Committee Approves Over 20 Amendments To Milwaukee Budget
Amendments target violence prevention, housing, lead abatement and more.
A Common Council committee spent over five hours Thursday vetting 46 amendments to the city’s $1.6 billion 2021 budget.
The committee’s actions, a precursor to full council review Friday, November 6th, maintained many of Mayor Tom Barrett‘s highest-profile proposals – a 120 officer sworn strength reduction at the Milwaukee Police Department, a new street lighting fee and a $10 increase to the vehicle registration fee – while creating and funding new programs related to violence prevention, lead abatement, and affordable housing.
But that didn’t mean the police budget wasn’t altered. Committee-approved amendments cut funding squad car replacement, computer upgrades and crossing guards, while targeting funding at new violence prevention programs and traffic safety.
Approximately half of the approved amendments are non-fiscal policy footnotes and were covered in our Thursday roundup.
Omnibus, Healthy Food, Mental Health and Lead Paint
Council President Cavalier Johnson and Finance & Personnel Committee chair Michael Murphy led the creation of an omnibus amendment which attempts to address the concerns of many council members and has attracted seven co-sponsors. The amendment would provide $500,000 for Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic‘s SafeHomes lead abatement initiative aimed at subsidizing private, voluntary abatement projects, $50,000 in funding for the Community Collaborative Commission to pursue justice initiatives, set aside $200,000 for a second round of Fresh Food Access Fund grants, add unfunded lead abatement positions to the Milwaukee Health Department and Department of Neighborhood Services to be supported by carryover funds, adding $60,000 in funding for the Milwaukee Arts Board and allocate $300,000 to MPD to be passed through to Milwaukee County to support the mental-health-focused Crisis Assessment and Response Team (CART) program.
The omnibus amendment would be funded by cutting $300,000 from MPD’s crossing guards program, expected to be unused because of a reduction in in-person schooling, and cutting all funding set aside for the Strong Home Loans Program ($100,000) and the Mayor’s 10,000 Homes Initiative ($400,000). Additional proceeds would come from lifting a licensing fee moratorium instituted during the pandemic.
The amendment didn’t include the $3.6 million the Coalition on Lead Emergency had requested to allow the Milwaukee Health Department to do lead abatement work in the homes of all children who test positive for blood-lead levels of five to 20 parts per billion (the city already performs remediation in cases above 20 ppb). But the budget office believes the money is already there to perform the work in 2021.
“Because of the coronavirus there was little done inside the house last year,” said budget director Dennis Yaccarino. “We feel that there should be more than enough in all the accounts to fund the remediation work that is necessary.” He estimated up to $9 million would be available. The department projected to contract out for 154 abatements in 2020 with a cost of $20,000 to $25,000, but has only done 62 through October 1st an average cost of $27,000. Lowering the remediation threshold to 5 ppb would add approximately 1,860 cases annually.
MHD is expecting a surge in children needing support as parents begin having their children tested again. “We don’t know when it’s going to come, but we are expecting a surge in cases,” said deputy commissioner Claire Evers. Another problem looms, a need to hire and train people for numerous unfilled positions. Training new employees takes six months under a state program she said.
Dimitrijevic’s portion of the amendment would provide an additional $500,000 specifically for private property owners seeking to remediate their homes. The details remain to be worked out, but the amendment would set aside the funding. Evers said no contractor capacity issues have been reported, but that’s for the paint portion. Lead-based water service lines are replaced by the Milwaukee Water Works.
“Ramping up this program is not a simple,” said Murphy, summarizing a half-hour of discussion.
Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs asked that funding for the CART program not be sent through MPD, but instead routed through another department. The funding would support the growing mental health response program to which MPD already assigns officers in a support role. Yaccarino said that’s functionally possible with a future amendment.
The alderwoman was the lone no vote against the amendment, but noted it would likely pass the full council without her. It is sponsored by Johnson, Murphy, Dimitrijevic, Jose G. Perez, Robert Bauman, Mark Borkowski, Nik Kovac, Khalif Rainey and JoCasta Zamarripa.
Community Resource Navigators and Domestic Violence Prevention
An amendment from Ald. Kovac would support a Community Resource Navigator program similar to the Office of Violence Prevention’s Violence Interrupters program.
“It would be a cadre of individuals from the community who are credible messengers,” said office director Reggie Moore. The individuals, contracted by the department, would take a proactive approach to situations or individuals at a tipping point that could result in violence.
