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County Exec. Abele’s 2014 budget proposal creates controversy

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Milwaukee County's economic future looks a little brighter as we head into 2014, according to Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, who presented his 2014 budget proposal on Thursday, September 26th. But there is at least one person in the County who isn't happy with the budget, and he's a high-ranking County official.

Abele's 2014 budget is a $1.3 billion proposal.

"My proposed budget doesn`t include a tax increase or rely heavily on fee hikes," Abele said.

Abele says the County's deficit currently stands at $15 million -- down from a projected $86 million three years ago. A significant portion of Abele's budget concerns public safety. $72 million is allotted for the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office.

"Under this plan, the Sheriff`s Office will have the largest staff dedicated to freeway patrols since 2004," Abele said.

The County will also fund a Milwaukee Police Department program known as ShotSpotter, to help detect gunfire on city streets. That is a sticking point with some County supervisors.

The budget also includes a two percent raise for workers, with increases in healthcare costs.

"No furloughs.  I`d have to get back to you on what the overall staff change is.  It`s not significant though.  There is no big programmatic layoff," Abele said.

Retirees like Kurt Zunker worry Abele's plan means more money out of their pockets.

"We don`t get a two percent raise.  When they raise our health insurance costs it comes out of our pockets.  It forces many former employees into situations of poverty," Zunker said.

Abele says there will likely be staff reductions in the Behavioral Health Department due to restructuring. Additionally, several County pools are also marked for closure. Money saved will be re-invested back into the Parks Department.

"There are a number of publicly-operated pools.  They`ll still be able to have access to pools," Abele said.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for November 4th at 4:00 p.m. It will be held at the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center.

Supervisors will likely vote on a final budget by mid-November.

The County Board Chairwoman declined to comment on Thursday. She says she wants more time to review the 1,000-page budget.

Late Thursday, FOX6 News received the following statement on Abele's budget proposal from Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, reading as follows:

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke

“Abele should be drug tested.  He has to be on heroin to be hallucinating with that wild proposal.  He might go to bed at night dreaming about being a Sheriff, but when he wakes up he's the same vindictive little man that he was when he went to sleep.  This is how budgets end up bleeding red ink. I don't work for him.  I will provide the level of safety that I believe Milwaukee County residents deserve.  He'll have to sue me in court to get me to accept those cuts.”

Sheriff Clarke and Abele have a history of disagreements, and Sheriff Clarke is now upset that Abele's budget proposal would cut millions of dollars from the Sheriff's Office and shift some responsibilities to other departments.

Abele says his budget gives the Sheriff's Office the largest freeway patrol staff since 2004, funds nine new deputies for courtroom safety and spends millions to upgrade 911 equipment, the county-wide radio safety system and the House of Correction.

"This budget also provides the Sheriff the flexibility to avoid any deputy layoffs," Abele said.

However, the budget cuts more than $7 million from the Sheriff's Office, and cuts 69 full-time positions -- shifting some responsibilities elsewhere.

When asked for an interview, the Sheriff's Office said Sheriff Clarke will not be doing any interviews until he has read the specifics of the budget.

In response to Sheriff Clarke's comment on Abele's budget proposal Thursday, Abele said: "It's unfortunate the Sheriff, instead of engaging in thoughtful civil discourse, is making personal attacks and making light of a serious problem in our community and state."