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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Candidates Getting Real About County Finances

Weishan and Manzke offer their proposals

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Milwaukee County’s tight finances are the underlying theme of the campaign for county supervisor in the 16th District, which encompasses the Southwest Side of Milwaukee, Greenfield and West Allis. Incumbent John Weishan faces retired Milwaukee police detective Timothy John Manzke in the April 1 general election. The Shepherd Express endorsed Weishan in the Feb. 19 primary.

Weishan, who was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2000, is a former member of the U.S. Marines and has a degree in business administration from UW-Milwaukee. He said that he has protected and enhanced the district’s parks and preserved bus routes that were slated to be cut by Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. Weishan said he accomplished this while keeping the property tax impact on the city of Milwaukee to less than 1% and a little bit higher in West Allis and Greenfield, but still less than the rate of inflation.

“I think I’ve been successful in delivering for the district in difficult times,” Weishan said. “We haven’t seen the slippage that other districts have seen.” He said the Green Print initiative, which he co-sponsored with Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic, will save taxpayer money by operating county properties more efficiently and in an environmentally friendly way.

“We just finalized contracts with Johnson Controls to save money on energy costs,” Weishan said, adding, “This is an initiative that is not only good for the environment, but good for our pocketbooks.”

Weishan said that in his next term he would like to identify alternative funding sources for transit, parks and social programs, as well as enhance economic development. Weishan said that reducing unemployment would also reduce crime and the demand for county-provided social programs that are necessary but expensive.

Weishan suggested launching a countywide strategy that pools the resources of county government as well as the 19 municipalities within it, what he calls his “big whale” strategy. “You can put together an economic package to attract businesses and people here,” Weishan said. “Right now we have 19 municipalities doing 19 different things.

And nobody, not even the city of Milwaukee, is big enough to attract the kind of businesses we need.” Weishan said that Milwaukee County residents need to be realistic about investing in the county’s infrastructure and services.

“I think people are being duped into believing that you can have all of your services and reduce taxes at the same time, that there is this giant fraud, waste, abuse and inefficiencies in the system,” Weishan said. He added that what some call “inefficiencies” are actually investments the county must make to match federal or state dollars for programs, to maintain services and infrastructure or to sow the seeds for future development.

“You have to make the investment up front so that three or five years from now you can see the benefits of it,” Weishan said. Weishan’s opponent, Milwaukee resident Timothy Manzke, said he was motivated to run for office to be an advocate for the men- tally ill, the elderly, children and the disabled. He said that the board should be more concerned about providing services to those in need than focusing on the bottom line. “Too much of the conversation is about dollars,” Manzke said.

Manzke, a retired Milwaukee police detective, is working on his doctorate at Cardinal Stritch University while working as a part-time college instructor in criminal justice and general studies. He said that he would draw on his connections with academics to help him find solutions to the county’s problems.

“These individuals [Milwaukee County supervisors] always have the same answer to every problem—it’s either raise taxes or cut services,” Manzke said. “I say it’s creative and innovative thought.” Manzke said more funding from the state or federal government would be unlikely, so he said he would like to attract grants and donations from private businesses and individuals.

“Every level of government is hurting right now from lost revenue,” Manzke said. “The possibility of [getting more money from the state] is very slim. You’re going to have to look at organizations, some very wealthy individuals and businesses, but I don’t think that you’re going to see more [money] from the state. If anything, it’s going to get tighter.”

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com.