Dave Reid

What Would Alderman Donovan Do?

By - Oct 7th, 2009 09:32 am
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The 2010 City of Milwaukee budget faces a series of hurdles.  There is the $50 million pension fund contribution, brought on because of the stock market crash.  There is also the $33 million decline in property tax levy due to declining home values.  Shared revenues from the State of Wisconsin have been flat or declining for years now, and of course there is the steadily increasing cost of providing healthcare.  Needless to say this budget isn’t going to be pretty.

Mayor Tom Barrett‘s proposed budget implements $35 million worth of cuts to continuing operations, which impacts just about every department, and includes a reduction in full time equivalents (FTE) of approximately 380 positions.  The Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) would see a cut of $15 million from the budget and a corresponding reduction of 139 FTEs.  The Milwaukee Fire Department (MFD) would see a reduction of $5 million from the budget and a corresponding reduction of 63 FTEs.  Although these at first may seem as deep cuts to these two critical departments, but after these cuts the their budgets would still be $216 million and $100 million respectively.  In addition to these cuts the budget proposal would include increases to the solid waste fee, snow and ice fee, water fees, and an increase to the property tax to cover this year’s shortfall.

This proposal has Alderman Robert Donovan up in arms, grandstanding, over the proposed budget, and of course it would be ideal if a budget could be brought forward that would have no property tax increase, no fee increases, and no cuts to the MPD and MFD, but is that realistic?  The total in new taxes and fees is approximately $21 million, while the cuts to MPD and MFD come to $20 million.  So, if the criteria is no fee or tax increases, and don’t touch MPD or MFD budgets, then how do could the city cover the $41 million gap?

  • Completely cut the Public Works Infrastructure Services Department ($34 million), and close the  City Attorney’s Office ($7 million).  Conduct no infrastructure projects in Milwaukee, and having no legal staff?
  • Chop the Public Works Operations Division ($70 million) to less than half of its size?  Make the assumption that rarely will the city pick up the garbage, recycle, sweep the streets, or plow the roads?
  • How about shutting down the Department of Neighborhood Services ($14 million), Milwaukee Public Libraries ($20 million), the Department of City Development ($4 million), and the Election Commission ($2 million).  Let our neighborhoods continue to deteriorate, forget about building permits, proposed development projects, and well nobody votes anyhow.

See the problem?  It’s not that other departments didn’t take cuts this year, just about all of them did, but the reality is that all areas had to be scaled back because of the economic downturn.  Could planning for the largest economic collapse in decades have been factored into previous budgets, possibly, but right now I wonder, what would Alderman Donovan do?


34 thoughts on “What Would Alderman Donovan Do?”

  1. JCG says:

    Leave Alderman Donovan aloooonneeee!!!! He’s a smart man, and why can’t you see it? All we have to do is sprinkle fairy dust on a unicorn which will guide us over a rainbow, where at the end is a place called Happy Land which has a pot of gold that will allow us to maintain (or increase) services while maintaining (or decreasing) taxes and fees. While closing the deficit caused by the Mayor’s single-handed takedown of the stock and housing markets. It’s not that hard. Why can’t you see that, Dave?! Must be all your fancy, elitist book learnin’ getting in the way.

  2. RFB says:

    Alderman Donovan is not saying nothing has to be cut. He is saying we need to take a look at they way our money is spent which has been anything but intelligent by the mayor. Pulling out brand new sidewalks on Capitol Ave to replace them with stamped concrete? How about putting in retaining walls in most of the boulevards around the city. I understand in the end these are small items on a huge budget but there is so much of this going on. These are great things to have when we can afford them but guess what, we can’t. Let me put it this way, the reason there is a lower murder rate is because the fire dept has the number 3 rated medical system in the country and the police dept has been out in full force. I don’t know about you but I would rather have more firefighters and police officers than flowers in the Blvds. Let’s cut the extras before we cut the necessities.

