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.

MitchellDomes
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.

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.]

Parks
• 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.