County Board to hold public hearing on Mitchell Park Domes [updated]

The (mostly?) temporary  closure of the Mitchell Park Domes due to safety concerns is old news by now. This is a direct result of the deferred maintenance that has plagued the Milwaukee County Parks System for far too many years now — and I argue deferred maintenance is a direct cause of the tragedy at O’Donnell Park  in 2010. And the issues at the Domes are not at all new. The problems with deteriorating concrete have been known since 2004, and I voted for action on it back in 2013.

The Mitchell Park Domes

The Mitchell Park Domes, a popular tourist attraction and point of local pride, are the latest attraction to have been closed by deferred maintenance. This, despite the fact that in July 2015, I and my colleagues on the County Board allocated $5 million from an already-realized budget surplus to directly address deferred maintenance in the Parks, County Executive Abele dismissed this in his veto message [PDF] as  “flippant and irresponsible decision making” by the Board.

In September 2015, we also approved $500,000 specifically for Domes maintenance.

Half a year later, the Domes are closed.

In response to this closure, the County Board is holding a public hearing at the Mitchell Park Domes Greenhouse [map] at 6 PM on Wednesday, February 24th. We want to find out what the people of Milwaukee County want to happen with this cherished institution. According to an email from County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb, the hearing agenda lists presentations by the County Executive; the Parks Director; and the Friends of the Domes, and comments by the public.

I’ll do a gentleman’s bet with anyone willing on whether or not the exec will or will not appear, as he repeatedly failed to represent his own department at a series of budget hearings last year.

Update: An e-mail from Abele to Chairman Lipscomb begins, “Thank you for the invitation. I will make sure that someone from my administration will be in attendance to answer the Board’s questions.” That’s a “no.” It is his sixth? seventh? eighth? failure to appear before the public on official business.

Either way, see you on February 24, 2016, at the greenhouse.


Bird’s eye view of the recommended 2014 Milwaukee County budget process

The Milwaukee County Board is analyzing and modifying the Milwaukee County Executive’s Proposed 2014 Budget. Milwaukee County’s budget is approximately $1.3 Billion. This may seem like a large amount, and it is. From this sum, Milwaukee County pays for services ranging from Sheriff’s department, to the Courts system to the Gold Medal Award Winning County Parks System.

In recent years, Milwaukee County has faced great challenges in providing services while maintaining low taxes. This is due in part to the ongoing constriction of shared revenue from the state of Wisconsin as well as rising healthcare costs for our employees. Shared revenue is operational funding given to Milwaukee County from the State of Wisconsin. Counties are an extension of State Government, and therefore eligible for this funding.

These constrictions present a quandary. How do we determine which services are most important? Where do we make our cuts? How much can we ask our employees to contribute? The past several county boards have needed to make hard decision on how much should be cut, which have manifested themselves in reductions of service and reducing the benefits we afford our employees by forcing them to contribute ever-increasing amount to their own health insurance and pensions.

While the level of cuts has lessened to more popular services such as the Parks Dept. these budgets have included large cuts to the sheriff’s office and mental health services, as well as dramatic increases to employee cost contributions.

Our budgetary process begins with department heads submitting their requested budgets to both the County Board and the County Executive. The County Executive’s office prepares a recommended budget and submits it to the County Board for consideration. It is important to bear in mind that while each department submits its own budget request, the executive’s office is then free to make changes to it. It is reviewed by the Board’s analysts for a week, and a summary is prepared for Supervisors. After this, the Finance, Personnel and Audit Committee begins its budget hearings. In the first phase, the Committee reviews the County’s Operational Budget. In this section Departmental budgets are heard first, with each county department director speaking to the Finance Committee about their department’s needs. After hearing from the Department heads, the Committee reviews the Capital Improvements Budget, which allocates money for improvements to County facilities. Last, after hearing the presentations from departments and reviewing the capital improvements, the committee considers amendments that Supervisors nominate to make changes to the budget.

The number of questions committee members ask of department heads seems directly proportional to the department’s complexity. For simpler departments, the questions may be short and simple. For example, the Finance Committee, which I am the Vice Chair of, didn’t have many for the UW-Extension, whereas the Health & Human Services hearing felt like an all-day affair due to its complexity. Another example of the complexities related to the budget process was in this year’s Parks Department budget: it came out under my questioning that the department had not requested the closures of Noyes and Pulaski indoor swimming pools.

