County Board approves 2016 Budget

November 20, 2015
County Executive Chris Abele

County Executive
Chris Abele

By Steve Waring

Special to the Milwaukee Times

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors adopted an amended $1.37 billion budget for 2016 on November 9. The adopted budget includes a 1.4 percent property tax increase. By a margin of 14-3, the Board approved several amendments to the budget submitted by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. Abele’s budget included a $9 million decrease in funding for the County Sheriff ’s Department and no tax increase.

Last month Sheriff David Clarke appeared on a nationally syndicated FoxTV news program, comparing members of the Black Lives Matter Movement with the terrorist group Islamic State and calling them “scum” deserving of vigilante mob justice. Sworn law enforcement officials said that the $9 million cut would jeopardize public safety and Sheriff Clarke told the Board of Supervisor’s finance committee that the Executive’s budget “gives me no chance to succeed in terms of balancing the budget.” County supervisors restored $4 million in funding, but in an interview with the Journal Sentinel published November 16, Abele said he will veto the $4 million addition due to Sheriff Clarke’s comments about members of the Black Lives Matter Movement and African Americans in general.

Out of 66 amendments to the budget, the $4 million for the Office of the County Sheriff was one of only two vetoes. The only other amendment Abele vetoed was $750,000 for a fish passage on the Estabrook Dam, which he called on county supervisors to demolish. Abele said there would be no threat to public safety as Milwaukee County has municipal police departments covering nearly every inch of the geographical boundaries of the county. Abele also said that if his veto stands there will be no county tax increase next year. In a statement released November 17, Supervisor John F. Weishan, Jr., said the $4 million cut was part of a “personal vendetta” and he called upon the Board of Supervisors to override Abele’s veto. In order to override a County Executive veto, the Board of Supervisors requires a two-thirds majority.

The Board will act on any vetoes at its next meeting on November 18. The budget approved by the Board of Supervisors relies 35 percent less on reserve funds and includes a 1.4 percent tax increase which is below the maximum state limit, according to County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb, Sr. “We passed a budget that was reflective of the public comments we heard during an open and transparent process during weeks of testimony,” said Milwaukee County Supervisor Willie Johnson, Jr. “We enhanced public safety, parks and transit while keeping within a responsible budget. We accomplished the goal of providing residents with the services they expect while staying within our means.” Johnson and Supervisor Jim “Luigi” Schmitt co-chair the budget-writing Finance, Personnel and Audit committee for the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors.

The Board did make some modest additions, including additional funding for county parks, restoration of funding for homeless shelters, increased funding for public transportation, $300,000 to fund the new three-person Office of African American Affairs as well as $300,000 to create a new county-issued photo identification card. To help fund the new programs, the Board issued an across-the-board cut of one percent to all county departments. An expenditure reduction of 1 percent is a fraction of the 12 percent lump sum reduction recommended by the Executive for the Office of the Sheriff, Lipscomb said, adding the adopted budget provides safeguards if a department cannot achieve a 1 percent reduction.