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Politics & Government

Milwaukee Police Staffing, Lead Abatement Among the Issues on Budget Adoption Day

The Milwaukee Common Council meets Friday to adopt a budget for the city for 2017. Among the issues that top the list - public safety and lead abatement. Mayor Tom Barrett’s proposal boosts police spending, but does not include hiring more officers. The plan also contains additional money to address lead issues both in paint and pipes.

At quite a few public hearings this year, people called on the city to hire more police officers, in light of a spike in violence. Mayor Barrett said in his budget address that it wasn’t possible to hire more officers in 2017 because state aid to cities has declined, while payments are increasing for employees’ health care and pensions.

He says the city will graduate more than 160 officers from the police academy next year. However, those new officers will fill the vacancies from retirements, so there won’t be a net gain. Barrett says the police force will stand at nearly 1,900 officers, a number he calls impressive considering the budget challenges the city faces.

The budget proposal also features the city’s efforts to get rid of lead in older homes. Lead has been an ongoing issue in Milwaukee, because the city has about 70,000 homes that were built before 1951; many of them were fitted with lead pipes. A large number also contained lead paint. Mayor Barrett says his budget earmarks $11 million for abatement. That includes $4 million so crews can rid more homes of lead paint.

As for the drinking water, the city would spend $5 million to remove lead pipes from nearly 400 day care facilities. And, the proposed budget provides funding to replace 300 existing residential pipe lines when they leak or fail.

In addition, the budget contains a $5 million federal grant for the new Office of Violence Prevention. It would offer a trauma care program to help children and families cope with violence. The Mayor also proposes more money for the Compliance Loan Program. It help homeowners make property improvements with no-interest loans in order to avoid foreclosure.

The budget boosts the tax levy by $7 million, over this year. For the average home, that amounts to an increase of $26.