Mayoral Candidates on Bike Lanes and the City Budget

Ten mayoral candidates were asked the following questions this month; only candidates who answered are listed. Most responded by email. The questions: 1) Are you in favor of a bike lane on the Hoan Bridge? 2) How would you deal with city budget difficulties?

Tom Barrett 1. I like the idea of a bike lane on the Hoan Bridge; however, I do have concerns about the high-end estimates of $3.5 million. We would have to consider costs. I would be favorable to private investments on this project. 2. I support the 2004 tax levy freeze because city residents and businesses should not have to shoulder the burden of a lousy economy. I also believe that we can’t gut essential City services. I will: [1] Undertake a performance and financial audit of City Government. It’s time for an independent review of how the City manages our tax dollars. The recent reports about the $40 million cost overruns at the Police Department’s Communication Center raise questions about internal management that should be addressed through an independent third party. I want the audit to identify all long-term obligations [capital debt, pension payments, etc] and the impact those obligations will have on future tax levies as well as to identify cost saving measures. [2] Pursue the consolidation of municipal services and shared service agreements. Earlier in the campaign I recommended that the City and County consolidate emergency 911 telephone services. It would be a waste of taxpayer dollars if both the City and County invested in separate systems. The City has paid for a new system and City residents should not have to pay a county tax for a duplicative system. If we are to keep taxes from rising, we must do a better job of collaborating with other local units of government. I will do just that. [3] Fight to protect state shared revenues. In 2004, the City plans to collect $197 million in property taxes. The Police Department’s budget is $178 million; the Fire Department’s budget is $88 million. These two departmental budgets exceed the total levy by $69 million. The reason Police and Fire are not being gutted or, the Health Department and Libraries being completely eliminated, is State Shared Revenue. In 2004, Milwaukee will receive approximately $240 million, $9.8 million less than the 2003 payment. I will fight for this program and for Milwaukee’s fair share. The attempts by Acting Governor McCallum and Republican legislators to eliminate and/or transfer shared revenues from Milwaukee to wealthier communities cannot be repeated.

Vince Bobot (in an interview) 2. I don’t think balancing the budget is an all or nothing proposition (tax cuts versus service cuts). Life’s not like that. We need to talk about trimming, becoming more efficient, and managing our government – not making cuts. As municipal judge, my budget was less last year than for the year before, and we were able to provide better services. As a city, we have to work harder to do more with less. I’m up for the challenge. We can’t talk like defeatists and go on and on about all the cuts that need to be made. All City departments could benefit from trims and efficiencies. The police department can be much more efficient – there’s a whole litany of things a new chief could do. Police need to do what policemen do, but we can’t afford the horses, for example. They’re not necessary. I’m going to be weighing myself every other week – trying to shed a little weight and trim down just like the budget. Every time I weigh in, I will present another way I think the city’s budget could be trimmed. We need to challenge all this negative talk, be positive about keeping services and running more efficiently. We do need to contain or lower property taxes to remain competitive. I want to see us become a competitor with other cities. I don’t think you need to privatize services to do this – we know what government should do; let’s just do it better. I will help do this by energizing city workers with my participation in city life. How can you energize your workforce if they don’t see you out there? I see myself as a catalyst; by working together we can make things better and focus on the goals of excellence and good performance.

David Clarke 1. Yes, provided that all information and professional counsel makes it apparent that this can be done safely for those traveling the bridge. In addition, there should be no negative impact on the traffic flow, which could depress commerce and economic well-being. 2. The city’s current budget difficulties can be attributed to a lack of leadership and accountability, the demise in Milwaukee’s social capital, and the waste that continues to occur in our government. My priorities would be very simple: jobs, crime, neighborhoods, and education. All of which have a significant impact on the success of the other. The people in Milwaukee want good paying jobs that help them sustain a family. They want to be able to feel safe and not worry about leaving their homes at night. They want affordable housing where property taxes do not rise faster than their wages and social security checks. Finally, they want quality schools where they have power to choose where their children can learn. We must realize that when projects are being completed on the citizen’s dollar, for example the new MPD station, which has run nearly $45 million dollars over the estimated cost, and no one takes responsibility … we have a problem. That money could be the salaries of our law enforcement officers, money for teachers for our children, and less money taken out of your pockets. For those who say Milwaukee’s budget is holding the line, I question whose line and how often does that line get moved without the public’s knowledge.

