Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Barrett Introduces Difficult 2018 Budget

Budget would raise taxes, cut public safety to grapple with state shared revenue reduction.

By - Sep 26th, 2017 10:23 am
Mayor Tom Barrett. Photo by Jack Fennimore.

Mayor Tom Barrett. Photo by Jack Fennimore.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett formally introduced his 2018 budget proposal for the city of Milwaukee Tuesday morning. Speaking before the Common Council, the mayor noted the budget “is not the budget I was hoping introduce.” The Mayor noted “for 13 years we have cut, squeezed and reconfigured operations to maintain our shared priorities.”

The mayor, after stating that this was the most difficult budget his office has had to prepare, reiterated his recent campaign around “the Milwaukee dividend.” He noted that while state revenue has seen a 59 percent increase in the past 14 years in a row, the city continues to receive less back from the state than it contributes. The gap, which has grown tremendously in recent years, now leaves the city short tens of millions of dollars a year in revenue it previously received as part of the state shared revenue formula. The state shared revenue formula is used to return income and sales taxes collected by the state to the municipalities in which they’re generated.

The budget, which reduces the number of police officers by 33 and fire fighters by 75, would not result in any layoffs. Illustrating the stark challenges the city faces in funding its public safety needs, the mayor’s budget anticipates raising $273.5 million from the property tax levy, while spending $293.4 million directly on the Milwaukee Police Department. The Milwaukee Police Department currently has a sworn strength of 1,888.

A big portion of the budget gap is caused by the need to increase the annual pension contribution. The city is required to keep the pension fully funded, and due to an actuarial change, will need to contribute an additional $22 million this year. In his address Barrett noted that 90 percent of those increased funds will go towards contributions for public safety employees, who are exempt from Act 10. So while the budget cuts the number of police and fire fighters, the amount the city is spending on the two departments will actually increase. The total pension contribution is $83 million.

The average residential property owner will see an increase of $48 or 3.1 percent under the proposed budget. In his budget address, the mayor noted that he anticipates Milwaukee Public Schools partially offsetting that with a tax rate reduction.

The mayor noted that he is proposing a referendum on enacting a half-percent public safety sales tax which could raise $35 million annually. The funds generated from that tax would offset the rising costs of public safety and allow the city to avoid reducing the number of sworn officers. The sales tax even getting to referendum is a long shot, with the state government needing to enact any new sales taxes.

Acknowledging that the budget will draw opposition, Barrett stated “Inevitably, critics will say ‘make cuts in other places.’ I want you to know, during my time as Mayor, we’ve reduced the number of workers in the general city workforce by nearly 300 positions. We’ve saved tens of millions of dollars in health care costs and dramatically reduced worker injuries and responsibly managed our borrowing costs.” For those wondering about streetcar operations, the 2018 budget does not include substantial funding for operating the streetcar.

Barrett’s proposal doesn’t balance the budget on borrowing. His proposal includes a $12.7 million reduction in annual borrowing, down to $76 million annually.

The council will now begin the process of analyzing and modifying the budget. In the coming months the council will adopt a final budget and send it to Barrett for his signature. The mayor retains the power to veto certain provisions of the budget, but don’t expect anything like the 99 vetoes recently issued by Governor Scott Walker.

For more information on the mayor’s proposed budget, including his plans for lead lateral replacement and a violence interruption program known as “Ceasefire,” see his full remarks.

New City Budget Director

Of note for budget deliberations, shortly after Barrett introduced the budget the Common Council approved a new city budget director. Barrett nominated Dennis Yaccarino to replace the recently retired and widely respected Mark Nicolini.

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13 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Barrett Introduces Difficult 2018 Budget”

  1. WashCoRepub says:

    I would suggest taking a look at the City’s list of positions and salaries in Milwaukee city government (Google). After that, if you can say the first thing you would cut would be public safety positions… well, then you and the Mayor would get along splendidly.

  2. Mike says:

    We need to focus more energy on increasing property values. My entire walkers point neighborhood could use narrower streets, which would make walking safer (most dangerous district in the city for ped/bike), lower DPW costs and make front lawns bigger. Many neighborhoods have the same problem of overly wide neighborhood streets, which is squandering resources while reducing our property values. Also drives up sewer costs.

  3. Simon Crelle says:

    How many City Attornyies are there? If I read the City Org Chart properly there are 50. How much are they paid? What do they actually do, and how often does the City use outside Counsel? Has that Office ever been scrutinized or assessed relative to similarly sized cities?

    Not one position cut there but law enforencement is supposed to take another hit?

