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2020 City Budget: Milwaukee Mayor Says ‘Storm Clouds Are Coming’

Marti Mikkelson
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (center) explains the challenges the city faces in the 2020 budget.

About 200 people packed into the Municipal Building in downtown Milwaukee Thursday night to give input on the 2020 city budget. Mayor Tom Barrett told the crowd the spending plan for next year poses some unique challenges.

He says 83% of the resources in 2020 will go to the police, public works and fire departments. Departments like libraries, neighborhoods and health will make up less than 10%.

Barrett says the city is limited primarily to the property tax and fees for raising money. He says state aid used to provide a nice chunk of money, but it has declined over the years.

“In 2004, we were receiving approximately $230 million from the state in the shared revenue program. Now, that number is closer to $215 million. That’s a huge problem,” he says.

Barrett then told the crowd that “storm clouds are coming.” He says he’s learned that pension payments to retirees will more than double — to nearly $160 million — in 2023. He says the city will have to set aside money in the pension reserve fund for the next three budget cycles in preparation.

The crowd gasped when it heard the news. Liz Caldwell, of the group Rid Racism Milwaukee, calls on the city to divert money from the police department and invest it elsewhere.

Credit Marti Mikkelson
Members of the group, Black Leaders Organizing For Communities, testified at the public hearing on Thursday.

“I believe that more police funding will not bring down crime, and I’m not sure that the police have done a good job bringing down crime. I’m asking you to divest $25 million from the police budget and invest in innovative and future programs that will help Milwaukee,” she says.

Another concerned citizen is Dorothy Malone. She thinks the city budget should focus more on health care.

“I think more mental health services, agencies should be here, especially more substance abuse agencies with beds and things like that," she says.

Barrett says he’ll deliver his formal budget address in September. Then, there will be a series of public hearings. The full common council is expected to take up the budget in early November.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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