Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Barrett Unveils 2022 Budget Proposal

'The calm before the storm,' mayor warns, using federal funds and reduced police force to plug budget holes.

By - Sep 21st, 2021 10:53 am
Mayor Tom Barrett delivers his 2022 budget to the Milwaukee Common Council as Council President Cavalier Johnson looks on. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Mayor Tom Barrett delivers his 2022 budget to the Milwaukee Common Council as Council President Cavalier Johnson looks on. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Mayor Tom Barrett unveiled a 2022 budget Tuesday morning that attempts to hold the fiscally challenged city’s head above water for at least one more year.

“The 2022 Milwaukee budget, is in some ways, the calm before the storm,” said Barrett in his council speech, referring to the looming need to more than double the city’s annual pension funding contribution to approximately $160 million annually starting in 2023. “We do not have the sufficient ability to address these changes locally. We need the State Legislature to be a partner, finally, and acting on multiple fronts, to give us the tools we need.”

The budget, subject to council review, would increase the pension reserve fund by $10 million to more than $50 million, which Barrett said was a continued “good faith” effort. Without help, the 2023 budget could start a process that will result in one in six city workers being laid off by 2026 according to an earlier Department of Administration report.

The proposed 2022 budget, subject to amendments, would use $1.7 billion to fund city services. The property tax levy would grow by 2%, with the average residential property owner (a $127,900 assessment) expected to see the city share of their tax bill rise by $33. No fee increases are proposed in the budget.

The budget proposal relies on a portion of the city’s four-year, $394.2 million American Rescue Plan Act allocation. The funds would be used in part to fund the fire, police, public works and health departments. “I look forward to continuing discussions with you about how we deploy the money going foward,” he said.

The budget advances a prior proposal to create a new department to administer the city’s 911 system. It was previously split between the fire and police departments and staffed with more costly sworn personnel. The Department of Emergency Communications would report directly to the Fire & Police Commission.

The Milwaukee Police Department would hire and train 195 new officers across three recruiting classes as part of Barrett’s proposal, but the department would still shrink through resignations and retirements. The number of sworn officers would drop by approximately 25 to 1,657.

The city reduced the sworn strength by 60 and 120 in the past two years while holding the budget steady, largely a result of increased salaries and benefits. But the 2022 budget would see the budget shrink.

The police budget would drop from $295.3 million to $278.6 million, approximately $10 million of which would be attributed to the new 911 department and $6 million to a cut. No layoffs are included.

The new officers would be hired using ARPA funds, a one-time infusion of capital. When asked by a reporter on the wisdom of staffing the department with a short-term funding source, Barrett said: “I totally agree with you” before pivoting to mention the city needed help on its long-term fiscal issues.

The city would maintain its new program to subsidize private ambulances as part of a short-term strategy to stablize the city’s emergency response system. The Milwaukee Fire Department would receive $15 million in ARPA funding.

The Common Council will next review the budget, proposing amendments before adopting its version on November 5. Barrett can then veto any changes, but the council has overridden most Barrett vetoes in recent years.

It could be the last budget Barrett proposes. He has a pending appointment to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, but the decision on when he leaves is in the hands of the U.S. Senate. He told the Rotary Club of Milwaukee last week that his predecessor wasn’t confirmed until the following June. “I want to make one point very clear. I expect to be fully engaged in the budget process,” said Barrett on Tuesday.

Barrett has repeatedly said the decision to reduce the size of the department is “fiscal, not philosophical.” He said the city needed support from pro-police state politicians to actually be able to hire police officers. “How can you say you support the police” and then not give us any money to hire them? he asked.

The mayor’s budget includes the capital funding necessary to complete work on City Hall. “Yes, finally, the fencing, scaffolding and construction trailers will be gone, something I’ve only seen for a few months during my entire term as mayor,” said Barrett. Work is currently underway on the east side of the building to repair the foundation, part of a multi-year, phased project. The building was covered in scaffolding for generational repairs early in Barrett’s term, but then, like many old buildings Downtown, a receding water table triggered the need to repair the building’s wood pilings.

Barrett’s 2022 budget proposal includes $74.6 million in capital funding for infrastructure, including streets, bridges, street lights and sewers.

A public hearing on Barrett’s proposal is scheduled for Oct. 4 at 6:30 p.m.

The city cannot raise its property tax levy outside of the value of new construction or a small inflationary increase. It also cannot institute new taxes to increase revenue that are not first state authorized.

It has reduced the actual property tax rate in recent years, though that has been offset by increasing assessments for many property owners. It is allowed to institute fees for a number of services that offset only the cost of providing that service, and such a fee was instituted last year for street lighting. The fees are allowed to apply to all property owners, including tax-exempt properties.

Categories: City Hall, Politics, Weekly

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