  4. MKE kid says:

    I made a similar post on Barrett’s article, but I feel this needs repeating: Why do the Common Council members receive above $70K in pay (not including generous bennies,) while public safety employees receive base top pay in the mid $60K range? Public safety employees face far more danger and their jobs are far more strenuous than someone who spends the week having meetings.
    WashCoRepub also makes a good point. I wonder how many administrative positions in Milwaukee government (including police and fire) are really necessary while police and fire boots on the ground are running nonstop all day and night to mop up the constant messes in the streets?

  5. kLM747 says:

    The city is top heavy with managers and upper management in all departments making salaries that cannot be justified. On the other end there are not enough actual city workers to perform daily work assignments. And let us not forget all the city cops and firefighters granted duty disability with a rubber stamp. As far as the police department is concerned let us take a look at all the cops making $70,000.00 on desk duty on a permanent basis. Perhaps the department should review and evaluate those officers on desk duty to see if they can return to full duty thus eliminating the shortage of officers that need to be on the street.

  6. Jason Troll says:

    It is not realistic for the powers(city actuaries) that be to assume 7-8 % each year in growth for city pensions. Current and retired city employees should never assume such lofty financial numbers. When the market collapses and it will because every boom meets its bust. Tax payers will be on the hook.

  7. Jeremy says:

    The more important question is …. What is the plan moving forward? The pension mess for the City, County and MPS will only get worse. What strategy does the mayor have moving forward? Just the sales tax? That’s not a good strategy. How about a complete overhaul of the fire department. Liquidation of the million dollar trucks into many smaller vehicles that are more cost efficient for paramedic runs, which are generally the majority of calls. A $10 million dollar expense reduction by closing 6 fire stations with a nominal decrease in service level makes me think that these are the moves that outline the Mayor’s strategy in future budgets. How many more times can he do it before it impacts safety?

  8. GreenDoor says:

    Whether it’s salaries, the pension, or some other cause of this mess….we can all breathe a deep sigh of relief knowing that the downtown choo-choo car will still be running.

  9. blurondo says:

    The bottom line is “while state revenue has seen a 59 percent increase in the past 14 years in a row, the city continues to receive less back from the state than it contributes.” The tea party cartel that controls the state government has focused on undermining and economically punishing Milwaukee since it gained power and power is what this is really all about.

  10. MKE kid says:

    kLM747: I suggest you revisit the JSO article of Sept. 9 about a MPD officer who is facing fraud charges because she altered medical statements from her doctor. She had been on duty disability retirement for a few years because of “stress related issues,” but was called back to duty because of reforms within the department. The “rubber stamping” of duty disability has been a thing of the past for several years. There are officers who truly cannot be safely returned to full duty because of injuries incurred on the job. I personally know of a couple. Many are very frustrated because they are unable to return to full duty. Some of the injuries have left permanent disabilities that will impact the officer’s life forever.

    Jeremy: I agree about the potential serious safety issues regarding shutting down MFD stations, especially in densely populated areas. It doesn’t help MFD when they have to “stage” a block away from a call because of potential danger, such as a shooting, and have to wait for MPD, which is often consistantly several calls behind, to secure the area so MFD can go in and do their job. It gets pretty hellish at times, especially at night.
    As far as just sending smaller vehicles out to do med runs, I do not know MFD’s protocol on that issue. I’ve always wondered why fire apparatus are also sent out on med runs.

    Again, I do agree with those that bring to focus the many high pay administrative positions within city (and county) government. Over the decades, the actual boots on the ground workers’ positions have been cut while the number of administrative positions has increased. I have personal experience of this while working in a county position. To use a politically incorrect saying, “Too many chiefs and not enough braves.”

  11. Jon says:

    The latest complete city of Milwaukee salaries I could find online through Google were for 2015:!/totalgross.desc.1/

    The police department accounts for 90 of the top 150. The various fire bureaus account for another 9. That’s nearly two-thirds of your top 150 salaries amongst two groups.

    People can complain about the other departments all they want but it is clear police and fire are the city’s largest expenditures. I complain about Gov Walker but Act 10 saved money and did not ruin the world. It is time to apply it to police and fire employees.

  12. Vincent Hanna says:

    “The police department accounts for 90 of the top 150. The various fire bureaus account for another 9. That’s nearly two-thirds of your top 150 salaries amongst two groups.”

    WashCoRepub, got anything to say?

  13. Sam says:

    Why don’t all the police officers and firefighters petition state legislators to adjust the formula for state shared revenue? The griping is directed in the wrong place.

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