Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Barrett Issues 8 Budget Vetoes

Vetoes attack borrowing, garbage truck replacement, blight elimination.

By - Nov 19th, 2019 05:40 pm
Mayor Tom Barrett. Photo by Michael Horne.

Mayor Tom Barrett. Photo taken in 2016 by Michael Horne.

Mayor Tom Barrett used his broad veto power to strike eight of the 59 amendments the Common Council made to the city’s $1.6 billion 2020 budget. This includes a portion of the council’s large omnibus amendment that passed on a 12-3 vote. The council needs 10 votes to override any veto.

His vetoes struck at three issues, the biggest of which was expanding the city’s debt load. “I am concerned with the additional borrowing added to the budget and have vetoed amendments that add to our debt,” said Barrett in his 14-page veto message. “Every added dollar we borrow now will tie up crucial future dollars and make future budgets more difficult.” Five of his eight vetoes attacked this issue, cutting $1.7 million in new borrowing. Barrett’s 2020 budget proposal would have reduced the city’s general obligation borrowing by $2.3 million over 2019 levels to $82.4 million.

Barrett’s debt vetoes strike, at least temporarily, proposals to borrow to fund alley repair ($600,000), expanding the COP House/Community Resource Hub program ($200,000), a rapid response cleanup team ($60,000) and garbage cans ($128,000). The items were included in the omnibus amendment, which passed with only council members Robert Donovan, Mark Borkowski and Scott Spiker in opposition.

Barrett told Urban Milwaukee in an interview that it wasn’t a matter of not wanting those programs, but a matter of simply not having the money.

Instead of using debt to fund the Birthing Moms Pilot program ($240,000), Barrett found other funding by vetoing a proposal that would have undone a planned 10 minute early morning reduction in street light operation hours (a savings of $210,000) and using funding from a deleted Milwaukee Police Department computer replacement and will use those funds as well as savings from altering a newly-created Healthy Foods Access Coordinator position ($7,800 salary reduction) and debt service savings ($22,200) to fund the pilot. “I was pleased to see funding for the Birthing Moms Pilot program which my administrator supports,” wrote Barrett. The program would provide a take-home lead-safe kit for mothers of newborns.

The Mayor told Urban Milwaukee he only learned of the proposed pilot program after it was introduced during the budget process and thought it was worthy of funding.

Barrett also vetoed items that would have taken funding earmarked for his 10,000 affordable homes campaign and used it for blight elimination in the form of deconstruction and demolition and shifted funding from buying one new garbage truck ($320,000) in favor of buying 6,215 more replacement residential garbage carts.

The blight elimination proposal, sponsored by Alderman Robert Bauman, involved two amendments to reallocate $400,000 in funds. “Why are we removing money from the 10,000 Homes initiative when it sounds like a good initiative? The problem is that they haven’t spent anything,” said Bauman shortly before the council unanimously passed the amendments. Barrett, in his veto message, said the council should continue to support the 10,000 Homes initiative announced in the Mayor’s 2018 State of the City address.

The garbage truck amendment would have reduced the number of new “packers” the city would buy in 2020 from five to four in favor of buying garbage carts. Alderman Michael Murphy argued on the council floor it was an issue of fairness in being able to replace rodent-damaged garbage carts. The city is scheduled to buy 14,562 carts in 2020 ($749,794) without the amendment. “Replacing garbage carts is important, but I believe our priority this year should be the packers,” wrote Barrett in his message. He noted that if five packers are replaced every year by 2032 the replacement cycle will be “optimal” and maintenance costs will decrease. The packers are used to plow snow as well as pick up garbage and the aging fleet was one of the reasons Department of Public Works officials gave for lackluster slow plowing performance in early 2019. The council passed its original amendment on a 9-5-1 vote with council members Nik Kovac, Nikiya Dodd, Chantia Lewis, Borkowski and Spiker in opposition. Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs abstained from voting without explanation.

The council is next scheduled to meet on November 26th. The council overrode almost all of Barrett’s 2019 budget vetoes.

The move comes as the council braces for increasingly difficult budgets. The city’s annual pension contribution is expected to more than double in four years, consuming an additional $90 million annually. In 2020, the city will contribute approximately $70 million to maintain the pension as fully funded as the city charter requires. Barrett praised the council for maintaining his allocation for $8 million to the pension reserve fund.

Barrett’s vetoes did not impact the city’s proposed tax rate for 2020. An owner of the average Milwaukee home ($117,000 appraised value) will see their property tax bill increase $37 due to growing home values.

Read Barrett’s veto letter.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this article said Barrett vetoed the entire omnibus amendment. His actions only vetoed the borrowing and associated new projects including in the amendment.

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Categories: City Hall, Politics

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