Barrett Budget Proposal Cuts 120 Police
And makes other cuts. City's fiscal challenges exacerbated by pandemic.
The Milwaukee Police Department budget is slated to barely change in Mayor Tom Barrett‘s 2021 executive budget proposal, but the number of officers would fall by 120, with the cuts coming through attrition.
“Many people are probably wondering, how can it be that the police budget is almost the same as it was last year, and at the same time 120 police positions will not be filled next year? The answer is we cut salaries by $8.5 million, but police health care and other personnel costs have risen and chewed up those budgetary savings,” said Barrett in delivering his budget address to the Common Council virtually. Fringe benefit costs are expected to increase six percent in 2021.
It’s a familiar position for the city. Costs are rising, but revenues are effectively flat due to state-imposed limits. Barrett used his fourth straight budget address to shine light on the issue. State shared revenue hasn’t increased for 18 years, the city’s property tax levy can only grow by the value of new construction and the city cannot impose a sales or income tax, something most big cities in America use, without state authorization.
MPD has a budget of approximately $300 million, greater than the city’s entire property tax levy and equal to half of its general fund.
“My point is, if it’s not clear already, we’re not blowing smoke about our fiscal situation. We’re not playing games,” said Barrett. “Our ability to raise revenue is significantly constrained by state law.”
As of 2018, the shared revenue issue alone results in the city receiving more than $100 million less annually, adjusted for inflation, compared to what it received in 2003. The state’s budget has grown by 61 percent over the same period, while the city has been shrinking and now has 650 fewer employees.
“2020 has emerged as the year when our budget challenges have reached a dramatic crescendo. We knew the 2021 budget would be problematic even before COVID-19 and the ensuing economic hit. Now the challenge is much more severe and growing,” said Barrett. “Ideologues who blindly demand smaller government might be pleased, but our residents who want neighborhood nuisances remedied and want public works issues addressed may have to wait longer.”
The police department’s sworn strength would fall to 1,682 by the end of 2021, a cut of 206 over four years, which includes cuts in past budgets.
Barrett’s budget would make another move to the police department that would not yield an immediate cost savings, but is anticipated to yield long-term productivity gains and cost savings. The city’s 911 operations, currently split between the police department and Milwaukee Fire Department, would be consolidated and converted to civilian positions. “We have to find ways to civilianize more positions,” said Barrett. Sworn officers are paid more and receive automatic raises.
“I am also aware that the police department budget is going to disappoint some who want far less police spending and fewer police officers and it’s going to disappoint those who want more spending and more police officers,” said Barrett.
One engine company would be cut from the fire department under Barrett’s budget. Other departments would see positions held open he said.
“If a sales tax is enacted, I can and will revisit public safety issues next year,” said Barrett.
A street lighting fee would be created to improve the city’s lighting network. Last year Barrett had proposed to cut the time street lights were on by 10 minutes per day to save $210,000. The council stripped the proposal from the final budget.
Barrett, hitting on a theme from prior State of the City and budget address speeches, said he would move the city’s early childhood education forward. “I want Milwaukee to be a national leader, taking full advantage of philanthropic and government resources, including a state preschool development grant of $10 million and $1.4 million from the 53206 Initiative,” he said.
The city is expected to contribute $71 million to its pension this year, and there is a serious challenge on the horizon. A five-year smoothing formula would boost that annual contribution to $160 million. The mayor’s budget proposal would set aside $8 million in a reserve fund to blunt the impact of the increase, a move that has been used repeatedly in recent years. “We also need to have a real partnership with the state to help address this problem,” said Barrett.
The mayor’s proposed budget includes $6.5 million for housing initiatives, many of which are expansions of existing programs or commitments to funding existing ones. “Funds generated by high-end residential development Downtown will be used to invest in housing opportunities in our neighborhoods,” he said.
Barrett praised the work of the Milwaukee Health Department in his address and singled out the Office of Violence Prevention and its 414 Life initiative. “The 2021 budget includes $250,000 to pilot an initiative for outreach and access to mental health treatment,” he said. He said a new program would be created on the city’s South Side.
A full, detailed copy of the budget proposal was not available at the time of publication. The Common Council will spend the next few weeks analyzing the budget and proposing amendments before voting on a final budget in early November. Barrett will be able to veto specific line items, which could be overruled in a late November council meeting.
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Read more about 2021 Milwaukee Budget here