  3. Jeff Jordan says:

    I don’t know where Donovan is coming from and but your challenge is fair. If you disagree with the elected head of governments proposed budget what’s your alternative?
    Two concepts in political debate have to be recognized for what they are. Every politician is a tax and spend politician. That’s what they do. In fact that is what they are elected to do. They set the operating budget for the city, county or state and than they determine how to finance the budget. It’s not that they tax and spend; it’s how they spend and what they tax that makes the difference.
    The other concept is a little harder to get your mind around. It’s true that many people take government services for granted and somehow think that they are free and we are forever entitled to them. However, the question is fairly asked, how many Police, fire and inspection positions do we need when the economy is in the shape it’s in? What is the right level of government service we can offer with the revenue available? Granted the ideal answer is going cost than we will end up with after any budget is set. But if we can’t fund the kind of world we want than we have to live in the world we have. The tough choices are made by people with ideas and plans, not with loud mouths who pander to the press and the uniformed.

  4. Dave Reid says:

    @RFB Every department saw cuts (except the election board as they have additional elections next year), and Donovan is still up in arms. I love the boulevard discussion. First dropping that program would probably in the long run lead to more expense (gotta cut it eventually), and it is pennies. Further yes Donovan is complaining about any cuts to MPD (despite their 200+ million budget), and MFD (despite their $100 million budget). But hey RFB look at the budget yourself and find $41 million so there can be no fee and tax increase, and no cuts to MPD and MFD, remembering that every other department (except the election commission) already took a cut.

  5. RFB says:

    Let’s not forget the last couple of years the police dept budget has increased because of need while since 2001 the fire dept has been cut by 1/3. The average property tax in the U.S. Is 1800.00. Mine were double that last year and needless to say my house is not a mansion. I’m just not seeing the results for the amount of taxes I’m paying. Where is all the money going? There’s just been to many poor decisions that have been made. I don’t know what you guys think but when me and my family need them the most, I hope as many firefighters and cops are needed respond. Not a shortage because we want to spend are money elsewhere.

  6. Dave Reid says:

    @RFB Looking at your property taxes is only one component of your taxes/fees as an individual. On a per capita basis Milwaukee’s total tax/fees are actually lower than its peer cities. And Milwaukee has more police officers per capita than comparable cities as well. Again if we don’t want cuts to MPD, MFD, and we don’t want higher taxes and fees, than where does the city find $41 million? That’s the problem (remembering that all other departments, with the exception of elections, did in fact take cuts this year, and that the city is already about 1000 positions less than it was 10 years ago).

  7. Don Krueger says:

    The question is how, why, and who made the $41 million dollar shortfall and look at who is going to pay for it.

  8. Dave Reid says:

    @Don The recession, market collapse, decline in home value, rising healthcare costs, and flat or decline state shared revenues are the biggest reasons. The city itself is down 1000 positions in the last 10 years, yup government in terms of people has gotten smaller.

  9. Don Krueger says:

    Dave, then where is the rest of our money that we all so deserve. Should the people start taxing others because we all have been affected by it but I don’t see my earnings increasing.

  10. Dave Reid says:

    @Don Sorry I’m not sure what you meant in your last comment.

  11. Don Krueger says:

    We all have been through the recession, market collapse, decline in home values, and rising healthcare costs that you mentioned. The point was that most people have not seen an increase in their wages yet people still have to make the ends meet. Don’t they? So, why can’t the city do the same? People have to balance their checkbooks and so should government without burdening the taxpayer by taking more of their money which they don’t have. That’s all.

  12. Dave Reid says:

    @Don So then the question again is where does the city find $41 million more of cuts? See it is easy to say don’t raise my taxes, don’t cut MPD or MFD, just cut other programs. But again the question is which ones?

  13. Don Krueger says:

    No, the city needs to find a way to balance and control what it spends just like you and I do. If I don’t have the money to buy something then I don’t buy it. I don’t go out and beg for more money because I want something I can’t afford. I would find other sources of revenue like selling something or getting another job to support my expensive tastes.

    What do you suggest the city cut? It seems that you would rather keep taking more money from people while their bank accounts are depleted. It seems foolish to do that. Let the people go bankrupt rather than the government.

