‘City is at a crossroads:’ Mayor Barrett presents 2020 budget with serious look at city’s pension fund

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett presented on Tuesday, Sept. 24 his proposed city budget to the Milwaukee Common Council. The budget plan presents a dire outlook for the city’s pension fund — if action is not taken by city leaders now.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

“Here’s the biggest problem heading our way. By 2023, we will face challenges to the levy-supported budget that put us in an untenable situation,” the mayor said. “Our employer pension contribution, driven by public safety, is currently projected to rise dramatically. Our state shared revenue payment remains flat — certainly not keeping up with inflation. And our costs for providing basic and necessary city services climb every year.”

Mayor Barrett proposed setting aside $8 million to begin to meet the pension obligation that will come in 2023, with the city’s current annual contribution to the pension fund roughly $70 million.

“But here’s the shocker. In three years, 2023, our required annual contribution could rise by almost $100 million. We have to prepare for that,” Barrett said. “To reach the $100 million number, you’d have to eliminate the budgets of the Health Department, Employee Relations, City Development, the Department of Administration, the Treasurer, Neighborhood Services, the library, and the Common Council City Clerk. And even after eliminating those departments, you’d still be millions short.”

Property taxes

The mayor also proposed raising the tax levy by 3.5% to provide core city services such as snow plowing, patching, and repaving streets, and responding to emergencies. Barrett told city leaders an average residential property would see property taxes go up by about $37, with fees up about $22, so a property owner would pay about $59 more in 2020.

“Increases in property values also mean our property tax rate will actually decrease by a penny,” Barrett said.

Lead abatement

Mayor Barrett proposed spending $21 million to continue to reduce lead exposure to city residents. That would include $13.6 million for lead service line replacement, testing, and filters for at-risk households. The mayor said his plan would allow more than 1,000 homes to have their service lines replaced.

Crime and policing

The mayor touted key crime statistics being down in the city, with homicides, non-fatal shootings, and robberies all down.

“Even with this success, the budget forces us to take a look at the sworn staffing levels at the police department,” Barrett said.

In the mayor’s budget proposal, he suggested increasing the line item for police salaries — and reducing the number of officers from 1,864 to 1,804. Those reductions would not come from layoffs, the mayor said. Instead, they would come from retirements.

County-wide sales tax support

Barrett also pushed for support of a county-wide sales tax — which has been proposed. He suggested if the sales tax were approved, there would be no police cuts, the city would be able to provide equipment for the fire department, and there would be money to fix streets and abate lead.

“I need your help. Our residents need your help. The city is at a crossroads,” the mayor said. “We need all hands on deck — and that means each and every one of you. It’s about the future of the city we all love.”

CLICK HERE to view the complete text to Mayor Barrett’s speech

Budget timeline

The Finance & Personnel Committee of the Common Council was set to hold hearings on the mayor’s proposed 2020 budget beginning Friday, Oct. 4.

Mayor Barrett and the Common Council were set to hold a joint public hearing on the budget on Monday, Oct. 7 at 6:15 p.m. in the Common Council chamber, with residents invited to share their views on the city’s finances and proposed 2020 spending.

The Common Council was scheduled to adopt the city’s 2020 budget at a special meeting on Friday, Nov. 8.

Reaction from members of the Common Council

Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd

“To ignore the demands for quality and timely constituent services will eventually result in consequences. To believe that the only way to increase our city’s revenues is to rely on a sales tax that has already been confirmed as dead on arrival is irresponsible.”

“The Mayor has failed, yet again, to provide leadership for making tough decisions that will produce a sustainable and reliable source of revenue that will relieve our already financially burdened, tax-paying residents.”

“The Mayor’s budget proposes a levy increase of $52 for the average homeowner; homeowners in my district are projected to pay an increase of up to $72. This increase in property taxes does not factor in the costs to improve constituent services such as snow removal, garbage pickup, recycling, forestry services, repairing our aging infrastructure, or maintaining city-owned properties.”

“Shame on us if we continue to allow for more cuts to public services that our tax-paying citizens rely on to improve their overall quality of life.”

Alderman Tony Zielinski

“The Mayor has given us a very difficult budget. It cuts public safety, public services and increases taxes.  Part of the reason why we are in this mess is that instead of cultivating relationships with state government, the Mayor has continuously kicked them in the teeth. And then he wonders why they are not exactly running to help us!”

“In the Mayor’s budget, fees for the average Milwaukee home will go up $22, and it includes a $37 property tax increase for the average homeowner.”

“Not what our property taxpayers want to hear. Ouch.”

“The streetcar is taking at least $1.5 million that we desperately need for public safety and other city services. The state does not trust providing the Mayor with the resources we so desperately need. They see him as someone who has been willing to prioritize the streetcar seemingly over everything else.”

“I’ve seen the Mayor’s refusal to work harder at establishing better ties with legislators in Madison, and where it has brought us. That’s why I have been working continuously to establish stronger city-state ties to help us get the resources we need.”

“We are now seeing the result of the Mayor’s reckless years-long mission to put the streetcar first and to ignore or play catch-up on everything else.”

“When it comes to continually rising taxes and fees, city residents can rightfully point the finger at the Mayor.”

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.