Milwaukee County Board Expected to Get an Earful at Budget Hearing

Nov 2, 2015

Milwaukee County supervisors anticipate a packed house at the Mitchell Park Domes Monday night as they hold their annual public hearing on the budget. Supervisors are considering a $1.3 billion spending plan for 2016.

Board member Pat Jursik says many topics stir passion among county residents and bring them to the full board's public hearing each year. Topics including parks and transit.

Jursik believes constituents will voice their approval tonight of a couple actions by the board's finance committee. It's been making changes to County Executive Chris Abele’s spending plan, including adding a bus route to span the length of the county.

“The board did address one express route going north and south, the 80X, which goes all the way to Mequon now and down to Oak Creek through my district,” Jursik says.

Jursik says the finance committee also added $20,000 for seasonal park ranger positions. While residents might be pleased with those additions, they could raise questions about other portions of the budget. For instance, the new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.  Supervisor Jim "Luigi" Schmitt expects it to be a hot topic of discussion. He says many people are upset the county executive did not seek public input before committing $4 million a year for 20 years to the project.

“He negotiated the Bucks deal unilaterally and I think there are some questions there about what are the short term and long term gains for Milwaukee County taxpayers,” Schmitt says.

Schmitt also expects residents to voice concerns about public safety at tonight’s hearing. “I’m sure there will be a lot of advocates for public safety because that’s always a main issue,” Schmitt says.

County Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb says supervisors are in a difficult position on public safety, because the county executive's budget created an $8 million deficit for the sheriff’s department.

“There was a hole in the sheriff’s budget in the County Executive’s proposal that people had noted was unrealistic. The Public Policy Forum as well as the comptroller’s research staff had both written reports that noted the numbers were questionable whether anyone could achieve the type of savings the sheriff was expected to produce under the proposed budget,” Lipscomb says.

Lipscomb says the board's finance committee plugged half of the hole in the sheriff's budget, by increasing the tax levy. He says under the panel's plan, the sheriff would have to make cuts in order to cover the remaining $4 million.

Lipscomb says he expects tonight's hearing to be lengthy and lively, as people with a variety of interests voice their opinions. Members of the finance committee may incorporate some of what they hear into their version of the budget when they approve it Wednesday.

The full board is expected to vote on the spending plan in one week. Then it will head back to the county executive's desk.