  14. Dave Reid says:

    @Don “If I don’t have the money to buy something then I don’t buy it.” Ummm yup. Right, the city is cutting staffing (essentially a service that they BUY), yes even in MPD, because they don’t have the money for it.

    PS I’ll add this again, in this budget every department, with the exception of elections, will see cuts.

  15. Don Krueger says:

    I’ll give you that the city is cutting department budgets as they should weed out the pork..but there has to be more to it than that. Stop spending money on projects that the city can do without right now. Taxing just breaks peoples banks when it’s done year after year rather than steadily expecially at a time when people cannot afford to. People end up getting government assisted monies to help them which does not help lower government spending anyway.

  16. Dave Reid says:

    @Don So again which projects?

    How about all road construction (of course that won’t cover the $41 million but those are projects) But of course there is also the problem of what if cutting that project now, costs us all much more down the road in deferred maintenance, as we are seeing with the streets situation? What about cutting another $21 million from MPD to keep the tax and fees flat?

  17. Don Krueger says:

    Dave, your always avoiding the question as to what you would do. So far, I’ve heard you say the what ifs but offer nothing as to what speciically you would do. You are always turning my opinions to meet you liberal needs. I have said cuts are going to happen but they should not be to essential services. Tree trimming is not essential, boulevards are not essential, street sweeping every night is not essential, etc. I don’t see major cuts to the upper levels of management. The major cuts are at the ground level. The people need to stand and say what they would like to see cut and what services they expect. The people own the city not the mayor and his cronies.

    This city, if it’s not careful, will end up like Chicago, Detroit, or Gary. People will flock elsewhere and this town will become a large ghetto.

  18. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Don I won’t speak for Dave, but Chicago is a large ghetto that people are leaving in large numbers?

  19. Don Krueger says:

    No, I said this town will become a large ghetto. Milwaukee’s population will decline just like Chicago, Detroit, and Gary.

  20. Dave Reid says:

    @Don I didn’t answer that question, because I’m not the one “rallying” against the cuts, and all. To me I think if folks (especially politicians) are going to “rally” and such maybe they ought to put out a better solution, not just play politics or grandstand like Alderman Donovan has been doing.

    Finally, I’d note that the people elected the Mayor, we elect representatives to make these calls, if we don’t like it, the process is to win elections.

  21. Don Krueger says:

    I’ve noticed your not rallying against the cuts but that’s the liberal way so I forgive you. Like you said, and I have said here in the past, the elected mayor is the one that has to come up with the plan for the people but we don’t have to agree with it.

    Last point, it’s tough being conservative in a very liberal city just as the liberals must have felt when congress was mostly conservative in the 1990’s. We all feel the pain at some point or another.

    It’s been a great debate on the issue even if we disagree.

  22. Dave Reid says:

    @Don First, I’d like to clear something up. I’m an urbanist, I don’t always agree with “liberal” policies, for example I opposed the MORE ordinance (specifically the prevailing wage part, RPP and EBE ok), I suggested closing the East Side library (not very library suggestion), and I think if you look through some back articles we’ve taken issue with a few local D and R politicians.

    Second, I’m glad you found us, as debate and discussion is good, ideas even better. As far as cuts I don’t have $41 million of them either, but I have and will have articles on areas (such as the East Side library), and potentially a future article on how MPS handles land sales and how it needs to be improved to save money and increase the tax base(i.e. should be handled by DCD, and restrictions removed). Small changes but both ways to save some money and grow the tax base.

  23. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Nuclear Are you suggesting that the city should now undertake any of those projects? Also $15 million of the Tower site is coming via TIF, which is money that couldn’t be used elsewhere.

    The loan to New Land as I understand it would make money for the city.

    Definitely projects worth debating.

  24. Nuclear Art says:

    TIF money is budgeted annually from taxes. Look at the Mayor’s proposed budget and you can find it there. It can be removed with the stroke of a pen.


    Granted the TIF and the loan will eventually make money for the city several years down the road but the upfront costs will mean the city will have to make other cuts to afford that upfront cost. These cuts will include layoffs and less work getting done. Obviously the Council and Mayor have to determine what is in the best interests of the city and the taxpayers.

