Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Proposed Budget Amendments Reverse Library, Fire Department Cuts

Majority of council supports $4.7 million amendment.

By - Oct 24th, 2022 06:42 pm
South entrance to City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

South entrance to City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Common Council has crafted a 2023 budget amendment to reverse proposed cuts to five branch libraries, two fire engines and the City Treasurer’s Office.

Given the city’s looming fiscal cliff and the structural deficit it is already facing, Mayor Cavalier Johnson proposed to reduce hours at a third of the city’s branch libraries, shutter two fire engine companies and trim a handful of seasonal positions from the City Treasurer’s tax collection office.

The omnibus amendment is poised to reverse those changes, but not a police staffing cut, through a $4.7 million amendment to the $1.7 billion budget.

“This budget amendment has the support of a majority of the Common Council and we thank members for their careful consideration and compromise,” said Common Council President Jose G. Perez and finance committee chair Marina Dimitrijevic in a joint statement. Eight of the 11 members are listed as sponsors of the budget amendment package. The proposal will first be considered at a finance committee meeting Thursday.

Much of the funding would come from reprogramming allocations from the city’s federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grant. Approximately $1 million allocated for lead abatement by the Milwaukee Health Department (MHD) and $500,000 for street lighting upgrades from the Department of Public Works (DPW) would instead fund restoration of the service cuts. In both cases, a multi-million allocation is being reduced and funds weren’t expected to be spent in 2023.

The council would also reallocate $2.5 million from a $5 million ARPA allocation intended to stabilize the city’s private ambulance system. Those funds are anticipated to be replaced by a newly-created state program that will reimburse ambulance costs using Medicaid funds.

The proposal would also yield $634,000 in savings by delaying a 65-member police recruiting class by eight weeks and $114,412 in savings by reducing the city’s annual payment to the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission.

The combined impact of this changes would avoid the need to cut service at four Milwaukee Public Library branches, to fully close the Martin Luther King Library while a new facility is built and, by the end of 2023, shutter two fire engines.

The council president and finance committee chair are aware their proposal might not solve the city’s issues past 2023. “We have little to celebrate. The catastrophic financial situation of the city warrants more time and discussions with our community as we work together to provide the city services our residents count on,” said the two in a statement.

A confluence of factors including rising pension costs, state restrictions on raising revenue and decreasing state aid are pushing the city towards the cliff. And without state intervention, the cliff will be painful. A 2021 report by the city budget office warned that one in four city workers could be laid off.

The city, according to the budget office, now receives $155 million less annually in shared revenue from the state than it did in 2000. That amount is virtually equivalent to what the city’s structural deficit is expected to be in 2025 when the ARPA grant runs out and the city needs to make substantially increased contributions to keep its pension system fully funded.

Johnson, on the campaign trail and since taking office, has pledged to work with the Wisconsin Legislature to address the fiscal issues.

Joining Dimitrijevic and Perez as cosponsors are Russell W. Stamper, II, Robert Bauman, Khalif Rainey, Milele A. Coggs, Mark Borkowski and Nikiya Dodd.

The proposal also includes $500,000 for the Department of City Development‘s Commercial Corridor Program, $100,000 for the Healthy Food Establishment Fund, $100,000 for an emergency medical services matrix study, $50,000 for a Community Excellence Fund and a reconfiguration of DPW funds intended to increase the number of times that vacant, city-owned properties are mowed.

In total, the Finance & Personnel Committee is to consider 47 budget amendments on Thursday. Many of the amendments rely on the same funding sources, while a handful are footnotes with no fiscal impact.

At least one of the amendments would attempt to reverse the 17-member sworn strength police cut. The budget cuts the number of sworn positions, but not the Milwaukee Police Department budget. Rising labor cuts through collective bargaining have resulted in the size of the force shrinking through resignations and retirements in recent years.

The full council will vote on the budget on Friday, Nov. 4. The mayor will then be able to issue vetoes with the council reviewing any vetoes on Nov. 22.

For more on the 2023 budget proposal, see our earlier coverage.

Cut Streetcar Service?

A proposal from Ald. Scott Spiker would take $1 million budgeted to pay streetcar operator Transdev and reallocate it to the Department of Public Works high-impact paving program. The proposal would allow two additional miles of streets to be repaved with the program, which replaces the top layer of asphalt and extends street life by approximately 10 years. The cut would result in an approximately 25% reduction in streetcar service.

Discussion items attached to the amendment note that the proposal could result in Transdev terminating its agreement to operate the system or the federal government clawing back previously-awarded grants based on a promised level of service.

The streetcar, with the lakefront extension starting later in the year, is expected to cost $4.9 million to operate in 2023. The city would pay for the service with a transit-specific ARPA grant ($2.1 million), parking revenues ($1.4 million), Potawatomi’s sponsorship ($833,000), other advertising ($390,000) and other federal grants ($241,000).

Categories: City Hall, Politics, Weekly

2 thoughts on “City Hall: Proposed Budget Amendments Reverse Library, Fire Department Cuts”

  1. 45 years in the City says:

    It seems short-sighted to reallocate funds for lead abatement and funds for street lighting upgrades (which aren’t really upgrades, but rather getting our antiquarian lighting into a state of good repair and reliability).

    If this reallocation occurs, the lead abatement and lighting projects have no guarantee that they will be re-funded in 2024, thus making planning, requesting proposals, etc. extremely difficult.

  2. says:

    I agree. City government has dragged its feet addressing the lead issue. Taking money from this necessity is dangerous to our kids.

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