Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Ald. Kovac Named Budget Director, Will Resign Council Seat

Kovac has represented the East Side and Riverwest since 2008.

By - Apr 19th, 2022 07:58 am
Nik Kovac. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Nik Kovac. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Alderman Nik Kovac is being named director of the city’s budget and management division. He will resign from his aldermanic position to take the role.

The cabinet-level position is responsible for crafting the city’s annual $1.7 billion budget, management of its implementation and addressing other fiscal issues.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson is expected to make the announcement Tuesday.

Kovac, 44, was first elected to the Common Council in 2008 in a close race for an open seat and re-elected three times with at least 70% of the vote. He represents a district that includes Riverwest, the East Side and the northern edge of Downtown.

Kovac will replace Dennis Yaccarino, who has served in the role since 2017. Yaccarino has worked for the city since 1985.

The incoming budget director holds a bachelor of science degree in mathematics from Harvard University. He previously served as chair of the council’s Finance & Personnel Committee and is a current member of the committee.

Kovac will now assume one of the key roles in navigating the city’s looming, pension-induced fiscal crisis. A proposal before the council would use $160 million of a federal grant to delay a fiscal cliff by two years, but the revenue-restricted city will eventually need a long-term solution to address the estimated $50 million annual increase necessary to fully fund the pension system and millions more to address other structural budget deficit issues. Kovac was a council representative on a task force that studied potential solutions to the issue in 2021.

“The only good option is for the state to be a partner,” said Kovac, noting that the state has money and controls the city’s authority to raise its own, when the council reviewed the task force report in October. “All the other options are bad.”

The alderman will receive a raise by making the jump from the council to the administration. Yaccarino was paid $141,748 in 2020, the last year for which figures were published. Kovac made the council standard rate of $77,614.

The position is subject to Common Council confirmation. The budget division is located within the Department of Administration and has an eight-member staff. In recent years, high profile issues the office has been tasked with crafting conceptual proposals for include modeling a 10% reduction in police staffing levels and identifying potential solutions to the city’s pension crisis.

A special election would be necessary to fill the third district aldermanic seat. A special election is also expected to be called in the coming weeks to fill Johnson’s second district seat.

Kovac lives in Riverwest with his wife and daughter. He endorsed Johnson in the mayoral race. An avid cyclist and environmentalist, Kovac can be regularly seen at neighborhood events or biking to work. He previously hosted a multi-hour radio show on Riverwest Radio that was ostensibly focused on the Green Bay Packers and included in-depth analysis, but that often veered into philosophical discussions about life or discussions of history.

UPDATE: In a press release issued after this article was first published, Johnson praised both Kovac and Yaccarino.

“I have known Nik as a trusted and knowledgeable colleague. His perspectives on the financial issues Milwaukee faces have always been valuable to me. I am very pleased he has accepted the invitation to join my administration,” said Johnson. “City government faces challenging fiscal issues, and I am confident Nik will help put our government on a sustainable path forward.”

“Dennis has earned our respect during his many years of service in the city’s budget office. He has always been a steady and calm presence, and his work has kept Milwaukee in the best possible financial condition. I wish him the very best in the next chapter of his career,” said Johnson.

Kovac, in a statement, thanked Johnson for the nomination and praised the budget division. “In my 14 years on the Council, I have always been impressed with the professionalism, insight, and expertise of [former director] Mark Nicolini, Dennis Yaccarino and the talented team of budget analysts at City Hall,” he said.

“I look forward to working with our budget analysts, with Mayor Johnson, and with the Common Council to help make the best decisions for our great city,” he said. “Hopefully we will also be able to partner with legislative leaders in Madison and Washington, D.C. to change the current structural constraints on our budget so that we can continue to fund core services and make transformational change for the prosperity of all our residents.”

Categories: City Hall, Politics, Weekly

5 thoughts on “City Hall: Ald. Kovac Named Budget Director, Will Resign Council Seat”

  1. Jeffjay60 says:

    Best of luck to alderman Kovac. This is a good move for the city by putting a person with the background and experience in this position.

  2. says:

    Way to go, Nik, now, let the grand rumpus begin in District 3! Anyone takin’ bets?

  3. NieWiederKrieg says:

    Dear Mr. Kovac,

    Please replace the City of Milwaukee’s pension system with a 401K pension plan. Private industry eliminated “employee pensions” over 20 years ago and replaced them with “401K plans”.

    You will save the City of Milwaukee and its residents hundreds of billions of dollars in the long term.


  4. gerrybroderick says:

    Great news for our financially beleaguered city. While Nik’s able representation of the third district will be missed, his anticipated contributions to Milwaukee’s fiscal stability will be meaningful. Good move, Mr. Mayor!

  5. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Great hire of a smart guy who has served with distinction on the Council for 14 years. And he isn’t going to sell the City, knowing there’s a lot more to life than maximizing profit and giving things away for “economic development.”

    Challenging times, but I’m confident Nik can meet them. No matter how much Republicans at the Capitol want to handcuff the City.

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