    These projects can wait until a time when the city can do them without negatively impact other services. They will not go anywhere. Consider that according to DCD, the average payback for a TIF is 15 years.

  25. Dave Reid says:

    @Nuclear Art The Tower funds involve TIF, federal and state brownfield grants and they are not spending all of that money this year. Finally none of that money could be used for MPD or MFD, though some is likely being used to pay some city staff so it is actually a positive for the budget. As far as budgeting for TIF, of course they do, it is my understanding that in most years it is levy neutral or on balance it is. NOTE this year it isn’t (like $2.5 million off), but this is generally a timing issue of when the TIF was creaed and such.

    As far as the potential loans, again I think this would be done with bonding and then the loans are at like 15% so the city could quite possibly make money. But again do the projects or not, it has little impact on the budget situation as you couldn’t do this to pay for staff.

  26. Nuclear Art says:

    Dave,TIF funds get budgeted year after year and are shown in the 2010 budget I linked to. I assumed you knew that – sorry for going over your head if you didn’t. Sure, once the budget is passed they are frozen for that specific purpose and can’t be used elsewhere. But as you may have heard, the 2010 budget approval process is underway and those funds are not allocated as of yet. The budget lists the money that Barrett wants to allocate and is shown in the proposal. The Common Council will change those allocations as it sees fit and that TIF money could possibly disappear in 2010. Anything could happen in these most difficult of times.

    I’m not sure why you keep fixating on the MPD or MFD. The City is more than just two departments. Besides, they are not really hurting as much as other departments even though they always cry the loudest. But that is off-topic and for another post.

    Again with loans, this is money that the City borrows. Everything works fine when the developer makes timely payments on the loan and the development prospers and benefits the area but you may have heard about the many private condo development loans that are faltering. M&I Bank is foreclosing on City Real Estate Development LLC re their Wisconsin Towers development. There is a reason why New Land can’t get a loan from the likes of M&I. It is a crappy risk in this climate. They most likely will not recoup the money from their loan. What makes you think the city will see a return on their loan? When the city loses money on a poor loan where do you think the loss is covered? Taxes maybe? Do you think that has an effect on the budget? Of course it does.

  27. Dave Reid says:

    @Nuclear Art Of course TIF funds are budgeted (I think I said that)… But again it most years they don’t negatively impact the budget, and those funds just can’t be budgeted say for snow and ice removal. Can’t do that. That said the reason I keep bringing up MPD and MFD is, because that was what the article was about. People are “Rallying” over cuts to those departments (and fee/tax increases), but not suggesting a solution, i.e grandstanding. I contend you could not TIF for example the 30th Street Industrial corridor and it wouldn’t hit the budget significantly, though it might result in more layoffs of city staff, within departments related to the project.

    As far as the loans, NLE’s is actually a guarantee not a loan, and I haven’t said I support any of these either for the Moderne or the Bookends as of course there is risk involved. Further, I think if the city has some skin in the game then well the city should get even more design input. But again I don’t believe you could use these funds to pay for just any staff or other city services.


    “I’m not sure why you keep fixating on the MPD or MFD. The City is more than just two departments. Besides, they are not really hurting as much as other departments even though they always cry the loudest. But that is off-topic and for another post.” Actually pretty on topic.

  28. Don Krueger says:

    Look forward to all of your future posts..it’s always nice to hear what others have to say..this is where compromises come to fruition. Maybe!

  29. Nuclear Art says:


    Seems like you don’t want to take my word about TIF funds for fact. Maybe you should rethink what you thought you knew?


  30. Dave Reid says:

    @Nuclear Art No I just don’t think you’ve explained very well what you mean…Maybe give an example.

  31. Nuclear Art says:

    Dave, if you have a question, please frame it.

  32. Dave Reid says:

    @Nuclear Art I don’t know what your “word” on TIF funds is, you haven’t made it clear. I’m just not following your point I guess.

    The last link is in regards to a donation from one TIF to another TIF, happens every year. Generally in any given year there are a few (less than 5 I believe) under performing TIFs, and the city uses an over performing TIF (such as Erie St) to balance this out.

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