so, we need a sustainable revenue source to make the important investments that will improve quality of life in Milwaukee County.