Festival of Trees: Reserve Your Tree Now!

An image from the 2019 tree display.

Caterpillar, Ace Hardware and the City of South Milwaukee are again teaming up to bring some holiday magic to the public space at 11th and Madison Avenues.

Trees, donated by Ace, arrive at the site on Nov. 24, are open for decoration by Dec. 15, and will be on display December 16 to January 1, weather permitting.

Do you want to decorate a tree, individually or as a team, group, organization, etc.? Email Karin Wierman at Caterpillar at Wierman_Karin_A@cat.com.

Thirty trees available are for decoration. Karin is asking each group to set up a time to decorate their tree, and that groups be kept under 10 people.

Please consider stepping up to be part of this new South Milwaukee holiday tradition. It’s an especially great opportunity for families.

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Old Fashioned Christmas Reminder: Meet Santa Today, Safely

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Christmas 2020: Join Us (Virtually) for Our Dec. 3 Tree Lighting — And Help us Recognize Someone Stepping up During COVID

It’s a Christmas like no other in 2020 — safe, socially distanced yet still special in its own way. That’s why we’re making our tree lighting virtual!

Join us on Facebook Live (city Facebook page) at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 3, or catch the recorded version. We’ll be featuring high school a cappella singers and a special guest. Here is the Facebook event …


We’re also adding a special feature this year: recognizing someone who has gone above and beyond to serve their community and help others during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you or someone you know deserves the honor of “flipping the switch” to light the tree, please sign up now using our Google form: https://forms.gle/NGCph2dfxCuEwtM37

Deadline for nominations is noon on Monday, Nov. 30.

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Responsibly Stewarding Your Money: 2021 Budget Hearing Set for Monday

The proposed 2021 City of South Milwaukee budget was published earlier this month, and the public hearing is set for 6 p.m. this Monday. The City Council meets on Tuesday to consider passage.

You can see an updated version of the document — reflecting new data that has come in recently — here. Some highlights …

  • Revenues are expected to increase 0.08%, to $9.55 million.
  • Expenditures are expected to increase 0.58% to $21.88 million. 
  • The budget calls for a 0.99% increase in the city tax levy, to $11.6 million. The city’s net new construction growth from 2019 to 2020 was +0.07%; therefore the city’s base levy was allowed to grow by that same amount. This is the 13th straight year where the city’s net new construction growth measured 1% or less. The final levy increase is higher because the base levy limit imposed by the State of Wisconsin excludes post-2005 debt service payments. 
  • Health insurance continues to be a big burden for us, but we were able to bring down an initial proposed increase of 16% to under 10%.
  • The budget reflects the referendum passed in 2017, which has helped us keep funding for public safety stable and will for years. We have again segregated the extra revenue from the referendum to support the sustained funding of our paramedic program and the 2018 hiring of two new police officers. We feel it’s important to segregate the funds this way to ensure taxpayers can see the additional revenue is being spent in exactly the way we said it would. We will continue to deliver this transparency.
  • The published budget included a 2% across-the-board salary increase plus step advancement for general employees. Since the budget was published, the South Milwaukee Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 1633 and the city have come together on a new two-year contract, effective Jan. 1, that has a 1% pay raise on July 1, 2021; 2% December 1, 2021; and 2% July 1, 2022. The police union contract, which also expires at the end of 2020, is still being negotiated. 

Pandemic response will continue to be a priority in 2021. It has to. 

Of note, the 2021 budget does not include additional city funding for those efforts, as we continue to await additional support from the federal and state government (as what happened in 2020). Should that not come, which looks increasingly likely before the end of 2020 amid the partisan back-and-forth in a broken Madison and Washington D.C., we will be forced to look at various cost-cutting measures — or drawing from our budget reserves — to continue the fight, in hopes reimbursement comes later. 

This is a situation local governments across the state find themselves in as we continue to lead on pandemic response — and why it is so critical that lawmakers, President Trump, and Gov. Evers take action now to help. 

