Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

City, County Will Study Merging Services

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos pushing for this as prerequisite for more shared revenue for Milwaukee.

By - Jan 11th, 2023 02:27 pm
Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The City of Milwaukee buys toilet paper, Milwaukee County buys toilet paper. Could the two governmental units save money by doing it together?

It’s one of hundreds of potential shared operational options the Wisconsin Policy Forum is poised to study on their behalf.

But some council members are already raising concerns that the idea is just a gateway to merging the two governments. Another is concerned that much of the work was already done in 2018.

“Saving money is a primary objective,” said policy forum president Rob Henken to the Finance & Personnel Committee on Wednesday. “But this is also about how to improve services.”

“Both the county and us are dealing with the same issue, so we can’t leave any stone unturned,” said Mayor Cavalier Johnson‘s policy director Molly King.

The city and county face significant financial issues because of declining state shared revenue and state-imposed revenue restrictions,

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) recently said he won’t consider granting the entities new revenue sources unless they consider privatizing or sharing services.

The study, which will run parallel to a Greater Milwaukee Committee study on the city’s operations, is expected to take 12 to 14 months to complete. The city would allocate $20,000 to what WPF’s proposal says would cost $48,600.

“We wouldn’t want to dump a big report in your laptop 12 to 14 months from now,” said Henken. Instead, he said three to four months would be spent identifying options, and then the city, county and policy forum would take a deep dive into each, providing rolling results and next steps.

Intergovernmental Relations Division director Jim Bohl said that, based on conversations with legislative leaders, the timeline would work. He said the effort would take time to identify legal barriers and logistical considerations.

Hypothetical efficiency examples offered by Henken and King included sharing budget office analysts, establishing joint procurement processes or merging hiring and training operations. The focus, they said, is on “back office” functions.

But Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs and Alderman Mark Chambers, Jr. were quick to express concern that the study could be a gateway to something bigger: a metropolitan government.

“I am not trying to bring the governments together. I am trying to work together where it makes sense,” she said.

Chambers was more direct. “I think this is a gateway to look towards merging,” he said. “This $20,000 is basically giving the green light to look into merging the city and county.”

Henken, who once led the county’s Department of Administration, said that wasn’t the case. “We are talking about administrative services, back office services,” he said.

Committee chair Marina Dimitrijevic, a co-sponsor on the effort with Council President Jose G. Perez, said it is about operations, not governance. She said it was important that the council is the one allocating the funding, giving it a seat at the table.

“This administration has a chance to do what wasn’t done in the past,” said Perez. “I think this an opportunity to take some of these things a little more seriously.”

Coggs would like to see the study expanded to include Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).

King said the school district wasn’t immediately included because the city and county are already so similar and citizens struggle to differentiate between what services are provided by which entity. But she was open to including them.

Perez said he was open to including MPS, but has had limited success with outreach in the past. But he said he supports including the school district and said outreach would be made before the Jan. 17 council meeting.

The committee voted 3-0-2 to recommend funding the study, with Chambers and Coggs abstaining. The alderwoman said she would consider voting for the measure when the full council considers the proposal on Jan. 17 if MPS is included.

About That 2018 Study

Ald. Michael Murphy, the council’s longest-tenured member, raised concern that the effort could ignore a 42-page Intergovernmental Relations Division report from 2018 that listed current informal arrangements and opportunities for future collaboration.

“This is a topic that has been going on since before me and it always comes down to ‘I don’t want to give it up, you give it up,'” he said. Murphy has been on the council since 1989.

Citing the report, he listed options such as having the Milwaukee Police Department and Milwaukee County Sheriff‘s Office jointly work on traffic enforcement and park patrols, having joint emergency medical services training, the county reimbursing the city for 911 calls and formalizing having MPD perform bus security.

The report went department by department analyzing the often-informal shared services between the city and county. It also examined opportunities for partnerships. For instance, the city and county each maintain their own land management software system, but the city is already reliant on the county to keep track of land ownership.

Murphy said it was important the study partners do things correctly; if not the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature will step in.

“I bet one million bucks they’re doing open records request about what analysis has been done in the past so they can do it,” said Murphy of the legislators.

“I want to remind us all, and the public, that we are being watched closely and we are in a fight for our lives,” said Ald. JoCasta Zamarripa.

Milwaukee County is to pay the remaining balance of the study’s costs. WPF will also be making an in-kind contribution to complete the study.

UPDATE: Chambers originally voted against the proposal, then sought to change his vote to an abstention later in the meeting. He was granted unanimous consent to do so.

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: City Hall, Politics, Weekly

2 thoughts on “City Hall: City, County Will Study Merging Services”

  1. GodzillakingMKE says:

    You Vos is not going to live up to his side of the offer. Robin Nazi Vos can’t be trusted.

  2. 45 years in the City says:

    The city/county fiscal problems are too deep to be solved by just getting a deal on janitorial supplies. Years of underfunding and deferred maintenance (the latter is especially acute on the county’s side) can’t be solved by simply coordinating/sharing some services.

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