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Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012

County Property Tax Bill Will Drop Next Year

County Board Repairs Abele’s Flawed Budget

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After all of the hearings, amendments and rancor between Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and the 18-member Board of Supervisors, a unified board put its stamp of approval on a 2013 county budget that includes a 1.4% property tax levy increase, less than the rate of inflation.

But thanks to falling property values, that overall levy increase actually becomes a $19 reduction on the county portion of the property taxes paid on a typical city of Milwaukee home.

Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic said that the board increased the overall levy to invest in public safety and other core county services.

“The discussion should be about value,” Dimitrijevic said.

The drop in taxes doesn’t please Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, however.

In the budget he presented to the board this fall, Abele had attempted to hold taxes at their 2012 level.

Abele spokesman Brendan Conway said the county executive wasn’t happy that the board overrode 22 of 24 vetoes he issued last week, although Abele did sign 21 amendments passed by the board. Vetoes can only be overridden by a supermajority of the board, or 12 of the 18 supervisors voting.

“From the county executive’s perspective, I don’t think he’s excited by the process or the outcome,” Conway said.

He said that Abele thought his original budget was “great.”

Conway complained that the board released its budget amendments right before it met to vote on them, which he said prevented the administration from reacting to them and debating them. In a press release, Abele blasted the board for raising the overall property tax levy, saying the supervisors made “undisciplined decisions.”

Abele also told reporters that the board’s active role in the budget process made him want to look into downsizing the 18-member board.

Dimitrijevic, on the other hand, stood up for the board’s role in the budget process, saying it publicly and thoughtfully went through each line of Abele’s proposed budget, offered amendments and debated their merits civilly.

“The county executive had this very strong over-reaction to a budget process that is full of compromise,” Dimitrijevic said. “Democracy is about give and take.”

She said the board overrode about as many vetoes this year as it did when Scott Walker was county executive and, like Abele, offered budgets that did not raise property taxes, but didn’t fully cover county expenses, either. In both cases, the board added more revenue to stave off unnecessary privatization, fee hikes or trimmed services.

 

What To Expect Next Year

Although the budget is signed, sealed and delivered, the county executive and board seem to still be at odds over some of its major provisions, including:

  • The sheriff’s duties: Abele created a parks patrol plan with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett that would transfer Sheriff David Clarke’s parks duties in the city to the Milwaukee Police Department. The board nixed that agreement, which Abele restored via a “Vanna White veto” that allows him to strike and string together words—and even letters—to get what he wants.

The board overrode his veto 17-1. The board is now requiring the sheriff to submit and stick to a detailed parks patrol plan in the future.

The board also transferred control of the County Correctional Facility-South in Franklin (formerly the House of Corrections) from the sheriff to a superintendent appointed by and reporting to Abele. Community justice advocates and Milwaukee County Circuit Court Chief Judge Jeffrey Kremers supported the transfer, saying a superintendent would be more likely than Clarke to support job training and rehabilitation programs.

Abele removed the new superintendent’s April 1, 2013, start date in a veto, which the board overrode 14-4.

Conway said that Abele wasn’t pleased with the board’s support for the sheriff’s patrolling duties and, on the other hand, its lack of support for his work in corrections. Conway said he was concerned about the lack of detail in the amendment about transitioning to a new superintendent.

“The county executive has a lot of questions about it,” Conway said.

  • Job creation and economic development: Calling it redundant in his veto message, Abele spiked a Dimitrijevic-led amendment to create a Small Business Opportunity Initiative, which includes small-business training and a micro loan program. The board overrode his veto 17-1.

“I don’t think you can do too much for job creation,” Dimitrijevic said, defending the initiative.

The board also altered the position of the county’s economic development chief to ensure that whoever holds that position adheres to the county’s residency requirement. Brian Taffora, Abele’s appointee, lives in Cedarburg but had received what supervisors argue is a permanent waiver from the requirement. Taffora claims that he hasn’t been able to find a buyer for his house for the past two years. Abele vetoed that amendment, which the board overrode 14-4.

Conway called the move “petty political payback,” said it jeopardized development projects already underway and questioned its legality.

But Dimitrijevic defended the board’s move, saying that Taffora could be appointed to the revised position and then obtain a 6-month residency waiver. She said the board’s affirmation of the residency requirement was a matter of principle and law.

“The person selling Milwaukee isn’t sold on it?” she asked.

  • Beer gardens: On a 17-1 vote, the board approved establishing additional beer gardens in the parks to provide revenue for a new Parks Amenities Fund. The board overrode Abele’s veto 15-3.
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