I say this a lot: South Milwaukee is as reliant on a strong Milwaukee County as any community. With almost 30 percent of our land owned by the county and county assets like Grant Park, the Oak Creek Parkway and Grobschmidt Pool, a strong county is a strong city in many ways.
With that in mind, County Executive Chris Abele released his executive budget on Tuesday, and it had mixed news for us.
First, the good news, which includes more than $1.4 million of capital investment in South Milwaukee in 2020-21.
- The proposed operating budget “saves” bus routes 48 and 52 from the chopping block. That is great news for those who use this vital service to get to school, work and around the area.
- The proposed capital budget includes $113,000 in funds to plan for reconstruction of the road leading into Wil-o-Way Grant — with another $888,000 for construction in 2021. For anyone who has driven to Picnic Areas 7-9 and the Wil-o-Way facility recently, you know it’s long overdue. This is also an example of a city-county partnership — South Milwaukee has co-written an application for a Community Development Block Grant to cover some of the costs.
- And the proposed capital budget includes more than $606,000 for Oak Creek bluff stabilization along Oak Creek Parkway at Emerson’s Appleton Electric foundry, east of the Mill Pond/Lagoon. The steep slope has begun to fail, raising the threat of it collapsing completely, according to the county. The project — in addition to the large Oak Creek streambank restoration project that wrapped up last year further west — would reduce that risk, and limit the amount of sediment runoff into the creek during heavy rainstorms.
See full proposed capital budget here. Pages 55 and 72 have details on the Wil-o-Way Grant and Oak Creek projects.
Now, the bad news …
The budget headed to the Milwaukee County Board for consideration calls for the closure of Grobschmidt Pool. More details on page 370 here.
This is disappointing, but not surprising, especially given the water damage done to pool mechanicals in August, declining usage, its small capacity, and the proximity of other pools like Sheridan (not to mention indoor public pools blocks away at South Milwaukee Middle School and the YIM.)
The capital needs sealed the pool’s fate more than anything.
As the county executive’s chief of staff told me this week: “Between $75-80k of expenditures are required to get the facility back into shape from the water damage earlier this year. These are inclusive of clean up and mold prevention, furnace replacements, pool pump repairs, water main repairs, water heater replacements and asbestos remediation/removal.”
I have asked County Executive Abele and County Supervisor Steven Shea to find some money to do a long-range plan for the future of the pool — or whatever else should replace it, and they have committed to exploring it.
It would be a chance to ask the community what they’d like to see replace Grobschmidt vs. simply reinvesting in a decades-old structure that was becoming less and less popular.
That way, some good might come out of this.
And one more note, a heads up: The county budget could be a lot worse in 2021. County Executive Abele has made it clear that without passage of legislation enabling a Milwaukee County sales tax referendum — and ultimate passage of that referendum by voters next spring — cuts will likely be more significant in for 2021. As he wrote in his budget memo …
We began the 2020 budget process with yet another gap, this time projected at $28 million.
Over the past decade, Milwaukee County has steadily increased the amount of revenue we send to the state, while the state aids we receive in return have remained flat or declined. Unfortunately, we are heavily reliant on an antiquated funding system that also limits our ability to raise revenue locally.
By working together and by making the best of the situation at hand, we have set ourselves on a better path. On the heels of unprecedented collaboration through last year’s budget process, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors and the administration began to work together to find a solution to our budget challenges. Chairman Theodore Lipscomb and I launched the Fair Deal Workgroup to create a new partnership with the State of Wisconsin to protect public services and invest in our future. This effort has built an even larger partnership among legislators, the business community, local governments and community-based organizations called Move Forward MKE.
This group has introduced legislation to put the fiscal question to Milwaukee County voters and ask for a 1 percent sales tax increase, with property tax relief. Were legislature and voters to choose this option, we believe that next year we will have the power to adequately fund public services, maintain facilities, provide tax relief and invest in our community. This option will allow us to generate the revenue we need to stop making cuts to critical programs and services and start to invest in the future with confidence.