No matter what happens there, we continue to be responsible stewards of taxpayer money, and this budget shows it. 

Ask Moody’s. They have consistently reaffirmed South Milwaukee’s strong Aa2 bond rating and recently cited our “strong financial position” in doing so.

Ask the Wisconsin Policy Forum. They recently found South Milwaukee’s per capita municipal tax levy to be the third-lowest among Milwaukee County communities. Similarly, we stacked up well in their measures of net operating spending per capita (second lowest) and debt (also third lowest). Do your own comparisons here.

As I’ve said, we are overly reliant on the property tax in Wisconsin, and South Milwaukee. Studies have shown this over and over again. We need alternative funding solutions, to ensure we can continue to deliver the services you have come to expect from us, enhance them where possible and maybe add new ones. Until lawmakers have the courage to have this conversation and act, things won’t change.

And it only gets harder from here, as the state faces a huge budget shortfall for its next biennial budget, one that may see significant pain pushed down to local governments. 

I will fight against that, reminding state leaders the most important work of government happens at the local level. Our people provide the services you see everyday, and I can’t thank our department heads and front-line workers enough for delivering, in these most difficult of times. 

Making sure our people have the resources to do their jobs is one of our most important mandates as elected officials. I will never forget that — and I will support budgets that reflect it, like this one.

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Nominations Now Open: Light Up South Milwaukee Holiday Lights Awards

Visiting again this year, Santa’s elves will be back looking to honor the South Milwaukee homes and businesses with the best outdoor holiday lights displays. Winners will receive a yard sign and recognition on the city website and Facebook pages — and be the envy of your block, and city.

Submit your photo entries …

We will then upload entries to our Facebook page, with followers being able to vote for the best of the best. Deadline to enter: Noon on December 14. Voting will begin on December 15!

Please step up and support this COVID-friendly Christmas tradition!

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Input Wanted: Downtown Public Plaza Community Survey

From the City of South Milwaukee Facebook page …

We have developed multiple options for the planned public space at 11th and Madison Avenues based on your feedback. Please take this second survey to let us know which you like best. Take the survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5T3VCL9

I’m excited to see the amount of community input so far into this significant downtown project. With that feedback, and a final plan coming soon, look for the reinvention of this space to begin in 2021, as we continue to fuel momentum in our city center. Promising future, indeed!

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It Starts With Us

The numbers are undeniable. And so is our need to act.

After a difficult week — where we saw 220 new confirmed positive cases in South Milwaukee from Nov. 6-13, by far our worst week since the start of the pandemic — we reported another 66 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend and two more deaths. We have now more than doubled our number of positive cases in South Milwaukee in the past month. 

Testing is up, but so is the percent positivity of those tests (now 23.3%). The vast majority of cases are symptomatic. Hospitalizations are at 7% locally, which means the virus has sent more than 80 South Milwaukeeans to the hospital since March. We’ve had 13 deaths.

The burden rate — an equalized measure of how active the disease is in a community — stood at almost 1,500 as of last week, far above what the school district and health department have identified as safe for a return to in-person education. 

You can see our current data on the city website.

Yet the impact must be measured in more than positive cases. Businesses, families, friends … so many are struggling, but I am most concerned with those tasked with slowing the spread, and caring for the sick. 

  • Health care systems are nearing, at, or over capacity. They are running out of hospital beds — and healthy workers to staff them — in some parts of the state. Advocate Aurora Health Care reported concerns last week.
  • Local health departments are increasingly overwhelmed, including ours. We and many others in the area have stepped back from contract tracing, which is so critical in slowing the spread of the virus. Instead, we are focusing on managing positive cases, asking those who test positive to alert their own “close contacts” about exposures and follow up.
  • Testing resources are strained. I can’t thank the South Milwaukee and St. Francis Health Department enough for leading the effort to stand up the South Shore testing site, along with health departments in Oak Creek and Cudahy. But the facility is operating at an unsustainable level, and we are planning to discontinue it on Dec. 9. As it stands, the site is regularly running out of daily tests. Lines are long, and street traffic has become an issue. They started out expecting to conduct 300 tests a day, administered through the Wisconsin National Guard. They are now administering more than 800, more than 100 per hour.

