Transit Tops List of Requests at Milwaukee County Budget Hearing

Aug 14, 2014

Residents speak with County Executive Chris Abele following Thursday's budget hearing
Credit Marti Mikkelson

With fall approaching, local lawmakers will be crafting their budgets for the coming year.

About 50 Milwaukee County residents turned out Thursday for a town hall meeting on the 2015 budget.

County Executive Chris Abele held the listening session at Zablocki Park on Milwaukee’s south side.

Money for transit and people with disabilities topped the list of requests.

Casper Green asked for more money in the budget to help senior citizens and people with disabilities. Green lives on the southern edge of the county in Franklin, and says often he feels the area is ignored.

“We need some services out there that I don’t think we’re getting," Green says. "We don’t have one single county bus that comes into Franklin. And I realize there may be other places that maybe need it a little bit more, but we would like to be considered out there once in a while."

Barbara Beckert also had transit on her mind. She’s director of the Milwaukee office of Disability Rights Wisconsin. She says she’s concerned about proposed hikes in certain para-transit fares. Those are fees charged for a separate transportation service for elderly and disabled residents.

“We want you to please take a look at the increase that MCTS has put in for managed care organizations and individuals in IRIS. It’s a very significant increase, increasing by four dollars to $16.55 per ride. We think this is very problematic and hope that you will not approve that increase in fare,” Beckert says.

Greenfield Mayor Michael Neitzke is more concerned about roads. He implored the county executive to put more money toward improvements.

“Highway needs within the city are critical. In many ways it’s hampering economic development," Neitzke says. "Layton Avenue from Loomis to 27th Street, although it’s recently been resurfaced by the DOT, needs to be reconstructed. It was built in 1966 and for the most part nothing has changed on it since 1966."

The hearing lasted about an hour. Throughout it, County Executive Chris Abele thanked people for their comments, but made no promises about the budget. Later, he said people with disabilities will be given top consideration.

“The most important things for me and the focus is on services for the most needy and vulnerable," Abele says. "You heard a lot of discussion about transit, about mental health, about aging. Those are all priorities, they have been and they will remain."

Abele says he’s been faced with a budget deficit in each of the past three years because of an overwhelming amount of debt. Yet, he believes the financial picture is improving, compared to when he first took office in 2011.

“Every year we start the budget process with, how do we first get this hole addressed, and the hole when I first got there, we had debt service of $112 million and it’s down significantly. The structural deficit was predicted this year to be $86 million. It’s $14 million. That’s still not good enough, but it’s $70 million better than it was going to be a while ago,” Abele says.

Abele will present his budget to the County Board in October. Supervisors are expected to pass their version in November.