Graham Kilmer
MKE County

All Quiet on the Budget Front

Board passes 2020 budget with no clashes with Abele and small change in spending.

By - Nov 13th, 2019 11:20 am
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Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by The original uploader was Sulfur at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by The original uploader was Sulfur at English Wikipedia (GFDL) or (CC-BY-SA-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

The Milwaukee County Board adopted their budget for 2020 Tuesday, making some changes to County Executive Chris Abele’s proposal.

The supervisors were able to make some additions to the county executive’s budget while also reducing the tax levy increase for 2020. Next the budget goes back to the county executive’s desk to be signed or for any vetoes.

This year’s budget was notable for the heavy lifting that both the executive and legislative branches did to ensure that transit was not severely cut, as county officials previously predicted. And while Abele submitted a budget that did not include funding for some board priorities, like restoring the Mitchell Park Domes, both the board and the executive’s office noted that the level of cooperation between the two branches was historic. Neither Abele nor Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb, antagonists in past budget cycles, will hold their current positions next year. Abele announced he wouldn’t seek re-election and Lipscomb is running for County Executive.

Many of the major amendments to Abele’s $1.18 billion budget were contained in a super-amendment approved by the finance committee last week which made changes to transit in Milwaukee County that will maintain service for 75 percent of residents affected by the transit cuts in Abele’s proposed budget, funds emergency shelters for women affected by domestic violence, keeps the Grobschmidt Pool open, adds both a 1 percent wage increase for county employees and $300,000 in additional funding for the recruitment and retention of corrections officers.

This super-amendment accomplished all this and lowered the county’s tax levy increase by .3 percent for 2020. The board managed this because of better bonding rates the county received, the use of approximately $2 million in investment earnings, the elimination of an HR position and a reduction in appropriations for litigation and door replacement at the jail.

The board passed a $1.18 billion budget with an increase in the total county property tax levy of $6.7 million, to $301.1 million, just a hair lower than what Abele proposed.

Another major amendment deflated Abele’s proposal to close two dorms for inmates in the House of Correction (HOC) that use the Huber program to leave during the day for work and other commitments. The plan involved allowing these individuals to leave the HOC and live at home while their location is monitored electronically by a GPS bracelet.

The county board instead adopted an amendment that puts the closure of the Huber dorms on hold, for now. And in the meantime, the Community Justice Council, a body of representatives from local criminal justice agencies and governments, will collect data and information from the HOC on their proposed program and from similar programs elsewhere to study the best practices for implementing the policy. The amendment also included $1.5 million in allocated contingency funding in case Abele’s electronic monitoring proposal never comes to life. The closure of the dorms was expected to save the county $1.7 million in 2020.

Weighing heavily on the board’s passage of the amendment was the response from the judiciary in Milwaukee County. Milwaukee County Chief Judge Maxine Aldridge White wrote to the county board objecting to the closure of the dorms and expansion of electronic monitoring. She said the county courts were not notified of the planned change until September, less than a month before Abele’s budget was unveiled. She wrote that she opposed the change until the Community Justice Council’s Evidence-Based Decision Making Committee reviewed and analyzed the relevant information for the policy.

“Good policy should drive our budget decisions, not the other way around, and major policy changes need to involve all stakeholders and be fully developed before we charge ahead,” Lipscomb said in a statement.

Abele included in his budget proposal $100,000 for a bus service that brings Milwaukee County workers to jobs at the Amazon Fulfillment Center. The board adopted an amendment introduced by Sup. Sheldon Wasserman that slams the brakes on those funds and instead “Study and really look at and deal with and come before the full board in March of 2020 meeting cycle to discuss it more fully,” Wasserman said.

Building on his budget amendments in previous years that opened the door to Battery Electric Buses, Lipscomb added an amendment that makes it the policy of the county to eventually replace their entire fleet with Battery Electric or Diesel Hybrid Buses. This was among the amendments in the board’s adopted budget.

The board also included in their budget an extension of the county’s free birth certificate program. The budget amendment funds the distribution of 1,000 birth certificates in order to help young Milwaukee County residents between the ages of 15 and 21 get a photo ID, register to vote and apply for jobs.This action by the board capped the month-long budget process.

Supervisor James “Luigi” Schmitt thanked his colleagues and all the staff for working on the budget. “Each year we are forced to do more with less, and this year was no different,” Schmitt said in a statement. “We had to make tough choices again this year but we should all be proud that we produced a balanced budget while maintaining services.”

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Categories: MKE County, Politics

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