Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s 2019 budget tackles issues from public safety and public health to ensuring the feasibility of the city pension fund. But the budget is tight.
He gave his 2019 budget address to the full Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday. Barrett said that state law restricts property tax increases and, meanwhile, the state is not providing Milwaukee additional revenue.
Nonetheless, he has goals for the city for 2019, including lead safety. He addressed what he called “administrative and program lapses in the health department” and said the department has failed Milwaukee residents.
Barrett said this budget was renewing commitment to all aspects of lead safety, including adding new staff positions to the Childhood Lead Poisoning Program. "Testing, prevention and intervention are components of the effort. This budget includes an investment of $20 million for reducing lead risks and abating lead problems,” he added.
He said the 2019 budget also supports the health department’s other duties, like protecting residents from communicable diseases, reducing infant mortality and preventing violence.
The mayor also targeted public safety, stating that, unlike in the 2018 budget, there are no proposed cuts to positions in the fire department this year. Instead, this new budget supports hiring 10 more police officers, bringing up the potential number of new hires for 2019 to 100.
Also, Barrett said that $13.4 million will be put into reserve to ensure long-term stability of the pension fund.
Overall, while Barrett says the budget is tight, he is optimistic for consensus. “But I anticipate that this will be clearer sailing than some of the ones we’ve had in the past," he said.
So, how could this impact Milwaukee residents? According to the budget’s bottom line, Barrett said a typical homeowner would expect to pay less than an additional $50 next year.
Alderman Mark Borkowski likes the mayor’s proposal. But as to the $20 million budgeted for lead issues, he said that’s just a start. “If we were to do all the lead laterals in our community, we’d be looking at about 550 million dollars," he said. "So, you can basically say the $20 million is, pardon the pun, a drop in the bucket.”
Borkowski's hopeful that the city of Milwaukee can find more money because the safety of children is a high priority. From a public safety standpoint — with no cuts to fire departments and adding 10 police officers in 2019 — he said the budget sounds great.
But Jessica Wineberg is a concerned. She came to the budget address because of her interest in a traffic safety initiative. She also has her eye on lead safety and would like there to be state and federal help to aid communities dealing with lead problems.
"Yeah, I’m very concerned about the lead issue," she said. "My son actually tested high for lead when he was younger, and we used some city programs to address that.”
The public can give the mayor and the full common council feedback on the 2019 budget at a public hearing on Monday, Oct. 8.