Barrett Offers Upbeat State of City Speech
Mayor touts employers coming to city, The Hop's launch and a friendly governor.
“Good things are happening in our city. We have to seize the momentum and keep moving Milwaukee forward.”
Mayor Tom Barrett shared an optimistic message about the city’s future Monday morning in his annual State of the City speech, while acknowledging its many challenges.
Speaking from center court at Fiserv Forum, the mayor was quick to recognize the nearly unprecedented number (five) of city employees killed in the past year. Three police officers (Charles Irvine, Jr., Michael Michalski, and Matthew Rittner), one crossing guard (Andrew Tyler) and a Public Works employee (Brya n Rodriguez) were all slain while on the job.
Barrett, a Democrat who has run for governor three times, wasted no time in praising new Governor Tony Evers. “We’ve endured hostility from politicians in Madison who showed little more than contempt for our city and our residents. But, oh, how times have changed. In 2019 Milwaukee has a believer in the Governor’s office,” said the mayor. Barrett also praised his one-time aide, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, who was in attendance.
Returning to a theme from his last two speeches, Barrett repeated the need for the state government to give Milwaukee revenue tools beyond the property tax levy and long declining, state shared revenue payments. “I have often shared my concern that the entire city levy is not enough to cover the police department budget. And now, it’s not even enough to cover 94 percent of our police budget,” said Barrett.
The mayor also touched on his big program announcement from last year, building or maintaining 10,000 affordable homes in 10 years. In interviews last week, multiple members of the council took issue with the lack of action on the administration’s side to advance the initiative, but initial numbers shared by the mayor show the city at or ahead of its projected goal. “In 2018, Milwaukee added more than 500 new homes, improved another 500, and assisted nearly 200 people on their path to homeownership,” said Barrett without adding much further detail.
Barrett touted city efforts to return properties acquired through tax foreclosures to private ownership. which have resulted in 2,200 properties being sold by the city and almost $100 million in assessed value returned to the city’s property tax base.
Juli Kaufmann and JoAnne Sabir were singled out for their work to open the Sherman Phoenix marketplace. Dan Katt of Good City Brewing drew praise from Barrett for acquiring the Century City warehouse and investing in the area. “This is an area where jobs are needed most,” said the mayor. Barrett snuck in a quick mention that the very basketball court he was standing on was assembled in the building Good City acquired.
He used that as a segue to push for more employers to come to the city. “In a time of record employment, we still have unacceptable levels of joblessness in too many areas of the city,” said Barrett. “The solution to finding workers is not forcing them to ride multiple bus routes for an hour or more. That’s an unnecessary hardship. I am calling on business and government leaders to work with me to bring 3,000 jobs to city residents and neighborhoods over the next three years.”
“Companies, of course, can move wherever they want, but they shouldn’t be enticed to move from the central city with tax subsidies,” said Barrett. The city recently found out Leonardo DRS, formerly Eaton, would move its 449 employees from the Century City neighborhood to Menomonee Falls as part of a regional consolidation supported by state and local tax incentives.
Barrett didn’t back away from his commitment to The Hop. He touted increased property values along the route and strong streetcar ridership numbers in November and December. He also reiterated that the city will open an extension to the lakefront in 2020 and is performing engineering work on an extension to Bronzeville via the convention center and Fiserv Forum. One thing he didn’t mention? Recent ridership numbers. The city has yet to release ridership numbers for the brutal months of January and February, which were far colder and snowier than the proceeding months.
Guests likely noticed a lot of new faces in the crowd, and Barrett singled out each of his new appointees. Starting with Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik, Barrett also thanked City Engineer Samir Amin, Water Works Superintendent Karen Dettmer, Port Milwaukee director Adam Schlicht, Public Works Commissioner Jeff Polenske, Intergovernmental Relations head Kimberly Montgomery and Milwaukee Police Department Chief Alfonso Morales.
Kowalik’s Health Department drew special attention again this year, after last year’s surprise ousting of Bevan Baker. “I am also proud to report today the US Department of Housing and Urban Development has given us the green light to resume our lead abatement effort. Thank you Milwaukee Health Department employees for this important achievement,” said the mayor. HUD had halted federally funded lead abatement work in late 2017 following the discovery of substantial problems with city processes and records management.
Morales and the police department also drew praise. “Last year, car jackings were down 7 percent, more guns were recovered, fewer Shot Spotter alerts were detected and both fatal and non-fatal shootings were down markedly. We’re headed in the right direction as more officers are in the neighborhoods patrolling the streets and making Milwaukee safer,” said Barrett. He also praised the work of Reggie Moore in the Office of Violence Prevention and its Blueprint for Peace. To date 40 organizations working towards trauma reduction have received funds, said the mayor. He singled out My Sista’s Keep Her led by Tina Nixon and Shelly Conley for its work helping girls heal and grow from pain.
Barrett also used the speech to announce the beginning of the federal census. The process, which takes place every 10 years and helps guide federal funding allocations, will again be led by Department of Administration head Sharon Robinson.
The mayor closed his speech mentioning the one piece of big news that has yet to break, the location for the Democratic National Convention, which is said to be down to a competition between Milwaukee and Houston. “When I first came up with this idea back in 2013, the Fiserv Forum didn’t exist and Milwaukee had a lot fewer hotel rooms. Fast forward six years, and we are ready to roar! But I don’t have any news, only optimism. I sure hope we hear good news soon,” said Barrett.
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