These are all red flags. We can’t ignore them.

We all want to get back to normal, and I’m hopeful that will come as we head into 2021, especially with a vaccine.

But what happens between now and then? What happens in the next three, six or nine months? That’s where we all need to step up, if we’re going to slow the spread and back away from the brink.

Yes, it starts with us. We need to help ourselves.

It starts with personal responsibility. It’s the same guidance health leaders have been sharing for months, and it takes on even more importance as we head into the holiday season. Wear a mask. Socially distance. Avoid large groups. Practice good hygiene. Isolate if you’re sick. 

No one is asking anyone to “live in the basement.” Rather, we all need to act smartly and listen to the words of public health professionals in living our lives reflective of a worsening pandemic. 

That includes businesses and organizations. They must also do their part. Many are. Too many aren’t. A quick visit to Facebook, or a walk in the door, shows who is, and who isn’t. 

We are in Phase B of health guidance. We need to follow it. 

For businesses who aren’t taking this seriously, who are ignoring the recommendations, I am not patronizing them. If their employees aren’t wearing masks, or if I see other signs they aren’t doing right by public health, I’m leaving. If they’re promoting potential superspreader events that fly in the face of common sense, I’ll take my business elsewhere. 

State and federal government leaders must also step up.

We are still waiting for the next round of CARES support, which will require Congress and President Trump to somehow work together even as he challenges the results of the election.

We also remain without a statewide plan for the weeks and months ahead. The legislature, given the power and encouragement to lead by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, still refuses to meet, even after the election. Lawmakers instead point fingers at Gov. Evers, who has been chilled by court rulings and the threat of further legal action from the Republican leaders with whom he is supposed to work. The Supreme Court heard the latest challenge to the mask mandate on Monday, days after Gov. Evers issued a series of “executive suggestions,” for fear of getting sued again.  

Local leaders are doing their best in this environment.

Last week, all 19 Milwaukee County mayors and village presidents, along with the county executive, sent a joint letter to Gov. Evers and legislative leaders asking for help. We did the same with our federal lawmakers before that, asking them to address this reality: COVID-19 relief funding “expires” at the end of December, but the virus won’t. 

The ask to Madison leaders was for … 

  • Increased testing capacity through development of a coordinated state and local strategic testing plan, including increased staffing at community testing sites and expanded testing availability;
  • Increased contact tracing capacity, specifically aimed at our schools and targeted concentrations of positive cases in our communities; and
  • Increased staffing for case management of the increasing number of positive cases in the state and region. 
  • We also ask you to commit to a specific amount of funding that will be made available to local governments through the Routes to Recovery program for community economic recovery.

And that’s just the start. We also need federal and state leaders to step up on a plan to further support our businesses, and help determine what’s next for our schools. For the latter, this measure passed by the South Milwaukee School Board and others is a good place to start. 

Then there is delivery of the vaccine. This needs to be coordinated by federal and state goverments to get as many shots in arms as quickly and safely as possible, starting with those who need it most. In other words, let’s learn lessons from our disjointed approach to testing, which has been one of the biggest failures of this country’s pandemic reponse.

This patchwork approach — where actions can vary across community and county lines — has been a fundamental problem throughout the pandemic. From day one, fighting COVID-19 has demanded nationwide and statewide solutions, leadership to bring us together around a plan for fighting a common enemy and reducing illness and death.

We needed unity to flatten the curve. We had that for a few weeks last spring. Then division — sometimes ugly — took hold, along with the virus.

That is how new positive cases double in a month.

There is still time to do better. There is still time for all of us to step up, ahead of a vaccine, and after. There is still time to put public health and personal responsibility first. There is still time to save lives.

