2016 Milwaukee County Parks Traveling Beer Gardens Schedule

Here is the schedule for the Milwaukee County Parks Traveling Beer Gardens!

2016_TBGScheduleFlyer.jpg

Here it is in PDF format.

Holler Park is in the 14th district, which I represent. The permanent Humboldt Park Beer Garden and South Shore Park Terrace, and Estabrook Park Beer Garden, will all be reopening, dates TBD.

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.

Budget season awaits

I took a moment to see how the upcoming county budget season would shape out. I’d known for a while that the new budget will come from County Executive Chris Abele’s office on September 29. And the budget process would end in early November. That was correct, November 7th will be our truly, epically long budget adoption meeting. So, from 9/29 to 11/7, I’ll be a troll—the sort that is rarely seen by the light of day. While I don’t think the budget will turn my skin green nor my teeth into jagged spikes, I don’t anticipate it will be terribly pleasant. But we’ll see.

All I know right now is that we stand to make a 10% reduction the County Transit System, which will put a lot of people out of work, and badly inconvenience many, many more. It will definitely be life-changing for the thousands of people who depend on it.

Our cultural institutions stand to take a hit, too. We the taxpayers own the Milwaukee Public Museum, among others. The county also provides funding for the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Charles Allis Art Museum, and the Milwaukee County War Memorial, all on the lakefront. We own and operate several horticultural institutions as well, most famously the Mitchell Park Domes. And there are the dozens of county-owned (read: public) parks. We’ll find out in short order what’s going to befall them.

So basically the next county budget should make it harder to live a productive, engaging, and quality life here. That’s what you get when you shrink the government. Happy with it? Feel accomplished? Just wait till its effects hit home. Then ask yourself those questions again.

• • •

I will be hosting, co-hosting, or attending a total of five budget listening sessions and town hall meetings. The first two are the transit listening sessions that I am co-hosting with Supervisor Jursik of Cudahy and Kerry Thomas of Transit NOW. They are tomorrow, September 13.

Tuesday, September 13, 4:30 – 5:30 & 6:30 p.m. – 7:45 p.m.
Cudahy Library, Winter Garden Room
3500 Library Drive (accessible from MCTS Route 15)

Next month, I will be co-hosting a third meeting in Bay View with Supervisor Dimitrijevic, and hosting one of my own after that.

Monday October 10: South Shore Park Pavilion, 2900 S. Shore Drive, 6-7PM

Tuesday October 25: Wilson Park Senior Center, 2601 W. Howard Avenue, 6-7PM

Then after that is the big public hearing on the budget. That’s usually at the Washington Park Senior Center.

Monday, October 31, 7:00 P.M.

Got all that?

Then on November 3 is a county board meeting, followed the next week by the ultra-marathon budget adoption meeting on November 7. We will have a meeting on Wednesday, November 16 to consider any budget vetoes that the county executive has made. They will be voted up or down, or really, supported or overridden.

With that, the budget will be done. It takes effect January 1, 2012. And then we’ll see how it looks form there.

Revival

So, it’s been a while. How ya been?

I’ve been madly busy with my job as a county supervisor. Generally speaking, it’s been some of the most fulfilling work I’ve had the pleasure of doing. A large part of my job is helping people get things done. Naturally most of that falls on the county level, but I’ve found my influence can carry well beyond that simple confine. And when it does reach beyond is when things tend to get the most interesting.

But even things within the county level often keep my calendar full. It’s not uncommon for me to have four or five work-related events within the day, each one at a different location somewhere around Milwaukee County. That’s not counting the time that I take to return phone calls or research an issue that I’m working on.

While most of what I do will never make headlines, it’s these little things that yield the greatest satisfaction for me. I have helped pass some significant legislation in my four months on the board. And I’ve also gotten graffiti removed and a broken slide replaced at a county park playground, and helped create a new community garden on county-owned land. To me, the latter two are examples of things that will directly and very quickly improve the quality of life for a lot of people.

You might have heard me on Radio Milwaukee’s Neighborhood Project, in which I said that being a county supervisor is what you want it to be. And to me, it is. I’ve been devoting a great many hours per day to my job, attending neighborhood meetings, touring county facilities, and exploring the county’s services. They are very deeply woven into our society. I want to help improve them, which is why I ran for office in the first place.

What? Improve society? Whatever. Hippie crap. 

The reason I’m doing this is to make sure that we can continue to have great events like Chill on the Hill, which brings a couple thousand people to Humboldt Park each Tuesday night in the summer.

Some things are new and unexpected, or at least had been unknown to me. Take, for example, that on Parks Committee, I voted for the Zablocki Park Pavilion (3717 W. Howard Avenue) to be leased to the Philippine Cultural and Civic Center Foundation. That group will use the pavilion as its new cultural center, and will take up the remodeling and upkeep of the pavilion. That means a good space will be maintained and remain open to the public at no cost to the taxpayer.

