A Milwaukee County Sheriff vehicle parked below a bridge being crossed my protesters. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
After the Milwaukee County Board passed a $1.28 billion budget Monday by a vote of 11-6, several county supervisors expressed dismay with the end result. While the budget made investments in the county park system, as well as other initiatives, it also increased funding to the sheriff’s office.
Ahead of Monday’s vote, Supv. Ryan Clancy had called for funds to be reallocated away from the sheriff’s office and towards under-funded services. Budget amendments which were adopted removed $2.4 million from the sheriff office’s capital and operating budget to fund replacing South Shore Park’s playground, employee benefits and re-opening pools across the county in 2022. However, Clancy feels too little was done.
“The amendments passed by the board today are a good start but this isn’t nearly enough to meet the demands that the public has clearly made,” said Clancy. “A 6% increase to the MCSO when other budgets like mental health and parks are flat is not acceptable. Other departments are accountable, transparent, stay within their budgets, and don’t cost the county additional funds in lawsuits for brutality. The Sheriff’s Department meets none of those criteria.”
In addition to replacing a playground at South Shore Park, over $600,000 will be allocated to replace high-priority equipment needed to maintain the park system. More funds will be set aside to reopen county pools next year, as well as roll back increases in costs for employee health benefits. The funding will also help bring the county under the board’s self-imposed bonding limit by reducing general obligation bonding by more than $400,000.
Other, unsuccessful budget amendments included funding the creation of a registered nurse position with the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services’ homeless outreach team. Among other duties, the nurse would have provided support to people struggling with opiate addiction and homelessness. That amendment failed on a 8-9 vote.
Milwaukee’s need for housing in both the city and county is in the spotlight as winter nears. In early October, Wisconsin Examiner covered a tent community in Milwaukee’s King Park, where dozens of unhoused people were sleeping. Later that month, the outreach group Street Angels released its own independently collected census which found that at least 180 people remained unhoused in the city. Twenty-three other amendments aiming to divest $18 million from the sheriff’s operating budget to fund human needs did not pass the board.
“There is more work still to be done,” said Supv. Sequanna Taylor in a statement. Taylor introduced amendments shaped by community input within her district. Many of them focused on re-entry programs for recently incarcerated people, youth support and housing needs, and were adopted by the Board. Taylor asked that Milwaukee’s district attorney and sheriff develop a “no questions asked gun buyback program that incentivizes residents to turn in guns.” She also sought a staff consultant in the newly formed Office of Equity dedicated to addressing inequities.
One of Taylors’ amendments would also direct the Housing Division and House of Correction to work with network emergency shelter providers funded by Milwaukee County to ensure 30% of emergency shelter beds are dedicated to women transitioning out of incarceration.
Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson applauded moves made in the budget towards racial equity initiatives. “I am proud of the hard work we have done to adopt a budget while following the guiding principles of racial equity, preparation, collaboration, sustainability, and decorum that I put forth at the beginning of this process,” said Nicholson. “By building on County Executive [David] Crowley’s budget, we have provided much-needed investments in our park system, administered through a racial equity lens which will benefit residents across all of Milwaukee County.” In addition to adding more than $1.6 million to the parks department budget, $90,000 was allocated to install traffic-slowing devices at numerous parkways and parking lots within the park system.
“Every year’s budget process is challenging and I’m proud of the budget we’ve passed,” Finance Committee Chairman Jason Haas said in a statement. “It preserves core services and provides funding to our Parks Department for critical needs, but because of the lack of shared revenue from the State and inability to raise our own revenue at the County level, our future is still uncertain.” The adopted budget will now go to Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley’s desk for approval. Crowley has until Nov. 12 to issue vetoes which the Board will meet to address on Nov. 15.
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