Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County Chases Grants It Once Overlooked

New office created by County Executive Crowley winning grants it once 'left on the table.'

By - Nov 26th, 2021 11:02 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

In 2020, when Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley was running for the office he now holds, a major question of the campaign was how the candidates would address the county’s ongoing fiscal crisis.

Crowley, like most of the candidates, supported the state raising the level of aid it provided to Milwaukee County and seeking an increase in the local sales tax. These two proposals are part of a public advocacy campaign and lobbying effort that county leaders call “A Fair Deal for Milwaukee County.” But he also had an idea that no one else did.

When asked what the county could do if “Fair Deal” proposals do not come to fruition, he said “it’s not the end all be all and we have to be realistic about the current Legislature.” He went on, “In the meantime, we have to get creative.”

Crowley proposed creating an office within county government that would seek out “federal, foundation, and state resources that other jurisdictions are effectively tapping, but which we are currently leaving on the table.”

Today, that office exists. It’s called the Grants & Special Projects Division (GSP). It was created in the 2021 budget, and so far this year, has assisted the county in securing awards of nearly $18 million in grants.

The division has a staff of three, led by Ashley Adsit. In its first year it has developed a system for helping county employees and departments write grants, develop projects eligible for grants and identify which grants to pursue; and it has supported dozens of grant applications. Currently, there are more than 20 grant applications it has worked on worth nearly $60 million that are pending.

The county has struggled for more than a decade with annual costs of operations outpacing the revenues available. The county now has a structural deficit of approximately $20 to $30 million every year. 

This means, as Adsit explains, that when she and her team began working with county departments, that out of necessity many were “in the habit of having to cut programs, look at efficiencies, really streamline what they’re doing.”

The budget realities of the last decade have not allowed county department heads and staff to make many new investments. “Departments were like, ‘We don’t have plans on the shelf necessarily, we’ve been cutting for so many years,’” Adsit said. Now the division is assisting these departments in developing plans and projects that could be funded through grants.

“This is what we kind of envisioned,” Crowley said in an interview with Urban Milwaukee. A department that helps the county go after funding, often from federal or state “tax dollars that are really ours” to support county services.

A key argument in the “Fair Deal ” is that the amount of money that county taxpayers have been sending away (through sales and income taxes) to pay for state government has been growing over the past decade, while the amount of aid sent back by the state to the county has been stagnant.

The GSP division is off to a good start, in pulling back some of that money to the county. Adsit said the industry standard for grant writing is to expect 30% of applications to be awarded. The county has already exceeded that for 2021.

The division is centrally located. Departmentally, it is part of the county executive’s office. The division, Crowley said, is “breaking down silos” in county government. This will be especially useful as the county implements its strategic plan, which seeks to achieve racial equity in the county. “When we think about investing in equity,” Crowley said, the new division,“gives us the opportunity to look across the whole county.”

The breadth of funding needed to address many of the systemic problems in the county created by the kind of institutional racism Crowley and his administration have committed to battling will require resources that at the current rate, the GSP division simply can’t provide. 

A lot of what the county would do to address racial inequity requires “putting our money where our mouth is,” Crowley said. He added that many of the projects and areas he’d like to invest in, like housing, transportation and parks “aren’t sustainable because we don’t have the resources that we need.”

But the division, besides providing some funding, can send out a kind of distress signal. As Crowley put it, “I think everything that we’re doing has to be a signal to the state,” that communicates the county’s “desperate need of these dollars.” The solution, Crowley said, is an increase in the local option sales tax. 

Meanwhile, when it comes to going after grants and other funding, Crowley asked rhetorically, “Can we do more? I absolutely think we can.” He hopes to grow the department so that in the future, once it’s been adequately scaled up, it could help community members and organizations write and develop grants to bring even more money back to Milwaukee.

“At the end of the day, that’s what we are,” he said. “We are a support system to the community.”

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

Categories: MKE County, Politics

3 thoughts on “MKE County: County Chases Grants It Once Overlooked”

  1. kaygeeret says:


    Great work by the county

  2. Ryan Cotic says:

    Seems like a great idea for the county! I also think getting as many of the MPS students out of that failed system and into good charter and private schools will really help create more equitable outcomes. The systemic racism of MPS is shocking and is keeping our city from equitable outcomes for people of color in this city judging by the school report card data

  3. says:

    Citizen Cotic never misses a chance to trash Public education, even though this article doesn’t refer to it at all. The fact the County needs to look under the couch cushions for cash ought to cause consternation for all residents. Like those parks? Need a sheriff?…we can’t settle for crumbs courtesy of the Republican MKE haters in Madison.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us