Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Almost Half of Budget Amendments Are Policy Footnotes

Footnotes call for a racial equity audit, benches in vacant lots, lead-safe property database and much more.

By - Oct 29th, 2020 03:22 pm
Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The City of Milwaukee’s annual budget is unquestionably a financial document. Many citizen participants in the budget listening session process call it a moral document. Almost half of the amendments to the proposed 2021 budget will also ensure it is a policy document.

Sixteen of the 45 amendments submitted to the Finance & Personnel Committee in advance of the committee’s two-day review were policy footnotes with no explicit fiscal impact. By the time the council adopts a final budget on November 6th, the footnotes are likely to represent half or more of the total approved amendments.

The footnotes, which don’t carry the force of law that a city ordinance would, include requests for everything from program reporting requests to the creation of entirely new programs.

The Finance & Personnel Committee adopted the following policies unanimously unless reported otherwise.

1. Develop an Interagency Housing Plan

Part of a broader omnibus amendment, the footnote would request Department of City Development (DCD) Commissioner Lafayette Crump work with the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (HACM), the Community Development Grants Administration and other local stakeholders to develop an interagency housing plan. According to bullet points included with the amendment, the plan is intended to unify and improve the effectiveness of the many different housing programs the city runs including the Strong Home Loans Program, MERI 2.0 initiative, Rent-to-Own Program and Housing Infrastructure Preservation Fund.

A standalone version of the footnote, introduced by Council President Cavalier Johnson, was withdrawn after the omnibus amendment was adopted.

2. COVID-19 Recovery Plan

Introduced by Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs, the proposal would require the Department of Administration (DOA) to develop a plan between all city departments that addresses the housing, economic and health recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I strongly support this amendment,” said DOA director Sharon Robinson at the committee’s Thursday budget meeting. “This plan clearly could be the blueprint for other future emergencies that could arrive.

3. Racial Equity Audit

The footnote would require the newly-formed Office of Equity and Inclusion, led by Nikki Purvis, to work with the council’s inspector general to conduct a racial equity audit of all city departments. Purvis has previously said the department intends to do this.

The amendment is sponsored by Ald. Coggs.

4. Milwaukee Promise Initiative Quarterly Reports

Sponsored by Alderman Ashanti Hamilton, the proposal would require city budget director Dennis Yaccarino to deliver quarterly reports on the status of the Milwaukee Promise initiative. Modeled after a federal program, the initiative is intended to focus on improving economic activity, creating jobs, increasing educational opportunities and enhancing neighborhood health in four targeted zones. Yaccarino said he supports the footnote, but would seek to have a logical reporting framework created after the budget process.

5. Quarterly Risk Management Reports

A companion to an amendment that would reallocate a risk manager position from the Fire & Police Commission to the City Attorney’s office, the proposal is intended to better evaluate risks for police misconduct lawsuits. The City Attorney’s office would deliver a quarterly report on the development and implementation of risk management strategies.

The latest suit, involving the killing of Sylville Smith, will cost the city approximately $480,000 per year for 10 years. The city has paid out over $20 million in recent years.

Outgoing FPC Executive Director Griselda Aldrete said she was supportive of the reallocation if the council wants it, but that the job needs to have better-defined functions.

The footnote was introduced by Ald. Coggs.

6. Survey Purchasers of City Properties

The footnote requests DCD survey any purchasers of city-owned properties for their feedback with the experience. “Almost like a customer survey kind of thing,” said sponsor Ald. Coggs. “I think it would be a benefit to DCD.” She said it would also benefit policymakers. In 2019 the city sold 258 properties it acquired via property tax foreclosure.

Crump said DCD had already started work developing a survey.

7. Healing Space Initiative

The footnote calls for DCD to develop a Healing Space Initiative using some of the approximately 3,000 city-owned vacant lots. Introduced by Ald. Coggs, she said the proposal, suggested to her, would have the city install Little Free Libraries and benches in the vacant lots. She said outdoor space would play an important role both during the pandemic and after.

8. Permanent Remote Work

A by-product of the pandemic, the Department of Employee Relations (DER) and DOA are instructed to create a report on the potential for some city employees to work from home permanently. The footnote is sponsored by Ald. Coggs.

9. Trauma-Informed Care Training for Police and Fire Employees

The proposal from Ald. Coggs would task the Health Commissioner in collaboration with the Milwaukee Police Department, Milwaukee Fire Department and FPC to make trauma-informed care training mandatory for all fire and police employees. The commissioner would also be staked with providing the FPC assistance in developing standard operating procedures for public safety personnel to provide referrals to members of the public for additional care. Coggs singled out children who witness violent crimes as those that could benefit from trauma-informed care.

Coggs said that with new chiefs coming for both police and fire it was a good time to improve the training and surrounding policies. “It’s one thing to be trained on it, it’s another to actually use it,” she said. “It’s a long game trying to think about prevention and mental health and wellness.”

The Health Commissioner would be required to report on the effort within six months.

Office of Violence Prevention director Reggie Moore said the department had the capacity to carry out the work.

10. Lead-Safe Property Registry

The footnote would require the Health Commissioner to collaborate with DOA on developing a voluntary Lead-Safe Registry for city property owners.

Ald. Coggs, the sponsor, said making it a requirement is believed to run up against legal challenges. “In the meantime there is nothing to stop us from having a voluntary registry,” she said. “I think about the carrot and the stick.”

“What it can become is a go-to list, for parents of children of six and younger, if they don’t want their children exposed to lead,” said Coggs. Alderwoman Chantia Lewis was added a co-sponsor.

11. Street Light Reporting Campaign

Sponsored by Ald. Coggs, the footnote requests the Department of Public Works work with the City Clerk‘s office on an outreach campaign to educate city residents on the value of reporting street light outages.

Mayor Tom Barrett‘s budget proposal includes a new street lighting fee designed to expedite repairs and upgrades to the aging system.

Those not wishing to wait for the campaign can call 414-286-CITY (2489) if they encounter a street light outage. The MKE Mobile Action smartphone application can also be used.

12. Special Pick-Up Service for Illegal Dumping

The footnote, introduced by Ald. Russell W. Stamper, II, calls on DPW and the Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS) to create a special pick-up service for resident reports of illegal dumping. But Stamper pulled the plug on the footnote. “I already got something similar to that,” he said in requesting it be withdrawn.

13. Market City Homeownership Initiatives

A footnote from Ald. Coggs requests that DCD, alongside its new homeownership initiatives account, create market and outreach plans for down payment assistance, co-op, land trust and housing initiatives. The down-payment assistance is to be targeted at renters and properties in neighborhoods that are seeing rising property values.

14. Preservation Strategies for Affordable Housing

In 2018 DCD created an anti-displacement plan for neighborhoods surrounding Downtown. The footnote, from Ald. Coggs, calls on DCD to develop recommended strategies from the plan that would preserve existing affordable housing. Other aspects of the plan, including a property tax support fund, have already been implemented.

15. Demolish Homes Where Blight Is Most Concentrated

The final footnote would request that DNS spend at least $250,000 of its $2.2 million in blight elimination capital funds in areas with high densities of vacant properties. “Some people have one or two properties that need to come down, some people have blocks,” said sponsor Ald. Coggs.

Ald. Michael Murphy suggested exploring if deconstruction funds would be available if the program again fails to get off the ground. “I am sure everyone would like to see deconstruction working, but it hasn’t so far,” said Murphy.

Additional footnote amendments could be introduced on the council floor on November 6th.

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Categories: City Hall, Politics

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