Frank Cumberbatch 1. No. 2. As mayor I would recruit some of Southeastern Wisconsin’s best and brightest, on a volunteer basis, to analyze the budget and make recommendations for delivering more with less as efficiently as possible. We certainly cannot raise property taxes any higher because we cannot put Milwaukee in a worse position to compete for jobs and economic growth. However, we cannot just simply cut taxes either without thoroughly understanding the ramification of those cuts. Just as high taxes make a region less competitive, cutting taxes without understanding the consequences can make a region even less competitive. For example, if we continue to cut funding for public education just to reduce taxes, we run the risk of having an even less qualified workforce and unemployment, crime and poverty would get worse and we would slip further down the list of the most competitive US cities. The answer is: 1. Create a plan to get our public school children to graduate high school, maintain an acceptable quality of life, reduce crime and upgrade our crumbling or inadequate infrastructure. 2. Collaborate with the private sector and investment community to invest in our neighborhoods by assisting and funding entrepreneurs with good business ideas. 3. Market the plan to the rest of the country and the world that Milwaukee has an infrastructure that is ready for economic growth. 4. Business growth will expand the tax base and together with efficient city spending, the tax levy will be reduced. There is no magic bullet. It takes strong leadership that’s willing to apply intelligence to the problem; not candidates saying what you want to hear to get your vote.

Sandy Folaron 1. I am a strong advocate of alternative transportation options. We cannot move into the future if we do not address other viable and safe methods of moving around this city besides the automobile… If we can add a bike lane to the Hoan Bridge that is safe for cyclists and motorists, I favor the initiative. 2. I have publicly pledged to freeze the tax levy for the 2005 City Budget. In order to do this I would take several steps: 1. Call for an audit of City Hall. This would identify problem areas, overlapping of services, and address the inefficiencies of our current system. 2. Hold department heads accountable to goals set during the budget process. 3. Utilize good business practices such as quarterly reports, job evaluations, and efficient processes to deliver services. 4. Consolidate service and departments where it makes sense. 5. Work to implement additional E-Government Initiatives that save Milwaukee money. Finding the most efficient process for city budgeting and allowing the department reports to be accessed and tracked by the public on an ongoing basis will improve accountability. 6. Lead the discussion with residents regarding priorities in city services. People want to know where the money goes! Often layers of bureaucracy dilute the answers. As Mayor, I will hold my department heads to their budgets. Budget overruns will not be tolerated. Accountability to budget goals and expectations will be a priority. City Hall needs to be run efficiently like a business. I will apply my business experience to improving the City’s efficiency.

Martin Matson</3> 1. No. Two reasons, the speed of the traffic, and though there might be space for a bike lane, what are the safest points for entering and exiting? I would guess this is not the first time this question has been asked, and that the City and County probably came up with the same answer. 2. Having built multi-million dollar budgets from scratch for the Department of Public Works, there are several not-too-easy answers to this question. First, privatization is not the answer. City services are quite efficient in a lot of areas, such as trash removal, vehicle repairs and snow removal. In times of a budget crunch, the most expensive line items in any budget are the salaries and employee benefits. The tools are in place to tweak these line items, but I don’t believe this is being done. Additionally, under the current city pay plan, if an employee is not working at the top step of his/her pay scale, they could receive two raises per year: an annual incremental increase within the pay scale and an increase due to union negotiations that give all pay scales a cost of living increase. What private sector corporation runs their business this way? Conversely, private sector corporations reward their best employees with bonuses, but the city pay plan has no such reward tools. The not easy part of this lies in the negotiations, and administration of the pay plans. There are still many areas within the city that could be run more efficiently, and in some cases, it is union contracts that prevent that efficiency. Cooperation and trust need to be developed between the city and its unions. Union labor is effective when management is effective; the two go hand-in-hand.

