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Abele Unveils County Budget, Sharing it First with an Invited Audience

Ann-Elise Henzl

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele gave his budget address Wednesday. He picked both a location and an audience for the speech that have not been the norm.

Every Milwaukee County executive must propose next year's budget by October 1. So for years, execs delivered the budget at the county board's September meeting, in the courthouse.

But Wednesday, Chris Abele outlined his plan for 2016 at the Pritzlaff Building downtown.

"So if you're thinking this address here is a new thing, you're right," Abele said.

The county executive's office says it sent out invitations to the event; however, the general public also was welcome.

"Every year I've held multiple public hearings prior to putting a budget together, and I work hard to incorporate what I hear. But I believe once we make the decisions with your money you deserve more opportunities to hear about them, and this address is an additional opportunity to do just that," Abele said.

Among the roughly 75 people in the audience was Elsa Diaz-Bautista. She heads an organization that serves people with disabilities. She says she sees logic in Abele's choice.

"I think it's very important for him to talk to the people that elected him and the citizens, and the ones that are going to be affected by the changes directly. I completely support that," Diaz-Bautista said.

Yet the very county supervisors who will have to approve next year's budget were missing. Supervisor Deanna Alexander says she chose not to attend, because her invitation arrived just two days earlier. But Alexander does not appear to harbor hard feelings about being in the second group to hear Abele's address. He’s scheduled to deliver it to the board today.

"I respect the county executive and I think that he is doing what he feels needs to be done as an elected official in getting information out to the community. So it's his budget, he is certainly welcome to present it to as many people and as widely and under the circumstances as he sees fit," Alexander said.

Another supervisor does seem bothered. County Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb says he did not get an invitation to Abele’s budget unveiling. The county executive's office says all supervisors were invited. Lipscomb heads the board, at a time when state law has given the county exec increased authority, while reducing the board's. The change has sometimes sparked tensions between the two branches.

Lipscomb insists there are good reasons the county executive traditionally unveils the budget to the board, in the courthouse.

"We need some heads up if there's going to be an official event, and that's why a meeting as we do it at the county board -- where it's noticed, where it's available online and over the television. Everyone's welcome," Lipscomb said.

Lipscomb says he's eager to see details of the proposed 2016 budget. But so far, he's only seen a news release with bullet points.

"What really stuck out in the release was what was not talked about. So there's no identification of how he makes up for the $4 million contribution for the next 20 years to the Bucks arena. That's an obvious budget hole that we're all going to be interested in seeing how it was dealt with," Lipscomb said.

Abele said Wednesday he can balance the budget without raising taxes, while also funding new expenses, such as pay hikes and tuition reimbursements for county workers, and capital improvements for parks.

He'll release his full budget proposal Thursday. Then the county board starts sifting through the plan.

The Milwaukee County Board plans to gather public input at two events:

  • On Monday Oct. 12, the Finance, Personnel and Audit Committee will host a public listening session at the Washington Park Senior Center, 4420 W. Vliet St. The session will begin at 9:00 a.m.
  • On Monday Nov. 2, the full board will hold a public hearing at the Mitchell Park Conservatory (the Domes), 524 S. Layton Blvd. The hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m.

County supervisors will vote on the budget proposal Nov. 5.