I don’t yet know which route we’ll take in making changes to this year’s budget, but  I look forward to hearing from the residents of my district on what they feel are need to be preserved the most.

The “reform” of Milwaukee County Government: Massive power transfer to county executive

We have received the text and attachments of the Milwaukee County government “reform” bill that is now circulating in the state legislature. Please read through these documents carefully.  The bill would have a binding referendum in April 2014. While most people would be happy to cut elected official’s pay and benefits, there are a lot of things that you would not vote on, but would take effect with bill’s signing.

What I would like to point out to you is the total transfer of power that this bill would perform. The County Board would be strippe of virtually all powers to interact with county departments, be they Transit, Parks, the Airport, Highways, Dept. of Aging, Human Resources, etc. Every request for contact would have to be approved through the county executive’s office. Every single one. So if you wanted a change to Humboldt Park, while right now you would call my office, under this, I’d have to grovel before Abele. If you have a problem with a bus stop, I couldn’t touch it. I’d have to grovel before Abele. You would lose your voice in the county government. It would all be run by the unaccountable executive.This is akin to the president of the United States getting a bill that would remove Congress’s oversight and checking of executive power. The president would have unchecked power to control the government. Think back to grade school, when we learned about the three branches of government, each helping check the other’s grasp on power. This would tip the County government way, way, way to the executive’s favor. Your would lose your way to be heard on these matters that directly affect you.

Collective bargaining is another thing that would be granted exclusively to the executive under this bill. While Act 10 has stripped most public employees of the right to collective bargaining, fire dept. and sheriff’s deputies still have bargaining rights. Currently, it’s done through the nine-member Finance Committee. Under this, it would all be at the behest of the county executive. If Act 10 was overturned, this would still be in effect, so all 4,000-some employees would be under his thumb.
You could lose your voice in county government through this bill. There would be no accountability for the executive, save for at election each four years. This is a transfer of power away from a body of 18 supervisors onto one executive. It’s a threat to the democratic principles that made this state great so long ago, but have since been thrown to the wolves.I ran for office to do something for the people who elected me. This bill would take that power away.

Jason Haas

Milwaukee County Supervisor, District 14
(Proudly representing the Airport, Bay View, Copernicus, Holler, Humboldt, KK River Parkway, Morgan, Saveland, Tippecanoe, and Wilson Park neighborhoods.)

Results from 11/3/11 Milwaukee County Board meeting

Today was the last Milwaukee County Board meeting prior to passing the 2012 budget, which happens Monday, November 7.

• 12-7 (No: Borkowski, Cesarz, Johnson, Jursik, Rice, Sanfelippo, Schmitt) to lay over [emphasis added] the County Executive’s veto of a resolution providing for an advisory referendum on the plan by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District to pay approximately $41.1 million to the City of Franklin for the costs related to building the Ryan Creek Interceptor project.

• 16-3 (No: Borkowski, Cesarz, Rice) to override [emphasis added] the County Executive’s veto of a resolution to negotiate an agreement to fund an artistic bus shelter with the Bay View Business Improvement District.

• Referred back to Committee with no objection – to amend County Ordinances as it pertains to sick leave policies regarding sick allowance accrual and payout or credit at retirement.

• 18-1 (No: Sanfelippo) to approve an ordinance to govern the carrying of concealed weapons in Milwaukee County buildings, and to amend the schedule of cash deposits and maximum penalties.

• 18-1 (No: Borkowski) to adopt the Long-Range Lakefront Planning Committee’s Report for the development of Milwaukee’s lakefront.

• 12-7 (No: Biddle, Borkowski, Cesarz, Rice, Romo West, Sanfelippo, Holloway) to reject a resolution expressing intent to collaborate with the City of Milwaukee to utilize funds of $54.9 million to enhance Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) services.

• 14-5 (No: Cesarz, Jursik, Rice, Sanfelippo, Schmitt) to create an Economic Development Fund in order to develop sustainable jobs and new tax base in Milwaukee County.

• 13-5-1 (No: Borkowski, Cesarz, Jursik, Rice, Sanfelippo; Abstain: Thomas) to approve a resolution stating opposition to Assembly Bill 329 relating to changing the Milwaukee County Treasurer to an elected Comptroller position.

All other items on today’s agenda were approved with no objection. The complete digest agenda from today’s meeting can be found on the County Legislative Information Center.