Let’s start now.

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Thank Our Election Workers — by Accepting the Results

Democracy won on November 3. It won because of our local election teams. 

That is why I sincerely thank our City Clerk’s office and the dozens of poll workers for their work on the most recent election. 

Since the start of the pandemic, the way people vote in this country has changed almost overnight. Along the way, we as a city — and hundreds like us across the state, thousands across the country — have adapted with amazing success, learning, making improvements, and showing nimbleness and flexibility that is nothing short of inspiring. 

I am grateful for everyone who has had a role in that in South Milwaukee.

To those who are trying their hardest to find “irregularities” in the system, without evidence and with no likelihood of changing the results of the November 3 election, please stop.

I get it — many are not happy with the outcome. Me included! 

But publicly questioning the process, and refusing to accept the results, cuts to the core of our democracy — our ability to conduct and count the vote. 

I lost in my Assembly race on November 3. The next morning, I called Rep. Jessie Rodriguez and conceded, and sent a message to hundreds of my supporters doing the same — because that’s what we do in America. 

When political candidates lose an election in this country, they step aside. Incumbents help the new person transition. Challengers move on, while also holding the winners accountable, as I will do in the 21st Assembly District. 

They don’t, without proof, call into question the entire election. They don’t do what our president and countless other Republicans are doing right now. They don’t claim potential “irregularities” and “fraud” without proof, as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is doing. They don’t suggest throwing out the results of the election, as Rep. Joe Sanfelippo is doing. They don’t question the legitimacy of the election, as Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson is doing. And they don’t stay silent when their colleagues say these things.

Let’s be better than this — and remember that questioning “the process” is really questioning people, those same local election workers who stepped up in these most unprecedented of times. They are not abstractions.

Poll workers are your friends, neighbors, and family members — students, retirees and plenty other local residents in between on the front lines, delivering elections, doing their small part for democracy at $9.25 to $10.50 an hour, one vote at a time.

Claims against a fair and accurate election are really claims against them, and no one should stand for that. I don’t. I’m proud of their work in South Milwaukee, and you should be too. Let’s show it by respecting the results of November 3, whether your candidate won or lost.

This is what democracy must look like. 

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Places to Remember: Let’s Recognize Our Veterans, All Year Long

Today is Veterans Day, and while there will be no public event due to COVID-19, please join me in offering continued thanks for the service of so many throughout our 244 years as a nation, and 123 years as a city.

There are a number of sites across the area to remind you of the sacrifice of our veterans, including those who paid the ultimate price. Please check them out, on your own time, throughout the year.

Here are several options …

South Milwaukee War Memorial

South Milwaukee City Hall

South Milwaukee American Legion Post #27

Holy Sepulcher Cemetery

Legion post namesake Everheart Van Eimeren is buried at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Cudahy. He and two other South Milwaukee veterans buried here were honored in 2018.

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Celebrating a COVID Christmas in South Milwaukee

So many people work so hard to create so many special special events in South Milwaukee. That’s especially true during Christmas.

But that’s in a normal year.

With the pandemic deepening in our city, we have cancelled the City Hall tree lighting event, and the Lighted Christmas Parade is also callled off, aligning with crowd size guidelines. (We are looking at virtual options for the lighting.) The South Milwaukee Christmas Market is among the other events called off for 2020.

Here is what is still on …

  • Drive-Through Santa. The Old Fashioned Christmas Committee has created a unique, safe, and socially distanced opportunity on Saturday, Nov. 21, at two locations: City Hall and Blakewood Elementary. Check out the graphic for more information, and thank you to everyone on the committee for their creativity and hard work, as well as sponsors Eaton Corp. and the South Milwaukee Lions.
  • Festival of Trees. Caterpillar, Ace Hardware and the City of South Milwaukee are again teaming up to bring some holiday magic to the public space at 11th and Madison Avenues. Make your plans now to deocrate a tree, individually or as a team, group, organization, etc. Trees, donated by Ace, arrive at the site on Nov. 24 and will remain on display through Christmas, weather permitting. More details to come.
  • Light Up South Milwaukee Awards. The Beautification Committee will again be honoring the “best of the best” deocrated homes and businesses. Nominations will open soon, and voting will be done via Facebook. Start planning your award-winning displays now!

