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Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012

The Milwaukee County Budget and You

What did the board decide?

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When Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele presented his 2013 budget, it reminded many of those presented by former County Executive Scott Walker. Both men offered budgets that didn’t include a tax increase, privatized services and asked county employees to make sacrifices to prevent the tax levy from increasing.

Both Abele and Walker relied on the board to do the heavy lifting of turning the budget into a document that realistically serves the county’s needs for the next year and beyond.

The board, under the leadership of Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, did it again this year, by preserving county jobs instead of privatizing them, allowing the sheriff to continue to patrol the parks but transferring the County Correctional Facility-South to a superintendent, and creating a new revenue source for parks improvements.

The entire budget, along with a tax levy increase of 1.4%, was passed by a veto-proof 13-5 majority. The county’s portion of the property tax bill will equal about $279 million in 2013, about $750 per $150,000 home. 

Abele can veto individual items within the budget, but the board then has the opportunity to override those vetoes. It takes 12 votes for the board to override a veto.

 

Control of the Corrections Facility Will Shift

The board changed Abele’s budget most dramatically in the sheriff’s responsibilities. Sheriff David Clarke and Abele have a notoriously bad relationship, and Abele made severe cuts to the department in last year’s budget.

In his 2013 budget, Abele included major policy changes affecting the sheriff without asking for the sheriff’s input—or the board’s. Abele had entered into a memorandum of understanding with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to give the city control of 911 cellular calls coming from the city, as well as responsibility for patrolling the county-owned parks within the city.

The board disagreed with Abele’s policy changes. It turned down Abele and Barrett’s parks patrol plan, saving potentially 27 deputy positions, but it’s also asking the sheriff to come up with a proactive parks patrol plan. It voted 12-6 to go forward with the 911 change, but only for one year.

The board also voted to shift oversight of the County Correctional Facility-South—the former House of Correction—to a superintendent. Walker had put Clarke in charge of the facility, but community advocates, Milwaukee County Chief Judge Jeffrey Kremers and some supervisors had complained that the sheriff did not understand how to properly operate treatment and job-training programs for inmates. Supervisors argued that instituting more alternative treatment programs and electronic monitoring would allow the county to close some dorms at the facility, reducing costs in the long run. The shift will take place in April 2013; the superintendent will be appointed by and report to the county executive.

Other board votes included:

  • Asking employees to pay more for their health benefits than they did last year, but less than Abele would require them to pay, and developing a wellness program plan.
  • Setting up additional beer gardens in county parks; proceeds will go to a new Parks Amenities Matching Fund to pay for deferred maintenance in the parks.
  • Striking Abele’s requirement that employees would only be eligible for health care benefits if they work more than 30 hours per week, instead of 20 hours per week. The majority of the employees affected by this provision are nurses, and the board was concerned that it would be difficult to recruit and retain nurses at the behavioral health hospital.
  • Affirming the county’s residency requirement in language abolishing the Economic Development director position and creating a new director of County Economic Development. Supervisors complained that Abele’s appointed director, Brian Taffora, lives outside of Milwaukee County, even though his position requires county residency.
  • Curbing the county executive’s power and costs by denying new administrative employees, including a lobbyist, and creating a Capital Improvements Committee to allow supervisors and others to have a say in a five-year capital improvement plan. A facilities assessment team was also launched to study and plan downsizing of county-owned properties.
  • Rejecting plans to outsource inmate medical services at the House of Correction and staff positions for the Behavioral Health Division’s Community Support Program. The board also created two investigator positions in the District Attorney’s Office to focus on domestic violence cases.
  • Encouraging job creation by approving a Small Business Opportunity Initiative with a $100,000 loan fund, a micro-loan program and a training program for small businesses at the county’s research park.