Graham Kilmer

Committee Rejects Sheriff Cuts

But it also passed a widely supported increase in spending for services like housing and youth justice.

By - Nov 5th, 2020 04:56 pm
Sheriff Earnell Lucas speaking at a press conference on June 26th, 2020. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

Sheriff Earnell Lucas speaking at a press conference on June 26th, 2020. File photo by Graham Kilmer.

The Milwaukee County Board’s Finance Committee approved an amendment package October 29th that, among other things, reduced the tax levy and put money into a number of county services including parks, housing and community alternatives and programming for youth justice. It’s a precursor to adopting a full budget this month.

But the committee also rejected 14 out of 15 amendments from Supervisor Ryan Clancy that took aim at the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office’s overtime budget.

On October 28th, Clancy held a press conference in front of the county’s Safety Building rolling out his amendments, which cut funding for overtime from the Sheriff’s department by $2.6 million and put that money into other services like housing and youth justice and programming at senior centers.

Since 2014, the Sheriff’s Office has overspent its overtime budget by $36.3 million, according to data from the Sheriff’s Office. At his press conference, Clancy said “[The Sheriff’s Office] pointed to the state mandate as proof that their budget is untouchable. And the Board of Supervisors has complied with that interpretation, doing very little to rein in spending that we deny to other departments.”

As Urban Milwaukee previously reported, The Sheriff’s office, like all other county departments, is able to exceed its budget on personnel costs, which includes things like salary, social security and overtime. “The budget process doesn’t make any sense if they can literally ignore it,” Clancy told Urban Milwaukee.

However, less than 24 hours after Clancy’s press conference, new numbers from the office of the Comptroller showed that ever since former Sheriff David Clarke left office, Sheriff’s Richard Schmidt and Earnell Lucas had in fact been working to reign in overtime. Each year, they would reduce spending in other areas to make up for increased overtime spending. Despite overspending the overtime budget in 2020, Lucas’ office is on track to generate a surplus of more than $100,000 by the end of the year. The department ran a net surplus of $51,284 between 2018 and 2019. And if projections hold, the net-surplus from 2018 through 2020 will be $152,055.

So when the Finance Committee took up Clancy’s amendments, Lucas and his chief of staff Ted Chisholm once again made the case for maintaining the Sheriff’s budget as it is in County Executive David Crowley’s proposed budget. Lucas noted that overtime expenditures have been offset by reserves and not filling vacant positions. Chisholm said 60% of overtime spending is used to staff the county jail.

And this time, they found support from the supervisors, who rejected Clancy’s amendments one by one. Except for one that appropriated $37,584 to turn five unpaid intern positions at the Milwaukee County Zoo into paid positions in 2021.

Sup. Willie Johnson, Jr. voted against all of Clancy’s amendments. He said that Lucas’ administration was working to reign in overtime. Based upon the comptroller report, Lucas’ budget deficit in 2019 was “relatively small” — $660,716 — compared to the multi-million deficits during Clarke’s administration.

Sheriff Lucas has been in office for a relatively short time and I believe that he will continue to work on getting these overtime expenditures down,” Johnson Jr. said.

One project that was part of Clancy’s package of amendments would have reallocated $500,000 from the Sheriff’s Office for the development of a commercial kitchen and culinary program at the Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center. And while the committee voted to reject the amendment, they also expressed that they would take the project back up, potentially in a budget amendment on the floor or in a resolution, using bonding or funds from the Debt Service Reserve to fund it.

Roughly a week later, on Wednesday, Clancy returned to the committee with an amendment that would require county departments like the Sheriff’s Office to come before the board when their overtime spending is projected to be $1 million or more in a year, or if they are projected to exceed their overtime budget. This amendment was co-sponsored by Sup. Shawn Rolland and was recommended for approval by the committee.

While most of Clancy’s amendments were recommended for rejection by the committee, they can still be approved by the full board.

Omnibus Amendment

When the supervisors were voting down, one by one, all of Clancy’s amendments at the committee meeting on Oct. 28 they did so with some cover.

Before they took up the package from Clancy, they passed an omnibus amendment that was sponsored by board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson along with Supervisors Jason Haas, Sheldon Wasserman, Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, Joseph Czarnecki and Liz Sumner. And it received an endorsement from Crowley, who said in a statement, “We proposed a budget that takes steps to implement our strategic plan and I’m pleased to see the Chairwoman offer an amendment to enhance those efforts.”

Nicholson issued a statement praising the package. “The Finance Committee’s unanimous recommendation of my amendment to invest more resources in County parks, the Domes, our Zoo and libraries, housing supports, senior services and youth programming reflects the needs and values of our residents,” she said. Both the chairwoman and Crowley said the amendment supports the county’s plan to become the healthiest county in the state by achieving racial equity.

The amendment used an additional $2.1 million in estimated sales tax revenue to reduce the amount of property tax levy spending in Crowley’s 2021 budget and increase spending on a number of county services.

The amendment puts additional money in the Department of Health and Human Services with $500,000 for expanding community-based alternatives and programming for youth justice in the county. And $250,000 for combatting homelessness and housing insecurity. And $100,000 to improve or expand in-person and virtual programming for county seniors through the senior centers.

Among other things, it put additional funding into parks to pay for operations at the Mitchell Park Domes and also to pay the personnel costs necessary to re-open some of the county’s aquatic facilities. It also includes $50,000 to the Federated Library System to expand access to digital resources, which was also an item slated for spending in Clancy’s package.

“I think it’s incredibly indicative of our commitment to all of Milwaukee County,” said Nicholson.

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More about the 2021 Milwaukee County Budget

Read more about 2021 Milwaukee County Budget here

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