By County Executive David Crowley
The holiday season is upon us in Milwaukee County. As we look ahead to the new year, I find myself reflecting on a historic 2023 and all we have accomplished together. From investing in affordable housing, public transit, and mental health services, to securing a positive financial outlook for Milwaukee County, there’s good reason to feel optimistic about the future of our community.
I took office in 2020, and my number one priority was to put Milwaukee County on the path to financial sustainability. Thanks to the work we’ve done and the partnerships we’ve created, we are witnessing significant progress in accomplishing this goal. Earlier this year, we secured new revenue-generating tools for Milwaukee County, effectively avoiding a dire fiscal cliff and ensuring our residents will have access to critical services for years to come.
This action also resulted in a historic 2024 budget, projecting the first surplus in over two decades. Rather than determining what budget cuts would have been the least harmful, we are now making the most impactful decisions to support our residents. My 2024 budget includes the largest property tax levy reduction in Milwaukee County history, putting real money back into the pockets of homeowners. At a time when inflation is top-of-mind for residents and families, I am proud we are taking action to provide property tax relief for folks throughout the community.
When we’re making these investments, I’m reminded of our vision: By achieving racial equity, Milwaukee County will be the healthiest county in the state of Wisconsin. One way we are working toward that goal is by investing in affordable housing and homeownership opportunities. Growing up in Milwaukee’s 53206 zip code, I experienced housing insecurity firsthand, so tackling this challenge is personal for me. That’s why we are deploying millions of dollars across Milwaukee County to build more affordable housing units in communities like South Milwaukee, Wauwatosa, Oak Creek, and Brown Deer. Residents deserve equitable access to affordable housing options throughout Milwaukee County, so we are working to deliver just that.
These investments are extending into the city of Milwaukee as well, particularly in the King Park neighborhood where construction is underway on 120 single-family houses for first-time homebuyers to purchase an affordable home and build generational wealth. This construction is occurring near the future Marcia P. Coggs Health and Human Services Center, a project we broke ground on in October. For the first time, Milwaukee County will have a facility specifically for delivering health and human services, eliminating physical barriers, and expanding access to health resources and human services for families and individuals.
We accelerated our fight against the opioid epidemic in Milwaukee County by making harm reduction resources more easily and readily available. In August, I announced the placement of 11 Harm Reduction Vending Machines that provide free access to harm reduction and prevention supplies, including fentanyl test strips, nasal naloxone, gun locks, and more. Milwaukee County will be increasing these efforts in 2024, placing even more Harm Reduction Vending Machines throughout the county.
We remain committed to helping folks experiencing mental health challenges receive the resources and services they need. In 2023, the Mental Health Emergency Center completed its first year of operations, serving more than 7,000 individuals experiencing a mental health or substance use disorder related crisis. In April, I signed legislation allocating federal funding for community mental health services, utilizing an equity-focused approach to address disparities in mental health outcomes, particularly in communities of color. Together, with excellent partners like Walker’s Point Youth and Family Center and City on a Hill, we are creating safer, healthier outcomes for people throughout Milwaukee County.
Reliable and safe transit options are paramount in addressing the health disparities we face. That’s why we allocated an additional $16 million for the Milwaukee County Transit System to help sustain current transportation services, enhance transit security, and prevent further fiscal challenges. I am also encouraged by the successful launch of Milwaukee County’s first Bus Rapid Transit route, CONNECT 1, in fostering better connectivity between neighboring communities and delivering impressive ridership numbers for 2023.
Maintaining and enhancing the quality of our parks continues to be a priority. I am proud our Milwaukee County Parks team completed several important projects this year, from tree plantings to necessary capital improvements. In 2024, we’re looking forward to facilitating more enhancements to our parks and outdoor assets, including $23 million in new investments.
The past year was truly historic, and I am proud of these successes, but this is just the beginning. I know we can continue improving our neighborhoods and the lives of our residents, and I’m excited for the work ahead in moving Milwaukee County forward, together.