Many Milwaukee County residents who attended a hearing Wednesday night at the Washington Park Senior Center don't like the thought of having to pay to park along the lakefront or a wheel tax, in order to help plug a $56 million budget shortfall.
County Budget Director Steve Kreklow told the crowd that the reasons for the deficit include the growing cost of pensions and retiree health care and shortfalls in transit. Kreklow says state and federal aid for transit has dropped, along with a decrease in bus ridership. And, he says the county’s new Go Pass that offers free transit rides to seniors has contributed to the shortfall.
“It’s been a popular program, there have been a large number of people signing up but it’s also created a financial challenge for the county. Currently, passenger revenues are down $7 million for the 2016 fiscal year,” Kreklow says
He then outlined proposed solutions to close the gap, which includes eliminating the Go Pass and raising bus fares by a quarter to $2.50 a ride. Kreklow also unveiled possible new fees, such as charging people to park along Lincoln Memorial Drive and in several lakefront lots.
Perhaps the most dramatic reveal was a proposal to impose vehicle registration fee for county residents, ranging from $20 to $60.
“At the $20 level that would raise in 2017 $7.8 million that could be used to support Milwaukee County transportation infrastructure and that would fund most of the cost of our bus replacements,” Kreklow says.
By the time the presentation was over, nearly 100 people had gathered. Usually at public hearings, each person with a concern or idea voices them at a microphone in the middle of the room. But this time, county officials had everybody break into small discussion groups.
Linda Taylor said she doesn’t want to pay to park along the lakefront. “When it’s time for the fireworks, they’re going to have a problem with people being down there. And then people like me with the disability, I’m going to walk down and by the time I get back, I’ve already paid $20,” she explained.
Taylor said she’s also concerned about the proposed boost in bus fares. Her husband Jack said he doesn’t want to pay more to register his vehicle. “It’s too high right now. It’s $95 to get your vehicle registered and they’re talking about $20 or $30. That’s crazy,” he remarked.
Another unhappy person is Mike Brox who said he frequently visits the lakefront. “I run at the lake, I enjoy it with my family and my friends. Some of the costs might be prohibitive. The people who can least afford it are the ones who will be charged,” he said.
Brox suggested cutting pension payments or merging some county departments with the city to plug the budget hole.
County officials say they will compile the comments they received during the small group discussions and submit them to County Executive Chris Abele. He’s expected to submit his formal budget proposal by October 1, 2016.