Mayor Barrett has made sound fiscal management a priority in Milwaukee. The Mayor’s 13 City budgets have balanced the investments needed to keep Milwaukee moving forward while respecting the budgets of City taxpayers.
Milwaukee’s economy continues to rebound from the Global Financial Crisis, which generated increased unemployment as well as significant challenges to the local housing market. The Mayor has moved aggressively to generate redevelopment and tax base growth by collaborating with private sector partners on projects such as the Menomonee Valley Business Park, the Brewery, Reed Street Yards, and the expansion of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance headquarters. Billions of dollars in development are underway or planned for Downtown Milwaukee, making the ‘heart of the city’ stronger than ever.
If downtown is the heart, Milwaukee neighborhoods are the soul of the city, and Mayor Barrett wants every neighborhood to be a place where grandparents can watch their grandchildren play. To support that vision, the Mayor has allocated more than $40 million since 2014 to the Strong Neighborhoods Plan. These efforts have sold over 1,500 vacant homes and restored nearly $100 million in lost residential tax base. The Plan also helps avoid foreclosures, holds lenders and landlords responsible, and revitalizes vacant spaces throughout the city.
Since 2005, Milwaukee has spent more than $50 million on abating lead hazards in housing, focusing on low-income, high-prevalence ZIP codes. Those efforts, and increased testing of at-risk children, have helped reduce elevated blood lead levels in kids under six years old by close to 70% since 2004, and abated lead hazards in over 11,000 homes.
Public safety is critical to strong neighborhoods. From 2007 to 2015, crime in Milwaukee declined over 25%. Mayor Barrett has supported a data-driven policing strategy focused on repeat offenders and illegal guns. The Mayor’s 2017 Budget funds an average sworn strength of 1,888 and funds the hiring of 195 new officers. The Milwaukee Police Department has been a national leader in community engagement and partnership, as well as inter-agency collaboration. The Milwaukee Health Department’s Office of Violence Prevention was recently awarded a $5 million grant to support its work in both violence prevention and resiliency.
Jobs are critical to Milwaukee’s future growth and success. The Mayor’s Earn & Learn program provides hope and opportunity for thousands of Milwaukee teens, helping these youth start their working lives and providing critical employment experience. The Mayor’s Manufacturing Partnership connects residents with companies seeking workers, and has placed over 350 Milwaukee residents in manufacturing jobs throughout the region in 2016. The City’s Resident Preference Program (RPP) requires resident participation in contracts and City-funded development projects. In 2017 it is estimated that RPP will result in approximately $4.5 million of wages for Milwaukee residents and the equivalent of approximately 90 full-time positions.
Compete Milwaukee is the Mayor’s broad employment strategy focused on matching the supply of workers to employer demand in and around the city. Compete Milwaukee includes City-supported transitional job placements and the Milwaukee Police Ambassador program, which is designed to mentor young people and support job seekers with barriers to employment. Since 2015, Compete Milwaukee participants have earned post-program wages totaling more than $1 million, and most have secured sustained unsubsidized employment.
Under Mayor Barrett’s budgets, the replacement cycle for local streets has been cut in half. The 2017 budget included $71.5 million for core infrastructure such as streets, bridges, sidewalks, and street lighting. The “High-Impact” paving program developed by the Mayor will use $16 million to resurface 30 miles of Milwaukee streets in 2017. These “extreme makeovers” of local roads helped reduce pothole repair requests by 40% since the program was implemented, and allowed expansion of marked bike lines and other safety improvements.
Milwaukee Water Works continues to replace aging water mains, and Mayor Barrett has created a policy and plan to remove every lead water service line in Milwaukee. Data-driven focus on main replacement has helped reduce main breaks by 61% since 2014, and Water Works will increase main replacement to reach a goal of 101 miles from 2014-2020. The 2017 budget includes $33 million to relay or line 23 miles of local sewers throughout the city, targeting sewer sheds with the greatest risk of sewer backups. Since 2009, the City has averaged replacing or lining 40 miles annually; 48% above the rate needed to sustain an appropriate replacement cycle.
Milwaukee continues to be a national leader in municipal financial management, shown in Milwaukee’s consistently high bond ratings. General obligation debt per capita has declined 15.5% since 2011. The restructuring of health care benefits and pension finance has stabilized the annual budget. The City’s stable employer pension contribution policy and prepayment strategy began in 2013, and effectively eliminated large annual fluctuations in pension obligations.
The Mayor’s budgets maintained annual debt cost at manageable levels, and kept the pension system at or near 100% funded. Mayor Barrett’s annual tax levy increased just 2% on average in each of his 13 budgets, despite huge economic challenges pressuring the City’s budget and fewer sources of revenue than similar sized cities.
Despite the City’s progress since 2004, considerable fiscal challenges remain. Actions by State government to cut revenue sharing with cities since 2004 have kept local residents from getting the full benefit of Milwaukee’s downtown renaissance. Of 39 peer cities, Milwaukee is the only one who cannot levy an income or sales tax to use the economic activity in the city for services and infrastructure.
Since 2012, Milwaukee has become a “donor” city to the State of Wisconsin, receiving only 66 cents back for every dollar of income and sales tax revenue the city’s economy generates. That “Milwaukee dividend” means the State keeps an additional $460 million of Milwaukee-generated revenue, though state revenue to cut the City’s local property taxes has been flat or reduced every year since 2004. Mayor Barrett will continue to advocate that Milwaukee taxpayers get a fair deal and enjoy the benefits of living in the state’s economic engine.