The $250,000 would come from reallocating funds Barrett proposed for mental health awareness and outreach. “Those funds would be in alignment with this approach,” said Moore, noting that the funds didn’t have a directed source.
Another amendment from Ald. Coggs has Moore’s backing and is intended to prevent domestic violence.
Coggs acknowledged that the city has seen a surge of homicides in 2020. “A large category of those are deemed to be affiliated with domestic violence,” she said.
Prior to the pandemic she said many of the domestic violence incidents involved people known to MPD. “What I hear they are beginning to see is a lot of first time,” she said. “To me it’s a little bit different so there have to be some different approaches.”
The amendment would provide $150,000 to the health department’s Task Force on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. Those funds would go towards anger management services, nurturing fatherhood training and domestic violence intervention services. It also supports a Coaching Boys to Men program that Moore said had 150 students during an earlier pilot.
The amendment would be funded by taking $150,000 from MPD’s combined allocation of $380,000 to replace computers. MPD chief of staff Nick DeSiato said the department has over 200 computers identified as out of date. “It’s a real need,” he said.
Ald. Scott Spiker was the lone no vote and said he was voting against Coggs’ amendment because of the funding source. “This is a difficult choice here,” he said.
Ald. Russell W. Stamper, II introduced the biggest amendment, at least when considering the amount of money involved.
The $3 million amendment would reallocate money within the Department of City Development to establish a new “Partnership in affordable ownership housing and alternatives to homeownership initiative” fund.
“The key here is partnership,” said Stamper in describing a vision to improve central city housing conditions. “This is $3 million working to get $30 million to $35 million.” The proposal, according to Stamper, could involve creating a neighborhood housing co-op where people would collectively own an entire area instead of just their home or a land trust model to create long-term affordability.
The amendment, in addition to the omnibus bus, would strip much of DCD’s one-time affordable housing funding surge that is to come from the closeout of the Beerline B tax incremental financing district.
“This is our big move,” said Stamper. He said both LISC and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority were interested.
Another amendment created as a compromise between Kovac, Murphy and Johnson would add $175,000 to a DCD account to do lead abatement in city-owned and occupied homes. It would also cut $382,500 in borrowing, primarily from borrowing for new police cars, and $7,500 from the tax levy.
DCD still needs to come up with a plan for the funds, and Kovac is requesting a bigger vision for what it would take to remediate all of the homes.
“In terms of the lead remediation we run into some issues with the degree of degradation of our properties,” said real estate services manager Amy Turim. “If there are no walls or windows to paint we run into some problems.”
Kovac said he was only looking for money to be spent on homes that would be occupied in short order.
Unarmed First Responder
An amendment from Alderwomen Chantia Lewis and Nikiya Dodd would create a pilot unarmed first responder pilot program, even as the council is advancing a study of a permanent program. The committee rejected it on a 2-3 vote, but it only needs eight votes from the council to make the final budget.
It would cut $500,000 from MPD salaries without guidance as to where and provide $255,000 to the Milwaukee Fire Department for salaries of three members of its EMS division and $245,000 for supplies, vehicles and other related expenses.
But the fire department isn’t in love with the proposal as is.
“We bristle a little at creating an unarmed first responder program because you already have one, it’s called the fire department,” said acting chief Aaron Lipski. “We already respond to many of these emergencies.”
He said other programs, like the recently championed MORI program for overdoses, come after the fact, while an unarmed first responder program would have to rely on 911 callers to determine what was an appropriate call to respond to. He said the callers are often unreliable at defining what resources are needed.
“What we are concerned with is the $500,000 cut in the police budget doesn’t refer to anything in particular,” said Yaccarino.
Lewis only found committee support from Kovac and Coggs.
A handful of budget amendments were withdrawn, with the sponsors stating they understood the funding would be found in discretionary Community Development Block Grant funds. That includes an immigrant welcoming center proposal from Perez, an infrastructure monitor proposal from Rainey and an equity and inclusion training program from Stamper.
Other proposals were rejected, like one from Murphy to restore funding for a police satisfaction survey and another from Spiker to restore Milwaukee Fire Department Engine Company 17. Committee members were more concerned about where cuts would come from than with where the funds would be redirected.
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Read more about 2021 Milwaukee Budget here