Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Revised Budget Saves More Transit

Board scrapes the barrel for funds to save bus routes, prevent various service cuts.

By - Nov 1st, 2019 02:01 pm
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Milwaukee County Transit System bus. Photo by Dave Reid.

Milwaukee County Transit System bus. Photo by Dave Reid.

The Milwaukee County Board is moving to save the majority of buses service proposed for cuts and stop a pool closure in 2020.

The Committee on Finance and Audit unanimously passed a super-amendment Thursday that included a number of items for the 2020 budget. A key element of the super-amendment maintains bus service for 75 percent of the riders that would have been affected by the service reductions.

Earlier this year the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) announced it was facing an unprecedented multi-million budget deficit. By August estimates were showing the transit system would finish the year approximately $8 million under budget. As a result, the system announced they would be shuttering 16 bus services. Then, in September, County Executive Chris Abele redirected $4 million in funding realized through healthcare savings to the transit system and saved 12 routes.

The bus services addressed by the new amendment are:

  • Route 276, Brown Deer Shuttle: MCTS adjusted Route 12 to “remove a one-way loop on N. 43rd St. and cover that loop with an extension of Route 35 to ensure that Route 12 can be extended northward to connect N. 60th St. to N. Teutonia Ave. in the Village of Brown Deer. The route will serve a highly used existing medical facility just east of the intersection at W. Good Hope Rd. and N. Teutonia Ave,” the amendment reads.
  • Route 42U 6th Street – Port Washington UBUS: This route was saved to maintain service to the MATC campus in Port Washington. Milwaukee County is partnering with the Ozaukee County Transit services, so riders can take this line to the park and ride at the Ozaukee county border where they can take a shared ride taxi to the MATC campus. This latter service is provided by Ozaukee County.
  • Service to Brewers Games, State Fair Grounds and Summer Festivals: These services were restored. And the budget narrative was changed to direct MCTS and the Milwaukee County Department of Transportation to establish a funding partnership for future years.
  • Route 17 Canal Street: Milwaukee County is not funding this service. Rather the budget narrative is changed to reflect that Potawatomi Casino is working with a Transportation Network Company on a ‘last-mile solution’ that gets workers from the nearest stop to their job.

Dan Boehm, MCTS managing director, said “There were quite a few passengers that would have been impacted by these route changes.” But, if Potawatomi works on their last mile solution, he said, 90 percent of riders afected by the cuts will have their route restored or have a transit alternative.

Super-Amendment Reflects Board Compromise

The amendment passed by committee Thursday, sponsored by board Chairman Theo Lipscomb and Sup. James “Luigi” Schmitt, was an attempt to pull together a number of supervisors and board priorities to ensure the budget gets the two-thirds vote it needs to pass.

Along with saving additional transit service, the amendment will also keep Grobschmidt pool in South Milwaukee open. In the County Executive’s proposed budget, this was one of two pools, along with Holler Park pool, that would not open in 2020. Grobschmidt closed in August for repairs after a water main break, which are already underway.

There is also $100,000 for the Department of Health and Human Services to fund emergency shelters for women made homeless by domestic violence. Sup. Sequanna Taylor was behind the proposal. “Safe housing is a pathway to freedom and recovery from domestic violence,” she said in a statement. “The availability of temporary housing for people exiting abusive environments, especially for single women and their children, is a vital factor in determining whether and when a person can leave.”

Supervisors managed to include a 1 percent wage increase for county employees, an aid increase for costs associated with Sheriff’s Department’s highway patrols, nearly half a million for repair of the roof at Trimborn Farms and $300,000 for the recruitment and retention of corrections officers.

The amendment also manages to reduce the property levy increase from 2.5 to 2.28 percent by accounting for lower interest rates the county received on recent bond issuances.

Because the county was already at its statutory limit for both bonding and tax levy, funding for items in the super-amendment were scraped together from a number of sources. A major portion was $2 million that came in the form of investment earnings. There was also the elimination of an HR position, a reduced appropriation for the litigation reserve and a reduction in appropriation for door replacement in the Milwaukee County Jail.

Sup. John Weishan, Jr. attacked the super-amendment and accused the chairman and Sup. Schmidt of concealing financial information from the board so that they could put together this super amendment how they see fit.

Weishan was rebuked by nearly every member of the finance committee, with many pointing out that the budget and the amendment are a collaborative process. And that compromises were made in every supervisory district to ensure passage of the budget. “The alternate to this, where we’ve put compromises together ahead of the budget” would have been “a 2 a.m.” super-amendment “that pulls it together because you have 20 conflicting substitute amendments and no one can get their thing,” Chairman Lipscomb said.

Weishan took umbrage with the fact that not every bus service was saved by the county board. He introduced an amendment to do just that. It would have increased the tax levy by approximately $534,000. Weishan’s amendment was rejected by the committee. Weishan was joined in voicing his displeasure with transit cuts still contained in the amendment by James Macon president of the Amalgamated Transit Union 998 (ATU).

“The reality is that you cannot do all of the restorations and still accomplish much else in this budget,” Chairman Lipscomb said. “So that’s the first choice: are you doing one thing or twelve things?”

The committee went with the latter approach.

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