Tom Nardelli 1. No. [In April 2002, Nardelli voted against a resolution asking the City to study bike lane feasibility on Hoan Bridge.] 2. As a Common Council Member, I will soon demonstrate my approach to Milwaukee’s budget crisis, beginning with my support of the proposed tax freeze. The Council will undoubtedly alter certain items; but I will vote only for a budget with a tax freeze included. The amendments I will propose for the 2004 budget would eliminate a number of unnecessary administrative and supervisory positions. I will offer an amendment to freeze all travel during 2004, as well. Much more could be done. As mayor, I would use the powers of that office to dramatically rein in spending. Reducing the salaries of the Mayor and all department heads, as well as the size and pay of the Mayor’s staff, is a good place to start. I would move Parking Checkers from the Department of Public Works back to the Milwaukee Police Department, eliminating considerable layers of administration and supervision and saving about $2 million dollars. I would create a city Motor Pool, allowing employees to check out vehicles for limited periods only. Currently, many employees use city vehicles well beyond the work day, requiring an oversized fleet and increasing maintenance and fuel costs. By aggressively eliminating wasteful bureaucracies and facilitating greater efficiency in actual delivery of city services, I would avoid an increase in existing service fees. If possible, I would move those fees back to the tax rolls. I would also spearhead comprehensive review of how Community Development Block Grant Funds are spent. Milwaukee has received over $600 million in block grants over 32 years. A few city departments and community-based organizations used funds for successful projects. But there is scant evidence that most funds actually benefited target neighborhoods. Most Milwaukeeans want to freeze taxes, yet maintain city services. I am confident that, by working together and putting politics aside, the Mayor and the Common Council can accomplish both.

John Pitta 1. Yes. I am an avid bike rider and promote physical activity for our children and the entire community. 2. I would freeze the tax levy during my first year. This maintains local control and maintains responsible government for taxpayers. We can’t afford to keep increasing taxes. I would eliminate fees, such as sewer and water, and snow and ice removal during my second year in office and include those services in the tax levy. We need honest taxes for citizens. I am sick and tired of politicians continually adding new fees and raising assessments on our homes and then telling citizens that they are holding the line on property taxes. I will be honest with citizens and seek community input regarding initiatives to reduce cost for taxpayers. I have discussed three specific initiatives. First: I publicly proposed in August 2003 to reduce trash pick-up from 7 to 8 days. The current mayor has used this idea for the 2004 budget during winter months. I believe this is a service that most residents could live with as I often roll out only one of my two garbage carts, which are picked up every seven days. I have listened to some ideas and concerns about how this may affect inner-city residents and keeping our city clean. My suggestion for high population density areas is we could create a special crew that focuses on extra pick-ups in those neighborhoods that need it most. Second: every house would receive a rain barrel to collect water from downspouts. This water could be used to water grass and plants. The water would not have to be treated by MMSD and it would improve efficiency and reduce overflow problems during rainstorms. These would produce savings to taxpayers. Third: the private sector should pay a portion of the costs for police services. If they are benefiting economically and need a lot of police service, they should pay some of the cost for regular and overtime hours for police officers. This would reduce the burden for taxpayers. <3>Marvin Pratt 1. Yes. [In April 2002, Pratt voted in favor of a resolution affirming the City’s support for a study of a bike lane’s feasibility on Hoan Bridge]. 2. I served on the Common Council’s Finance and Personnel Committee for thirteen years, the last four years as Chairman, so I’m very knowledgeable of the city’s financial condition. The city received nearly $10 million less in state share revenue this year based on the state’s budget deficit. The Mayor’s budget proposed a tax levy freeze, which I support. However, there will be some adjustment to the budget by council members, which will raise the levy by approximately $3 million. I will support not closing Villard Library and will not support sanitation special pick-ups going from 10-14 days. I will support not filling vacant positions. I implemented a hiring freeze in city government two years ago, saving $3.5 million anticipating these tough budget times. One of the initiatives I strongly advocate, and we will implement, is that employees must pay more of the costs for health care benefits. We should push for coordination and consolidation of services of MMSD, MPS, MATC, County of Milwaukee, and the city in the areas of health care and payroll. My other ideas on saving money in the budget are: – Identify the largest city uses of suburban libraries and make an effort to serve them via van service. We currently pay over $1 million per year to Milwaukee County Federated Library System based on our residents borrowing books from the suburbs. – Pick up garbage carts not used at houses where there are 2, 3,4 carts, allowing us to save on purchasing carts. – Negotiate contract with EMS private providers to have city Fire Department EMS convey more patients rather than private contractors. – Freeze the Mayor’s salary and other top paid positions in city government.