'Our overall financial predicament is not sustainable': Milwaukee mayor presents 2023 budget proposal

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson was back in the Common Council chambers at City Hall on Tuesday where he presented his billion dollar budget to council members.

"As you will see, we are tightly constrained by limited revenue," Mayor Johnson said. "In fact, 'constrained' is not the right word. We are hamstrung; forced to cut long-established services because we do not have the money we need. Simply put, our costs are climbing, and our revenue is flat."

Mayor Johnson's proposal brings the total city budget to approximately $1.7 billion dollars. The total tax levy will also increase by 2% to $311 million dollars. If the budget is approved, homeowners in the city of Milwaukee can expect to pay an additional 2.1% in property taxes and roughly 4% in fees. For a home at the city's median value, that equates to $48.60.

"I have pressed every department receiving taxpayer money to find ways to cut back," Mayor Johnson said. "I have prioritized both fiscal responsibility and maintaining vital services."

The proposed budget includes a 2% raise for general city employees and an additional 1% for those who have been with the city for at least five years. The budget also includes cuts to the city's police and fire departments.

Mayor Johnson says while he's aware of the alarming increase in fatal shootings throughout the city, he cited a decrease in other crimes including robbery, down 8%; aggravated assault, down 9%; rape, down 11% and burglary, down 21%.

"The reasons behind the lower crime numbers are many, and they certainly include good police work, stronger partnerships to reduce crime, holding criminals accountable; and engaging family members, friends, neighbors, preachers, teachers and mentors to step up," Mayor Johnson said. "These are policies I have advanced, and we are seeing some positive results."

The cuts proposed to the police department would mean reducing the number of sworn officers by 1%, or roughly 17 officers. The number could rise to 2% if the city doesn't receive a federal grant that has yet to be awarded. It's a move Andrew Wagner, president of the Milwaukee Police Association, says is counterproductive.

"I know the mayor had touted some things in his speech about a decrease in certain crimes, which is positive," said Wagner. "Those were at some of the highest amounts Milwaukee's ever seen. A reduction of a small number does not mean the community is safer. We have businesses and citizens that are demanding the safety for their community. If they don't get that safety, they're going to leave, which takes with them a tax base."

In his address, Mayor Johnson said if the fiscal situation were better, he would be in favor of adding police officers and more resources for firefighters throughout the city. The budget includes a $100 million payment to the city's pension fund. Police and fire pensions account for more than three-quarters of that.

The Milwaukee Police Department provided this statement to CBS 58 regarding the proposed budget:

"The Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) remains committed to providing public safety with the resources that we are afforded. For example, over the past year, MPD implemented the Summer Guardian initiative, which strategically deployed resources to designated ShotSpotter areas after conferring with and updating the local community stakeholders. We released our first Community Report that publicly shares our strategies, initiatives and partnerships with our community. MPD is also reimagining public safety by obtaining community input during our monthly COPS listening sessions to help create a citywide community policing plan. In addition, we launched numerous initiatives to address high priority issues such as violent crime, reckless driving and auto thefts, using our community partners as a force multiplier. Together, we have combined to make great progress in addressing crime, as most crime categories have improved significantly over the past year."

Meanwhile, leaders with the African American Roundtable were unhappy with the budget for the opposite reason. They say more money should be taken away from the police department.

"The police didn't help to reduce those crimes. It's the people in your neighborhoods like your ministers, your neighbors, and us having conversations and being in relationship with each other," said Markasa Tucker-Harris, executive director for the African American Roundtable. "We have to be investing in our community. We're continuing to say 'Defund the Police'; that message hasn't changed. We're also saying that we have to be asking for participatory budget. We have to be demanding participatory budget."

Tucker-Harris says the use of a participatory budget will give community members more of a say in how their tax dollars are used in individual communities and aldermanic districts throughout the city.

"We put money in the communities' hands and they decide. Not the Common Council; not the mayor; not the political pundits," Tucker-Harris said. "This budget is violent and it's overwhelmingly oppressive to the people in Milwaukee."

The Milwaukee Public Library will also see changes should the new budget be approved.

"As library staffing models change, there will be savings; another example of Milwaukee tightening its belt," Mayor Johnson explained. "At the same time, you will see more pop-up libraries bringing resources, services, and wi-fi to targeted communities and events. Online and virtual resources will see a revamp and expansion. We are moving forward with a new Martin Luther King branch library."

During his address, Mayor Johnson called on lawmakers in Madison to address the revenue challenges being faced not only by leaders in Milwaukee, but municipalities throughout the state.

"Limited revenue is not a problem unique to Milwaukee," Mayor Johnson said. "Municipalities from Brookfield in Waukesha County to Tomahawk in the north woods have raised similar concerns. When a community with the wealth of Brookfield feels the system is not working, it clearly is not working for communities all across the state."

Following his address, the mayor spoke with reporters where he continued to call on the state's legislators for help.

"Local communities, local governments are challenged in delivering service to our constituents, to our commuters, to our visitors and I don't want to see that happen," Mayor Johnson said. "We need the state's help to stave off that potential future."

Those interested in reviewing the full 2023 budget proposal can do so HERE.

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