Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Board Adopts 2021 Budget

Tax levy increase of 0.59%, many amendments and delays to electric buses and hemp growing.

By - Nov 10th, 2020 10:31 am

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia (GFDL) or (CC-BY-SA-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors adopted a $1.2 billion budget Monday for the county in 2021.

As with the past budget, supervisors noted the county’s ability to properly budget is constrained by the state’s shared revenue system and the unwillingness of the state Legislature to let the county raise additional revenues through such tools as an increased local sales tax.

Also like last year, most of the changes to the County Executive’s proposed budget (though this time submitted by David Crowley, who succeeded Chris Abele) came in the form of a large amendment package that managed to reduce the tax levy while pushing funding into a handful of county projects and services. The amendment used a new estimate for county sales tax revenue which created an additional $2.1 million for the board to work with. It was sponsored by Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson, along with Supervisors Jason Haas, Sheldon Wasserman, Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, Joseph Czarnecki and Liz Sumner

The amendment provided funding both to operate the Mitchell Park Domes year-round in 2021 and to explore funding sources for needed repairs to the domes. It also allocated $500,000 to expand community-based alternatives and programming for youth justice, $250,000 to combat homelessness and housing insecurity, $100,000 to expand services for seniors, $50,000 to expand digital access to Federated Library System materials, more than $282,000 for seasonal staff funding for parks and $10,000 for a safety study at McKinley Beach, among other things.

After it was introduced, Crowley issued a statement in support of the amendment package.

The tax levy for the $1.2 billion budget is $303,968,779, which is a reduction of $724,169 from Crowley’s proposed budget. It’s also a $2.8 million — or 0.59% increase — from the 2020 adopted tax levy.

The budget passed on a 14-4 vote. Supervisors Ryan Clancy, Patti Logsdon, John Weishan, Jr. and Anthony Staskunas voted against it.

Other amendments adopted in the 2021 budget by the board include the following:

Increased Eligibility for Youth Justice Programming

In Crowley’s proposed budget, $1 million in savings realized by transitioning children out of the state-run Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake detention facilities was put into increased programming for kids at the county run Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center.

Sup. Sequanna Taylor along with Sup. Clancy sponsored an amendment that would expand eligibility for those services that includes county children and their families that are transitioning out of youth justice facilities.

Hemp at the Domes

In 2019, the county board passed a resolution sponsored by Ortiz-Velez that called on the parks department to issue a request for proposal soliciting plans from private companies that would lease a greenhouse at the Mitchell Park Domes and use it to grow hemp clones — essentially baby hemp plants — that can be sold to hemp producers.

In October of this year, as the Finance Committee was deliberating budget amendments, the RFP had still not been issued. And parks staff said they had concerns about the plan to grow hemp in the greenhouses, and thus issuing the RFP.

Ortiz-Velez’s budget amendment directs parks to return to the board in January with an update on the status of the RFP.

Study of Battery Electric and Hybrid Buses

Sup. Haas along with Supervisors Supreme Moore Omokunde, Czarnecki, Shawn Rolland, Taylor and Sumner sponsored an amendment that directs the Milwaukee County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) to put out a request for information on the cost for a consultant to study the costs and benefits to Battery Electric Buses (BEB) and Hybrid Buses.

The policy of the board, since the 2019 budget, has been to put BEB’s on the East-West Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line. In October, Haas asked MCTS Managing Director if the county could change its policy “midstream” on the buses for the BRT.

Sheriff’s Office Application Loses Funding

Clancy tried repeatedly to secure board support for a host of amendments that took money away from the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office budget for overtime to fund other services and programs. But his amendments were defeated in votes at committee, and by the full board.

However, he managed to secure support for one amendment, to cut off funding for the Sheriff’s Office app through which county residents could report crimes. The app cost the county more than $9,000 a year.

Amazon Bus Route

Abele included $100,000 in his 2019 proposed budget for a bus route that ran directly to the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Oak Creek. But Sup. Wasserman squeezed in an amendment that required the Milwaukee County Transit System to study the proposal and report to the board before the any funds were disbursed.

Funding for the route was released in Sept. 2020 and it began running in October. So Wasserman sponsored an amendment in this budget that only funds the route through August in 2021, with the remaining funding set aside. MCTS and the MCDOT are then required to return to the board in July with a report on ridership, so the board can decide whether or not to continue funding it.

Rock Sports Complex Sound Study

The Rock Sports Complex in Franklin, a massive multi-use development that includes a baseball stadium for the amateur baseball team the Milwaukee Milkmen, has been a noise nuisance to surrounding neighbors for years, as Urban Milwaukee has reported

Despite years of complaints from neighbors, the City of Franklin did nothing to abate or address noise issues.

Because much of the land for the Rock Sports Complex was sold to the developers by Milwaukee County, and because part of the land is still leased to them by the county, Sup. Weishan. sponsored an amendment that calls on the parks department to issue a request for proposals for a sound study at the sports complex. To date, no study of noise created by the complex has ever been performed.

Overtime Budget Accountability

Because Clancy didn’t get the cuts to the sheriff’s office he wanted, he voted against the 2021 budget. But he did secure an amendment, which he sponsored with Rolland, that requires county departments 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.

“Right to Counsel” During Eviction Proceedings

Taylor and Clancy sponsored an amendment that asks the housing division to explore ways to create a program that would provide an attorney for people facing eviction if they live in the 53206 zip code or have children under the age of 18 in the home.

Changes to Parks and Recreation Fees

An amendment sponsored by Czarnecki and Clancy raises the fees at county boat launches. It’s expected to increase revenue by $6,750 which will be used to fund seasonal staffing in parks or make improvements at the boat launches.

Czarnecki and Clancy, along with Rolland, also sponsored an amendment that creates a new non-resident fee — $2 for adults, $1 for kids — at Cool Waters Aquatic Park, Schulz Aquatic Park and Pelican Grove. It’s estimated this new fee will generate $9,000 which will be used to fund seasonal parks staffing.

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More about the 2021 Milwaukee County Budget

Read more about 2021 Milwaukee County Budget here

Categories: MKE County, Politics

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