Milwaukee County 2012 budget hearings Day 2

The second day of the budget hearings came and went today. In addition to the six members of the Finance Committee — please note that there are exactly six members — I was joined by Supervisor Pat Jursik, herself a Finance Committee member until Chairman Lee Holloway kicked her off the committee for some reason. No one has been appointed to take her place. Jursik has acted as a shadow cabinet, advising the committee on matters, often providing a valuable insight into the probable legality of the item currently being debated. The importance of this will reveal itself in my notes on the day’s action.

The following notes came from the County Board’s spokesman Harold Mester. My additions are in [brackets.]

Today, the Committee reviewed the following budgets:

• Federated Library System
• County Historical Society
• War Memorial Center

[This item generated a lot of discussion. The War Memorial Corporation provides a large amount of funding to the Milwaukee Art Museum, and their relationship is not totally clear to me at this time. We’ll hear more about this. Also: Supervisor John Weishan, Jr., introduced a motion to reduce direct funding of the Milwaukee Art Museum from $212,500 to $100,000, with the difference of $112,500 to be retained by the War Memorial Center for general operations. The amendment was laid over.]

• Charles Allis/Villa Terrace Museums
• Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

[All of the above entities are slated to get a 15% budget cut.]

• Milwaukee County Funds for the Arts (CAMPAC) – Amendment approved 6-0 to restore 85% of the funds that had been cut by the County Executive

[In a very surprising move, the County Executive had zeroed out funding for CAMPAC, which provides funding for almost 40 arts groups in the County. The amendment was by Supervisor Broderick. Supervisor Jurisk and I co-sponsored it. It would draw $321,035 from the tax levy, which is a 15% decrease from the 2011 funding of $321,035.]
• University Extension Service

[Their budget allotment is unchanged from 2011.]

• Milwaukee Public Museum

[Their budget allotment is unchanged from 2011.]

• Zoological Department

[We’ll hear more about the Zoo later in the budget process.]

• Parks Department – Amendment approved 6-0 to provide $50,000 for parks cultural events programming which had previously been budgeted in the CAMPAC budget

[This amendment was by Supervisor De Bruin. It passed unanimously.]

I find it curious that this is the only amendment that is listed. There was another amendment, which I’ll get to in a moment, for this is a perfect time to talk about funding for the Milwaukee County Park System.

Most of the attention on this budget has gone to the proposed cuts to the office of the sheriff. What is getting little to no attention at all is the proposed $3,472,462 cut to the County Parks System. Look at that again: three million, four-hundred and seventy-two thousand, four-hundred and sixty-two dollars. That’s a big number, and it translates to job cuts for seasonal park workers. As someone testified during the meeting, these “seasonal” workers actually work for ten months of the year with the understanding that they will be laid off and then rehired a month later. These are the people that do much of the basic maintenance services for the parks, such as lawn cutting and litter pickup. As it’s proposed, their hours would be significantly reduced. Think your neighborhood park is in bad shape now? Well, if this budget passed as is, it would get a lot worse.

Now, remember that other amendment? Amendment 1A 003, for Org Unit No. 9000, Parks, Recreation and Culture, by Supervisor Broderick. The amendement would have increased staff hours from 366,683 to 456,123. This was in direct response to this passage within the proposed budget, on page 9000 – 5, wherein is stated, “The 2011 Adopted Budget included a request for 456,123 seasonal work hours. The 2012 Budget reduces the seasonal staff by 43.0 FTE [full time employees; emphasis added] reducing the number of seasonal hours available to 366,683 or near average. This results in a total savings of $999,010.”

Supervisor Mayo attempted to lay this amendment over, citing the need to see how the whole budget would look the Parks staff levels. A motion to layover takes precedent, so after a short debate, the vote was taken: three ayes, three noes. In the county board, a tied vote equals a failed vote, so the motion failed.

Immediately following that was a move to approve. Care to guess how that went?  Three ayes, three noes. The motion failed.

This dysfunction is a result of there only being six supervisors on the finance committee instead of the required seven.

• • •

Supervisor Romo West introduced a budget amendment that would grant “complete oversight the farm and fish hatchery” down in Franklin to the Hunger Task Force.

Here are some relevant passages from the proposed budget about the county farm and fish hatchery:

Page 9000 – 3: “The Hunger Task Force is the lessee on the property that plants and harvests fruits and vegetables for its Stock Box Program. The Parks Fish Hatchery Specialist raises fish to stock the ponds and lagoons throughout the parks. Over 40,000 fish are stocked each year [throughout the County Parks System] and this coincides with several free fishing clinics for Children.” [Emphasis added.]

Page 9000 – 5: “The 2012 Budget begins the transition for the closure of the Fish Hatchery. [Emphasis added.] The fish that are harvested remain at the Fish Hatchery for 3 years prior to being released into the County ponds and lagoons. In 2012, after the ponds and lagoons are stocked in spring, no additional fish will be added to the Fish Hatchery. The full closure would not occur until all fish currently at the Hatchery are released in the spring of 2014. There are no anticipated savings in 2012. After full closure of the facility in 2014 the County would begin to see annual tax levy savings of approximately $150,000. […] The Parks Department is authorized and directed to seek out potential entities that would be interested in assuming full responsibility for the Fish Hatchery operations from the County prior to the closure in 2014.”

Supervisor Romo West’s budget amendment would grant all operation and maintenance of the fish farm to Hunger Task Force. After Supervisor Jursik raised some fair points about the possible ramifications of handing over an asset for the long term (HTF would run the operation for 25 years), Supervisor Romo West made a motion to lay over the amendment. The motion passed 6-0.

Lotta stuff got done. Frustratingly, some didn’t. I’m glad that we passed the funding for CAMPAC, but it will remain to be seen how that plays ouf in the final budget and vetoes.

Tomorrow we will be working on the sheriff’s budget. Should be interesting!

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Author: Jason Haas

Jason is an elected member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, occasionally moonlights as an amateur gardener, and is a proud father of two, or three, depending on how you do the math.