County Executive David Crowley
Op Ed

Federal ARPA Funds a Lifeline for County

Milwaukee County is so financially strapped every ARPA dollar needed to keep critical services going.

By - Sep 2nd, 2021 11:37 am

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-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

As you have probably heard me say many, many times since I was elected last year, Milwaukee County is in dire financial straits. To address our long-term fiscal issues, Milwaukee County needs additional local revenue tools, such as a sales tax, to enable us to invest in local priorities and address our structural deficit. In the short-term, we must utilize our Federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars in a manner that enables us to preserve access to critical services for our community during the pandemic and create a solid foundation for Milwaukee County to continue being the economic engine of the state.

Let me be frank: for Milwaukee County, this is not “once in a generation” or “transformational” funding. It’s a lifeline to keep critical services running. While Milwaukee County will utilize our ARPA funding ($183 million) in a manner that compliments City of Milwaukee ($400 million) and State of Wisconsin efforts ($2.3 billion), we must recognize the gravity of our fiscal situation. Milwaukee County’s structural deficit requires we close a budget gap of $20 million, every year, for the next 16 years. By 2027, we will have no local dollars for local services. COVID-19 has significantly, negatively compounded our situation as the need for critical and costly services has skyrocketed, but our revenue supporting these services has plummeted. While costs related to critical emergency operations, homelessness, mental health and substance abuse, and maintaining safe courts and facilities continue to rise, Milwaukee County is projected to sustain over $400 million in lost revenue over the next 4 years. The $183 million, in federal funding is not transformational, but it is absolutely critical in ensuring Milwaukee County can continue providing the necessary services upon which so many of our families, neighbors, and communities rely – but it will not make us whole.

Shortly after ARPA passed the U.S. Congress, Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors Chair Marcelia Nicholson and I collaborated to create the Milwaukee County ARPA Task Force. This 6-person committee, made up of individuals in my administration, County Supervisors, elected officials and representation from the community, are charged with recommending how Milwaukee County should spend its $183 million. Our communities have submitted numerous creative and unique ideas, and if we were operating under significantly improved conditions, I would love to see all of those proposals enacted. But we are facing tremendous fiscal challenges in the years ahead due to our structural deficit, and we face an even greater challenge now with a surge in community needs from COVID-19 and a significant amount of lost revenue to support services moving forward.

In light of this, I am asking the ARPA Task Force to do one simple thing: invest in the financial health and security of Milwaukee County. County services – from parks, to transit, to mental health – are relied upon by hundreds of thousands of people each year. Our residents count on us to be able to sustain the services and programs that aim to keep Milwaukee healthy, working, and moving. No less than 60% of the ARPA funding should be invested in our fiscal sustainability, in order to ensure that the critical services offered by Milwaukee County are able to be sustained in the near future. Anything less will endanger critical services for our community

Focusing on utilizing these funds to maintain critical services, while focusing on one-time dollars, for one-time spending to prevent growing our structural deficit, provides our community the best chance at recovery. We have already begun this process by pursuing partnerships and making historic investments in housing, transit, mental health and substance abuse, and more. We should continue to explore evidence-based, financially responsible programs that provide outsize return on investment for those who we serve. We must also ensure that Milwaukee County remains fiscally solvent to continue providing these critical investments. A long-term, sustainable solution is still critical, but using these funds to sustain services will give Milwaukee County the lifeline it desperately as we do our best to build back from these trying times.

David Crowley is the Milwaukee County Executive

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

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