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Mayor’s Budget Matches Needs with Means

On September 22, the day before he presented his proposed 2005 Budget to the Common Council, Mayor Tom Barrett offered a briefing session highlighting areas of the proposal he believed be of measurable concern to Milwaukee neighborhoods. Mayor Barrett pointed out that income in Milwaukee has dropped over the past four years, with an overall 2 percent decline in 2001-02. During that time, actual filing of federal tax forms also declined, indicating that fewer people earned the amount of money necessary to file returns. This is not good news for a city looking at a $36 million deficit, as well as a reduction of state Shared Revenue payments of more than $19 million over the last two years. Nevertheless, the Mayor’s proposed budget complies with the state legislature’s definition of a “tax freeze,” a cap on the tax levy tied to growth in new construction in the city. Mayor Barrett has proposed a tax rate for 2005 of $9.22 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, or 51 cents less than the 2004 rate of $9.73. Increased property values may cause some homeowners to pay slightly more than last year in city taxes, but if the values have increased less than 9.1 percent in the last year, they will experience a decrease in property taxes. Of course, these proposed figures only apply to the city’s portion of the tax bill. Milwaukee Public Schools and Milwaukee County control their own budgets and tax levies. Public Safety Mayor Barrett made it clear during the briefing session that his budget would not compromise on public safety. His proposal would preserve the number of uniformed police officers and fully fund one recruitment class, bringing the number of classes to three in a 20-month period. The Mayor proposed some changes of staffing in the fire department, reducing the manpower on non-special team engine companies from five firefighters to four, which still meets national standards, yet would produce a savings of $605,000. Streamlined Garbage Pickup A proposed change for the Department of Public Works would mean that larger items such as mattresses and furniture can be left with regular garbage for pick-up. The exception would be large appliances, which could be dropped off at special centers, unless our intrepid neighborhood metal scavengers get them first. The regular garbage pick-up would also include yard waste and brush, but would be limited to 4 cubic yards per customer per week, between April 1 and Nov. 30. Reduced Boulevard Planting The Mayor’s proposal includes a city- wide 30% reduction in boulevard plantings. Decisions on plantings will be made in consultation with the local alderman. Residents with specific requests concerning boulevard plantings, or money-saving suggestions about water use during irrigation season can make good use of this more direct line of communication to the DPW. Holding the Line for Libraries The budget will keep all Milwaukee Public Libraries open, but will cut back on the hours for some, and will reduce payments for some inter-library loan services. Some Simple Sewer Ideas Sometimes simple ideas can make a big difference. The mayor proposes to change the plumbing code to allow any building in the combined sewer service area to disconnect qualified downspouts, reducing the amount of rainwater that goes directly into the sewers. Partnering with Public Schools The Mayor proposes that the city partner with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) to provide one-on-one mentoring for at-risk students. Citizen volunteers will be screened, then trained to work specifically with high school students. Participants would be eligible for a property tax credit of approximately $360. The mayor’s proposal makes no mention of compensation for participants who are not property owners. In his speech before the Common Council on Sept. 23, Mayor Barrett renewed his commitment to the neighborhoods of Milwaukee. “Despite our challenges, we are a city with vibrant neighborhoods and tremendous potential for economic growth.” he said. “Every neighborhood in Milwaukee is unique and deserves the opportunity to thrive. “Securing long-term financial stability in every neighborhood will require fresh ideas, a commitment to planning, and an end to the politics of blame and sound bites. It will require a commitment from each of us to work together on a united front. We must agree on the right mix of quality services and funding to enable Milwaukee to grow and become a successful player in the regional, national and global economy.” The Finance and Personnel Committee will begin hearings on 2005 city department budgets starting Oct. 1. A joint public hearing with Mayor Barrett and the Common Council will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 11, in the Council Chamber at City Hall to receive public input on the budget. The budget will be adopted by the council on Friday, Nov. 12.