The next meeting of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisor is the Budget Adoption meeting scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Monday, November 7, 2011, in Room 200 of the Milwaukee County Courthouse. The veto override session, if necessary, will be Wednesday, November 16, 2011.

The next regular meeting will be Thursday, December 15, 2011, at 9:30 a.m. in Room 200 of the Milwaukee County Courthouse.


Milwaukee County 2012 budget hearings, Day 7 (10/24/2011)

The amount of activity on the county board appears to increase in direct proportion to the proximity of any meeting, and even more so as budget passage nears. Things are really picking up now, and we have about two weeks before our final budget-passing marathon meeting.

Here’s what the finance committee looked at today:

Milwaukee County Transit/Paratransit System
• Amendment approved 6-0 to conduct an audit of the Milwaukee County Paratransit program to focus on fraud prevention and quality of service issues as well as any other concerns identified in the courthouse of the audit.
[Over a dozen fraudsters were nabbed the last time this was performed!
• Amendment approved 5-1 (No: Schmitt) to increase Paratransit fares by $0.75 rather than the $1.25 recommended by the County Executive.
• Amendment approved 4-2 (No: Mayo, Schmitt) to have the Office of the Sheriff administer the current contract with G4S Wackenhut for security on transit buses and the $920,000 appropriation for these services is budgeted in the Office of the Sheriff. The Sheriff is requested to manage transit security services and recommend changes to improve effectiveness.
• Amendment approved 6-0 to include, beginning in June 2012, driver safety shield installation on all new Milwaukee County Transit System bus purchase specifications. Milwaukee County shall seek grant funding for the installation of safety shields for existing transit fleet vehicles. [Emphasis added.]
• Amendment approved 5-1 (No: Thomas) to continue a pilot program for designated stroller areas on transit buses. Additionally, MCTS will work with the Office of the Sheriff to enforce Chapter 63, in that no non-service animals or specified weapons are allowed on any transit fleet vehicles in order to maximize passenger/driver safety.

DAS – Facilities Management
• Amendment approved 6-0 to work with the Department of Audit to develop a method of collecting data on racial and gender breakdowns of all contractor employees working on Milwaukee County construction or maintenance projects.
• Amendment approved 3-2 (No: De Bruin, Schmitt) to employ County security employees at secure designated security facilities, with the cost partially offset with the elimination of the current security contract.
• Amendment approved 5-0 (Excused: Mayo) to eliminate the contribution to the debt service reserve, conduct a countywide comprehensive facilities plan, and increase the Appropriation for Contingencies.

Federated Library System
• Amendment approved 4-2 (No: Schmitt, Thomas) to restore the County’s 2012 tax levy contribution of $66,650 to the Federated Library System. [An increase of some $9,000 on the tax levy.]

• Amendment approved 6-0 to form a Workgroup to enter into discussions with the Hunger Task Force on the specifics of a lease arrangement that is beneficial to both parties. The proposed lease shall address all components of operating the farm and fish hatchery including, but not limited to, staffing, land utilization, commodity distribution and building maintenance and repair. [I co-sponsored this amendment.]
• Amendment approved 5-1 (No: Thomas) to increase seasonal parks staff hours from 366,683 to 411,446. [I’ll check on the tax levy implications of this.]
• Amendment approved 4-2 (No: Schmitt, Thomas) to deny the abolishment of 15 FTE Park Maintenance Worker in Charge positions and create 15 FTE Parks/Highway Maintenance Workers.

• • •

Tomorrow’s budget hearing will be on the county sheriff’s office and the  Behavioral Health Division. Also, I have my budget town hall at the Wilson Park Senior Center that night at 6:00.

Wednesday’s meeting is on Employee Fringe Benefits (which are often now worse than those at a private employer), Land Sales, and the Dept. of Administrative Services.

Thursday’s hearing will be for discussion of Finance and Audit Committee’s amendments and recommended tax levy, State Exempt Computer Aid, if necessary, and the Property Taxes Budget, as Amended.

Monday October 31 is the county board public hearing on the County Executive’s 2012 Recommended Budget. At this meeting, the public does all the speaking, and we listen. This will be at the Washington Park Senior Center, 4420 West Vliet Street.

The final Committee on Finance and Audit Budget Hearing will be on Wednesday, November 2, 2011, at 9:30 a.m.

Here’s the remaining 2012 budget schedule (PDF).