Sometimes I have to respond to things that make headlines.  I was at home the night that a U.S. Air Force B-1 bomber took off from Mitchell International Airport on August 11, 2011. As it took off with its afterburners engaged, it made a noise greater than a banshee being torn in half as it tried to slip loose from the underworld! Everything in the neighborhoods around the airport was shaking and quaking. My young son, who had been laying on his back and playing, sat straight up with a mild look of terror on his face. What on earth was that noise?

People called and emailed my office to ask what it was, and they called the airport noise complaint line in droves.

In those sorts of instances, folks appreciate hearing from someone who can tell them what was going on. And they really appreciate knowing when something will end, or if it will happen again. We’ve had a lot of issues with airport noise due to the reconstruction of the runways. Again, I can tell people what’s going on, what to expect, and how long it will go on. They really appreciate that, and I am grateful to have helped make it happen.

So, yeah. That’s my job. At least part of it. And most of the time, it’s a lot of what I want it to be.

How dire is the County’s future? Very much so, says forthcoming report

I find no joy in the possibility of the Milwaukee County government being forced to declare bankruptcy. That’s the prediction of a “super-secret report” by the Greater Milwaukee Committee that somehow was not so secret that an executive summary got into Dan Bice’s hands. It’s a testament to the effects of the old school politicking that led to the pension scandal as much as it is to the ineffectuality of the current county administrator. And even if it does point to that, I see no reason to gloat or say “told you so.” It’s a dire problem that we need to prevent if at all possible.

According to Bice’s column, the report summary states “Milwaukee [County] is facing unprecedented fiscal and structural challenges, including a growing cost of healthcare and pension benefits that is projected to take EVERY DOLLAR of the County’s property tax levy by 2016.”

It also lists the following as possible solutions to the problem. Again, quoting the article:

“Changing county government’s bottom line by scaling back its health care program for current and retired employees; requiring county workers to retire later and give more to the pension fund; reducing the number of supervisors and the amount they are paid; and selling off or leasing county properties.”

I have mixed feelings about those points. Would the furlough days implemented by the county exec still be in place when this occurs? By how much does that reduce the employees’ pay? Does that also impact their ability to be able to pay more into the healthcare system? (And if we had a single-payer system like every other modern, industrialized country on Earth, would this be a problem?)

“The draft plan also says county officials should consider dropping the elected county executive position in favor of creating a county administrator post that would be filled by a County Board appointee.”

I think we certainly need to somehow depoliticize the office. But how would the appointed county administrator be different from the elected county executive position? This would be a product of the elected board, which removes that person from being chosen by the will of the people. So I’m reluctant to support that. What would the appointed county administrator’s pay level be? Would the $50,000 pay raise that the county executive gave himself still be in effect?

Again, back to the article:

“Spinning off the parks, zoo, bus system and all recreational and cultural programs so they are run by separate authorities or commissions. The county could also deliver non-mandatory services via public-private arrangements or in conjunction with other local governments.”

Tread very carefully here. First, this is talking about taking at least four sections of the county government and splitting them off into independent groups that would each require their own systems of finance and administration. We already have an overwhelming number of small governments within the County, yet I hear nothing about reducing or changing the number of those. This would create at least four new quasi-governmental agencies. And some people claim to want less government.

The bus system could be removed from the county and put in the hands of a regional transit authority (RTA). However, the binary political system that dominates the area makes it difficult to get a resolution passed that would enact an effective RTA that would serve more than just Milwaukee County. What of Kenosha and Racine Counties RTAs?

A parks district has been discussed. I think the County Parks system worked has very well. The departure of huge portions of the tax base over the past half-century has impacted it, to say nothing of the past eight years of haphazard governance. County voters passed a park-and-transit-funding referendum in 2008, but the state legislature has yet to put that into effect. Implementing that would allow us to preserve the existing government infrastructure.

As for “non-mandatory services,” what are those? Are we talking about an “originalist” view of the county’s role? I don’t (want to) know what that would entail. I’m probably mixing metaphors here, but we would need to see substantial detailing of what exactly would be taken out of the government’s hands.

We have already lost a great deal of our local control of our government in the past few years as the state of Wisconsin has stepped in to operate county-administered agencies that were allowed to flounder. By attempting to starve local bodies to death, Walker’s dream “to eliminate the government entirely” did not succeed in eliminating government. In fact, it caused the state government to expand, to compensate for what he tried to kill off. I don’t think many people understand that that has occurred, or what it means.

There’s a lot to chew on. It will require deep thought. Are you up for that? If so, let’s get started.