Politics & Government
12:49 pm
Tue September 24, 2013

Barrett Budget Raises Taxes to Hire Police Officers, Tackle Foreclosures

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett introduced a budget Tuesday that would modestly raises taxes. The typical homeowner would pay about $18 more in 2014.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett delivers his 2014 budget address to the Common Council
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett delivers his 2014 budget address to the Common Council

He said the slight increase in taxes would help the city hire more police officers and deal with a glut of foreclosed homes.

Barrett says the city has accumulated more than 1000 properties, because the owners didn’t pay their taxes. The number is 13 times higher than before the recession.

Barrett says too often, vacant houses end up attracting criminal activities.

So he wants to spend $12 million next year, demolishing 300 houses that are unsafe or beyond repair, and prepare another 350 for sale.

“When it comes to prevention, we will work to avoid future tax foreclosures whenever possible by securing properties at an earlier stage, working with owners, maintaining property registration records, and inspecting properties to reduce deterioration,” Barrett says.

There’s also a significant chunk of money in the mayor’s budget – $2.7 million – to hire 100 new police officers. The proposal follows a violent stretch in Milwaukee, with 145 shootings and 29 homicides in just July and August.

“We are going to keep a very strong police presence in the neighborhoods,” Barrett says.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn says 50 of the new officers would hit the streets next summer, when crime typically increases.

The budget would also allow his department to hire civilians to do crime analysis, freeing up the officers who do that work now. Flynn says analyzing crime trends is an emerging specialty that aids police.

“It goes far beyond solving a mystery. We’re at a position right now where we can actually engage in forms of predictive policing. We know through link analysis capability, we can predict who’s likely to get shot,” Flynn says.

During his budget address Tuesday, Mayor Barrett outlined what he calls investments in city neighborhoods – money for street repairs and lighting. He also wants to replace two libraries – Forest Home and Mill Road, and renovate Tippecanoe.

“Our libraries anchor neighborhoods. A child learning to read, a teenager completing homework, an adult looking for work, a retiree satisfying curiosity – they all turn to our libraries,” Barrett says.

Barrett ticked through initiatives he says have moved the city forward, such as development in the Menomonee Valley and at the former Pabst complex.

But he says there have been sacrifices. For example, Milwaukee has required its workers to take furlough days and eliminated 400 vacant positions. The 2014 budget would cut a few dozen more and phase out one firefighting company through attrition.

Still, he says unlike cities awash in pension debt and laying-off police and firefighters, Milwaukee’s in a solid financial position because of cautious, long-term planning.

“In many respects, we have little margin for error,” Barrett says.

“All in all, I believe it is a solid budget,” says Willie Hines.

Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines and colleagues will now dig into the details of the spending plan, and decide what stays and what goes. Hines says he’s interested in helping people get jobs and limiting the burden on homeowners.

“We’ll have to look at some of the fees. We have to look at really the tax rate in general, he indicated it would increase by 1.6 (percent) and the council will see, can we sustain that or even reduce it? But all in all, we have our work cut out,” Hines says.

The Common Council and mayor will hold a public hearing on the budget on October 9, with final approval set for early November.