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November 2020: Here Are Your South Milwaukee Election Results, and a Message as Mayor

South Milwaukee results from the Nov. 3, 2020, election are in, and the local winners in contested races were Joseph Biden/Kamala Harris, Gwen Moore and Jessie Rodriguez.

Check out the full local results here.

I wish Rep. Jessie Rodriguez well as our 21st District Assemblyperson.

I am proud of the campaign we ran for Assembly. We rose above the intensely personal attacks to build bridges, not burn them. Along the way, we earned the support of more than 14,000 voters in the 21st District.

You can read my full post-election message here.

I have been asking for months for your support to put a mayor in Madison. Yesterday, that didn’t become a reality, but I remain excited to lead the great City of South Milwaukee forward, together. Our future is bright.

Amid these challenging times, we are seeing strong progress in key areas. I am especially proud of our city’s leadership role in addressing the pandemic, revitalizing the Oak Creek Watershed, and driving undeniable gains in our downtown. We will fuel that momentum in the months ahead, hopefully with state lawmakers as partners in our promising future.

Let’s get to work.

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It’s Election Day. Vote!

Polls are now open!

From the Office of the City Clerk …

  • Find your polling place here: https://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/FindMyPollingPlace
  • The City of South Milwaukee has taken several precautions to keep voters and poll workers safe. Read more about voting with COVID-19 here: http://bit.ly/HospVoting
  • Absentee ballots can be turned in on Election Day. They can ONLY be brought to City Hall and they must be received by 7:45pm on Tuesday. There is an outdoor drop box just outside the City Hall front door that is accessible 24/7. There is also an indoor drop box in the City Hall lobby.
  • For information on Curbside Voting, please read more here: http://bit.ly/CurbVoting

More details on our Elections web page, including a sample ballot.

If you have already voted, thank you. If you haven’t, please do so today, and have your voices be heard.

And please join me in thanking our city clerk’s staff, pollworkers and other city workers for their continued hard work on our elections. It has been inspiring to see how they have adapted to the changing nature of voting amid a pandemic, creating a safe, seamless and efficient process for the thousands of people who have already voted, while ensuring those who do vote in person on Election Day can do so safely.

Check the city website and South Milwaukee Blog for results tonight.

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Here is a Sneak Peek at the New Bucyrus Club — and a Thank You to Our Volunteers

I am excited to see the level of economic development happening across South Milwaukee these days, especially downtown, and even amid the pandemic.

The Bucyrus Club is a foundational piece — and the progress there is real.

We’ve moved to the “construction phase” of the project after months of demolition and other work performed by a group of Bucyrus retirees affiliated with the Bucyrus Oldtimers Club and South Milwaukee Industrial Museum, led by Bob Jelinek. Their sweat equity has saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars, and gives them true skin in the game on a unique project that will celebrate their legacy.

I can’t thank them enough, and the city is proud to have their help in telling their story through the Bucyrus Club.

We’ve also unveiled renderings of the project produced by Zimmerman Architectural Studios, and you can see them in this post and in this BizTimes story. CG Schmidt is leading project construction.

From the BizTimes story …

The latest chapter in the building’s life will celebrate its and the city’s industrial history. Jelinek said display cases will be placed throughout the building. The 250- to 300-person main banquet room will have open ceilings and display the original cream city brick walls.

The restaurant and lounge area next to the banquet room will be modeled in the 1920s motif, said Ernie Wunsch, owner of Skyline Catering. This is a nod to the year 1920, when the building transitioned from its manufacturing use to the employee club.

