Mayor proposes cutting 120 police officers in 2021 budget

September 24, 2020

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is proposing to cut 120 police officers in the 2021 city budget.

He presented his budget Tuesday, September 22, 2020.

Barrett said the coronavirus pandemic has caused budget challenges and a drop in revenue.

Milwaukee’s bond rating was recently downgraded by two notches making it more difficult for the city to borrow money.

Barrett said Milwaukee has not received an increase in revenue from the state in 18 years.

The legislature has also not allowed the city to implement a sales tax increase in order to help raise city revenue.

Barrett said Milwaukee has 650 fewer city employees than it did in 2004.

“Coming into this budget year, I knew we knew we were going to face serious challenges with pension costs, employee health care and structural and fiscal issues,” he said. “The pandemic and economic tsunami have made it much worse. Additionally, this budget demands attention to fundamental issues of racial justice and equity.”

Barrett said the eliminated positions at the police department would be through attrition and not layoffs.

The cost of police health care and other benefits have increased 6 percent, Barrett said.

The proposed budget also consolidates police and fire 911 operators and dispatchers.

“The new Office of Emergency Communication is positioned to provide better service in a more cost effective way,” Barrett said. “I want shorter wait times, fewer transfers of calls, and better overall service for our citizens.”

Barrett called for less police militarization and a review of officer discipline.

“I know the vast majority of officers who serve our city are good officers and really good people who will embrace positive change,” he said. “I am also aware that the police department budget is going to disappoint some who want far less police spending and fewer police officers and it’s going to disappoint those who want more spending and more police officers.”

Barrett also said one engine company from the fire department will need to be eliminated.

A new street lighting fee will be imposed on residents to upgrade the city’s system. Barrett said he also wanted to direct $6.5 million in resources into new housing support programs.

No cuts will be made to library hours.

The mayor said Milwaukee will need to contribute $71 million to the pension fund in 2021 and $160 million in 2023.

“We are facing an unsustainable demand driven primarily by the pensions for public safety employees,” Barrett said. “We must begin preparing now, setting aside money to blunt the impact of the massive payments coming due in just two years. We also need to have a real partnership with the state to help address this problem.”

The budget also calls for creating a climate action plan to recommend ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions and create “green” jobs.

The Common Council will review the proposed budget and vote on it Nov. 6.

A virtual public meeting will be held Oct. 6 at 6:30 p.m. to hear comment on the budget.