Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Crowley Declares 2022 ‘Year of the Youth’

State of the County speech cites victories against pandemic and efforts to achieve equity, but notes huge challenges ahead.

By - Feb 23rd, 2022 02:36 pm
Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley giving the 2022 State of the County Address. Screenshot from livestream.

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley giving the 2022 State of the County Address. Screenshot from livestream.

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley delivered his annual State of the County address Wednesday, and announced that he’s declaring 2022 the “Year of the Youth.”

This initiative will see the county partnering with the city and Milwaukee Downtown BID #21. “We will connect young people to jobs, encourage their creative passions, provide mentoring and job shadowing opportunities, feature youth days at sporting events, and publicly highlight the best in our youth across the community.”

The first thing Crowley addressed in his speech was that Milwaukee is the native homeland of the Potawatomi, Ho Chunk and Menominee tribes. Crowley rescheduled his annual address so it wouldn’t be held the same day as the annual State of the Tribes speech, held the day prior. The county executive said the state’s Native Americans face many economic and health disparities, and that, “Unfortunately, Milwaukee County’s history is no exception, but it is my hope that through our vision for Milwaukee County we can repair the relationship with our Native residents, help tell the true story of our Native communities, and help produce prosperity for future generations.”

This was a new way for the county executive to talk about the defining issue of his tenure: racial equity. The county has declared racism a public health crisis and advanced its first strategic plan to tackle the crisis.

Crowley ticked off a list of ways his administration is working to enhance equity in county government including the recent move putting the strategic planning office, tasked with implementing the county’s plan for achieving racial equity, into the budget office, wedding the broader county vision with the county’s financial planning.

Crowley was elected to office in 2020 and began his term during the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, the pandemic has loomed large as an ever changing problem affecting many areas of county government. Crowley addressed this early into his speech, and said, “One of the major changes to the landscape was the emergence of life-saving vaccines.”

Crowley noted that the Office of Emergency Management administered 17,000 shots at the Kosciusko Community Center; the at-home vaccination program administered more than 450 doses at more than 300 homes; and 96% of employees subject to the county’s vaccine mandate have complied with it. He also said the Department of Health and Human Services successfully distributed half a million masks since the end of January.

While the pandemic created new problems for the county to try to solve, it also created new opportunities through federal funding from three pandemic related stimulus bills. The county saw an unprecedented level of funding for rental assistance programs, and recently announced it would receive another $50 million allocation from the U.S. Treasury department. The county also began implementing a right-to-counsel program for residents facing eviction after the county board passed a resolution authored by Supervisor Ryan Clancy.

“Increases in homeless outreach, eviction prevention, and permanent housing resources over the last few years have led to more housing and service opportunities for those experiencing homelessness in our community,” Crowley said.

The county executive also highlighted two major initiatives focused on emergency psychiatric services: the ongoing development of a new Mental Health Emergency Center and the implementation of CART teams in the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office. CART teams pair mental health clinicians with sheriff’s deputies to respond to emergency mental health situations.

Crowley also highlighted a new development in transit, the FlexRide program, an attempt by the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) to create a “last- mile” solution. It offers county residents on the north and northwest sides of Milwaukee pickup points where they can access rideshare-type transportation to business districts in Menomonee Falls and the Village of Butler. “When it comes to creating a healthy community, the importance of providing access to reliable, quality public transportation built on sound infrastructure can’t be understated,” Crowley said.

But the transit system is also an example of some of the greatest challenges the county faces. Transit is not a state mandated service. So, despite its essential nature to many county residents, it is technically discretionary spending by the county.

Large federal funding infusions from the pandemic stimulus bills have buoyed the transit system, for now. In his speech, Crowley put it bluntly. “MCTS faces a $40 million deficit that will need to be closed as soon as 2025. This means that difficult decisions lie ahead if more federal aid doesn’t find its way to Milwaukee County.”

The situation the transit system finds itself in is a microcosm of the county at large. It has not had the funding it needs, even to maintain a status quo budget, for more than a decade.

Crowley used the speech to once again advocate for an increase in the local sales tax. To get the increase, he needs the Legislature to pass a bill enabling the increase and then a referendum asking county residents to vote up or down on an increase to the sales tax.

A new division created in 2021 to go after grants and philanthropic dollars has seen success, but is not capable of bringing in the huge infusion of annual revenue the county needs. The county has been “cut to the bone,” and balancing future budgets through more cuts is not sustainable, Crowley said.

“Without a long-term solution to our funding challenges, by 2027 we’ll be unable to continue the current non-mandated services we do offer like parks, bus routes, emergency services, arts, senior services, public safety, disability services and youth services.”

Another challenge in the county is public safety. “It is no secret that this is a difficult time for our community,” the county executive said.

The city of Milwaukee has experienced record years for homicides. Crowley noted there have been some successes with the county’s credible messengers program and that violence interrupters with 414Life have successfully defused potentially violent situations.

“This violence didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “This is the result of generations of disinvestment in communities of color.”

Yet Crowley finished his address on a positive note: “I’m optimistic that we can come together once again to face all challenges and improve both the health and safety of our neighborhoods,” he said.

Categories: MKE County, Politics, Weekly

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