Brooks and Wunsch said the project should lift up the entire downtown area and bring in people who might not otherwise visit South Milwaukee.

“There’ll be 500 new bodies here every single Saturday,” Wunsch said. He later added, “This will be for people from around all the surrounding communities.”

The Bucyrus Club opens next summer, and joins a number of other significant projects happening in our city center, including …

  • The susbtantial completion of the Milwaukee Avenue streetscaping upgrades, with new Christmas decorations coming this holiday season and planters coming next spring;
  • Continued progress on the plan for a new public gathering and event space near 11th and Milwaukee, another partnership with the Bucyrus Foundation;
  • Ongoing work at the soon-to-be-expanded DB Tax & Wealth, across the street from the Buyrus Club;
  • The opening of two cool new businesses — South Milwaukee Sausage & Meats and Dupree’s — in recent months, and a third (Burger Town) coming soon to the former Grebe’s building; and
  • Big upgrades underway at Moran’s Pub and Military Connection.

The Beautification Committee is also working on a downtown mural program — more details to come on that soon.

We have worked hard, and smart, to build momentum in our city center in recent years. We’re seeing it now, and we’re just getting started.

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COVID-19 Update: Suburban Health Departments Dial Back Safe Opening Capacity Guidance, as New Cases Hit 124 for the Week

From the South Milwaukee and St. Francis Health Department …

With rising numbers of cases and our key indicators no longer reflecting conditions where it is safe to participate in non-essential public gatherings and outings, the South Milwaukee/St. Francis Health Department, along with other suburban Milwaukee County Health Departments are now strongly recommending all residents and businesses dial back to Phase B of the Safe Opening Capacity Guidance effective October 30, 2020.

Read the Phase B plan here: http://bit.ly/phaseBplan

Read a letter from Public Health Administrator Ove here: http://bit.ly/OveLetter

View the COVID-19 phases table here: http://bit.ly/COVIDtableSM

‘Our top priority is to keep our residents, visitors, and businesses healthy and safe during this health crisis. We hope these efforts will help to keep our friends, neighbors, relatives, and co-workers in a safer environment moving forward.

Also …

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Area Health Departments Issue Health Alert and Call to Action; Senior Center Closed Indefinitely

The South Milwaukee and St. Francis Health Department has joined with others across the region to issue a “health alert and call to action” due to “critically high levels of COVID-19 and significant spread in our communities.”

You can read the full press release here. From it …

The health departments across southeast Wisconsin urgently state that we have reached a critical level of the pandemic.

Southeastern Wisconsin is currently experiencing critically high levels of COVID-19 and significant spread in our communities. Your help is necessary to reduce the spread and to protect our families, our friends, and our community.

All residents who live and work in southeastern Wisconsin must continue to take personal responsibility to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

Even though not all who test positive for COVID-19 experience a severe case of the virus, we all risk getting the virus and spreading it to others – maybe without realizing we’re sick.

Taking extra precautions now will allow our schools to stay open, our businesses to remain operational, and it helps us all to protect our most vulnerable relatives and neighbors from the effects of COVID-19.

South Milwaukee has seen a surge in cases in recent weeks — 70 new cases alone from last Friday through Wednesday. That has stressed our contract tracing system.

From the release …

Given this surge, local health department efforts to control the spread of the virus have become increasingly strained. Demand has exceeded local public health capacity to effectively identify cases and conduct case investigation and contact tracing. In response to the surge in COVID-19 positive cases, local health departments will be prioritizing disease notification and investigation over contact notification. While we will continue to do our best to notify and investigate everyone with a positive result and to inform those who may have been exposed to a positive individual, additional prioritization is needed due to the volume of new positive cases. Additionally, the lack of notification, disease investigation and contact tracing capacity may result in delayed notification and fewer attempted follow-ups by the health department.

The City of South Milwaukee is also closing the Grobschmidt Senior Center to in-person programming. Drive-through lunch service will continue.

More details here.

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