We meet on Monday, November 7 to hammer out the final version, and hopefully pass it before the day turns into night and the night into day. But even then, it’s not over! We meet again on Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 1:30 p.m. for possible veto overrides. I guarantee you Abele is going to try to keep the budget as flat as Walker. We’ll see how it all turns out.

Milwaukee County 2012 budget hearings, Day 5

We made it through the first week of budget hearings, and we’re all standing. That’s a good sign.

This post has a lot of juicy tidbits if you’re interested in how an elected governing body carries out its duty to determine its own future course. In particular, check out the stuff about the corporation counsel and VISIT Milwaukee/DAS.

The first week of the budget haerings been an exhausting process, but nothing  shows you how a government works like sitting through and participating in the crafting of its budget. It tells you a lot about who does what, and how things work—or the opposites of those.

Here’s all the matters that were covered today. I was only present for part of the meeting. My notes are in [brackets.] Otherwise the list is as prepared by board spokesman Harold Mester. Minutes are available through the Milwaukee County Legistar system as well.

• • •

• DAS – Risk Management
• DAS – Administration and Fiscal Affairs
• DAS – Procurement Division
• DAS – Information Management Services Division
• Land Sales

[Several supervisors had questions on this topic. I asked about if a revolving loan fund had ever existed, and if a similar fund was set up for the Men of Color Task Force. As I understood it, nothing had been set up for that task force.]

• Corporation Counsel

[A very interesting discussion emerged from this when Finance Committee Chairman Johnny Thomas stated that a new policy detailing how supervisors could make requests of corporation counsel, who is the County’s primary lawyer. As described, a request for an opinion would need to come through either the chair (of the wholy board? or of a committee?), of a committee, or from the Body of the Whole, which is a meeting of the full Board of Supervisors. Thus under this provision, individual supervisors  would either be not allowed to, or at very least strongly discouraged, from asking for a written legal opinion from the corporate counsel.

[There was confusion among the committee as to the existence of a policy on this. Assistant corporation counsel Jeff Grady said that a policy had been in place for several decades indicating something to this effect. I had not heard of it, and two of the longest-serving members of the board who were also present at that meeting had no recollection øf such policy either.

[Supervisor Jursik, who is the only lawyer serving as a county supervisor, made very strong points about the possible effects of barring individual supervisors from soliciting an opinion from the body’s own legal counsel. I also asked a few questions about the origin of this statement as well. Several other supervisors asked questions about the nature of the policy. The general consensus was that if a policy on making requests of corporate counsel was to be made, it would need to come out in the light of day and very carefully thought through.]

• Litigation Reserve Account
• DAS – Office for Persons with Disabilities
• Civil Service Commission
• Human Resources Division/Labor Relations/Personnel Review Board/Ethics Board – Amendment approved 6-0 to deny the proposed consolidation of Labor Relations, the Personnel Review Board and the Ethics Board within the Department of Human Resources

[I was not present for this, but I do support the measure.]

• DAS – Employee Benefits Division
• DAS – Economic Development (New Department)
• VISIT Milwaukee

[This department would be absorbed into a larger and more powerful DAS (Department of Administrative Services) under the Abele’s proposed budget. Questions were asked about the veiled nature of its funding, which was not listed as a line item under the new DAS.]

• Milwaukee County Automated Land Information System
• County Clerk
• Register of Deeds

• Committee voted 6-0 to approve the 2012 Special Charge for Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC)

[Supervisor De Bruin was once livid at SEWRPC for presenting the County Board’ vote against endorsing the expansion of I-94 as a vote in support of the expansion. The description of this process caused several people in the room to become slack-jawed. That said, Supervisor De Bruin moved to approve the issuance of the slightly reduced county funding for SEWRPC.]

The Committee will continue its review of budgets and consideration of amendments throughout October in Room 203-R of the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

The Committee will continue its review of budgets and consideration of amendments throughout October in Room 203-R of the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

Click here to access the 2012 budget meeting schedule
Click here to listen to live audio from the meetings  (available while meetings are in progress)
Click here to access the Budget Overview presented by County Board Staff.

The County Board of Supervisors, under the leadership of Chairman Lee Holloway, will adopt the 2012 Budget on Monday, November 7 at 8:30 a.m. in Room 200 of the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

The County Board’s annual Public Hearing on the 2012 Budget is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. Monday, October 31 at the Washington Park Senior Center, located at 4420 W. Vliet Street in Milwaukee.