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Milwaukee Mayor's Budget Adds 100 Police Officers

Milwaukee’s recent violent crime wave is on the mayor’s mind as he plans the city budget for 2014.

Tuesday, Tom Barrett will discuss his proposal so far and listen to what residents want. Dozens of shootings have occurred in Milwaukee over the past few weeks. Mayor Barrett responded by adding a half-million dollars to this year’s budget for police overtime. When it comes to 2014, he’s asking for millions more to boost the force by 100 officers.

“My vision is, I want this to be a city where in every single neighborhood in the summer a grandmother can sit on her front porch and watch her grandkids play in the front yard. And unfortunately right now we’re seeing some pockets, and I say pockets because these are small areas in the city, where we’re seeing too much violence,” Barrett says.

Barrett’s 2014 budget includes $4.5 million to bring on 100 new recruits and to keep 50 police officers the city hired using a temporary federal grant. He says the funding will come from money the city saves because of retirements in the police department, and by leaving other city positions vacant.

“We are making internal decisions and we are prioritizing and doing everything we can to make sure that my number one goal, which is public safety along with creating jobs, that we’re doing everything we can to make this a safe city,” Barrett says.

Barrett says he also hopes to free up money, by negotiating different salary and benefit packages for the police and fire departments.

Those issues will likely be sticking points. The city and the police and fire unions have been trading demands for months. The mayor predicts the talks will end up in arbitration.

While some Milwaukee aldermen applaud his move to pump up the police force, they want more details.

“We’ll have to see, where do you get the revenue from?” says Willie Hines, president of the Common Council.

“Obviously, public safety is by far one of the greatest concerns that residents have, but we have to also make certain that we have the appropriate resources to maintain city services,” Hines says.

At Tuesday’s public hearing, Mayor Barrett will discuss funding for city services, such as resurfacing heavily traveled streets and dealing with a glut of foreclosed homes. The city assumes ownership of those that are well behind on paying property taxes.

“We’ll end up with well over 1,000 pieces of property, and so and what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to find ways first of all to keep them owner occupied if we can. Second, to turn them around and put them back into use as quickly as we can, and to maintain the properties,” Barrett says.

Mayor Barrett says boarded-up homes attract drug dealers and prostitutes – burdening the already squeezed police department.

The mayor says he won’t know for at least three weeks whether his 2014 budget will boost property taxes. Any hike would likely be small, because the state has limited municipalities’ ability to raise revenue.

Ald. Michael Murphy is chair of the Common Council’s Finance Committee.

“We’re allowed by the state to go above a slight bit based on the rate of new growth in the city of Milwaukee. So if we have new growth we have a little bit of wiggle room, but not substantial,” Murphy says.

Murphy says he wants a bigger focus on economic development, as the Common Council and mayor begin hashing out the budget.

“We’re very interested in seeing what type of initiative is going to be proposed to try and get more summer youth jobs in our community, more long-term permanent supportive jobs for families in this community, what type of climate he plans on addressing to encourage business growth in the city,” Murphy says.

Leaders must address another big cost the city bears – paying pensions. Earlier this year, Pew Charitable Trusts rated Milwaukee’s public pension fund the best performing in the nation.

The mayor says he wants to keep that ranking, so his new budget tucks away even more money for city retirees.