What Patty will do for Milwaukee's District 13
When Ed Flynn was appointed in 2008 as our Chief of Police, the sworn strength (authorized positions) of the Milwaukee Police Department was 2,151. As of 2019, the actual sworn strength is down to 1,849, and with the proposed cut of an additional 60 officers, the impact to public safety will be devastating. Chief Morales has been doing an excellent job reversing the mistakes of his predecessor, but with over 300 fewer officers to work with, it’s challenging to say the least.
My opponent has voted in support of cutting these 60 officers and then went even further by proposing amendments to the budget to cut an additional $600,000 from the police overtime budget. This is a direct example of his inexperience and also his unwillingness to even speak to Chief Morales about the impact of these cuts before he moved forward. If he had, he would have learned that a huge part of the overtime budget is being used to cover the shortages of our 911 dispatchers and a whopping 13% of police overtime is due to officers spending countless hours at the courthouse testifying on cases. We need to work with the County to solve this problem, not cut overtime. Is this really where we want to cut services? Overtime is also used primarily to make up for the current officer vacancies, and now we will have 60 more.
I’m not saying that the only way to fight crime is to increase the police force, but when you continue to cut officers year after year, eventually you reach a tipping point where considerations like closing shifts at police district stations becomes a very real possibility, as was stated by Chief Morales during the recent budget hearings. If we lose another 60 officers, the MPD will barely have enough officers to answer police calls for service. This means there are no officers available for community meetings, walking a beat, or for special units like the Sensitive Crimes Division (which already has no 3 rd shift staff) or the Community Prosecution Unit.
Regarding police/community relations, I have always believed that the best way to accomplish this is with the utilization of beat cops. Having officers assigned to a neighborhood where they can get to know the residents, the business owners and the challenges they are facing can not only reduce crime, it can also go a long way in restoring mutual trust, understanding and respect, all of which are at the core of positive police/community relationships. Unfortunately, with current staffing levels, our officers are overwhelmed just rushing from one call for service to another and often times, pulled to other areas of the City to respond to these increasing calls.
Reckless driving is out of control and when it comes to getting these dangerous people off our streets, there is no substitute for police officers. Red light cameras do nothing to stop those who are driving without a license or with no plates or, in many cases, driving a stolen vehicle. Chief Morales has done a fantastic job enlisting the help of the Sheriff’s Office and the State Patrol, but they can’t bail us out forever. How long do you think they will be willing to use their resources to cover our continued cuts to the MPD?
Mutual assistance from surrounding municipalities is also a huge issue for the Milwaukee Fire Department. We have current agreements in place with these communities to assist in emergency situations like large fires, but with continued cuts to equipment, staff and the closing of fire houses, how long before the other municipalities get overburdened by an increasingly one-sided agreement? They will end up backing out if all they are doing is subsidizing our continued cuts to the MFD.
In addition, cutting officers from the MPD also has a direct effect on the safety of our firefighters/EMT’s. Many times they are showing up to emergency situations, like shootings, before the police get there. Should they wait? These dedicated men and women have put themselves in harm’s way countless times when responding to dangerous violent incidents where police have not yet been able to secure the scene, and they continue to do so day in and day out. They deserve our support and we need to allocate the necessary resources to keep them as safe as possible when they are responding to our calls for help.
The only good news regarding the MFD budget for this year was that there were no major cuts. Sadly, that is only because their equipment, staff and fire houses have been cut so extensively in the past that any further cuts would drop us below national standards which would have serious consequences resulting in slower response times, higher insurance rates, and, most concerningly, a higher number of fatalities from fires and other life-threatening emergencies.
Public safety should be the number one priority in local government, and we have been headed in the wrong direction for years now. Enough is enough – if our neighborhoods are not safe, nothing else can thrive.
Stop the Streetcar Expansions
Let’s start with the good news – the proposal to expand the streetcar down Wisconsin Ave. for the DNC convention has been defeated. I had reported over the summer that we have at least 7 Council Members opposed to the expansion proposals, and that was enough to kill the files that needed Committee approval in order for this expansion to move forward.
So where do we stand now? The next expansion proposal is for the lakefront extension, but in order for this to proceed, it has to be connected to an intermodal station which was planned as part of the Couture development. Unfortunately, this project has hit delays due to a lack of financing that has now dragged on for 7 years. We have already built 4 blocks of tracks – to nowhere – that sit unused waiting to see if this project will ever move forward. To make matters worse, if this lakefront streetcar expansion is not up and running by Dec. 31 , 2020, Milwaukee will have to pay back the $14 million dollar grant from the FTA that the City was awarded for this segment of the streetcar route.
And now we are all being played, again. Instead of pulling the plug on this, the Administration has decided to extend the deadline, yet again, for this project and are now giving the project developers until June 2020 to break ground. How convenient – they are waiting until after the 2020 Spring Elections. The Mayor is now well aware that candidates who support the streetcar will not have the support of the citizens of Milwaukee, so he is removing the streetcar expansion discussions from the table while he fights to gain more support on the Council in the next election.
My promise to you is that I will never vote in favor of expanding this fiscally irresponsible mess. It was poorly planned from the beginning and does nothing to help those who are dependent on public transit to get to work, school, etc. and to move forward with expansion plans at the same time that Milwaukee County is cutting bus routes to those who depend on them as their only source of transit is shameful and does not represent the best interests of the citizens of Milwaukee, especially those who are already struggling to get by.
I will also investigate just how far we can cut back the current operations without defaulting on the grant agreement – like stopping the winter operations and routes every 20 minutes. Hopefully we can reduce the operational costs down to a manageable level that can be covered by funding options other than those that currently fund our City services.
Regarding the streetcar route that is currently operating, the news is not any better. At the Public Works Committee meeting that was held on June 26 th , 2019, Dave Windsor, the Milwaukee Streetcar’s system manager, shocked the Council Members when he confirmed that none of their funding options for the operational costs of the current streetcar project have panned out and they are now planning to use the Parking Fund to pay for a large portion of the yearly operational cost of the streetcar which is currently estimated at $4.3 million per year. The Parking Fund dollars usually go into the general fund which is used to pay for all City services, and to put this in perspective, the cost of restoring the 60 MPD officers that the Mayor has cut from this year’s budget would cost $4.16 million.
The following is a direct quote from Ald. Bauman, the streetcar’s most outspoken supporter, at that meeting –
“I wanted the public to hear from the people who are in charge of this program that they really have no plan going forward to deal with the operating cost issue, they’re flailing around talking about finding sponsors and smart kiosks that are magically going to produce money and they aren’t ordering the fare equipment,”
Yes, you read that correctly. After the Mayor stated for years that the fares paid by the riders would help offset the operational costs, Mr. Winsor has confirmed that they believe ridership will fall by over 40% once they start charging fares and for that reason, have decided not to bother. In other words, the money they would gain through charging fares isn’t even worth the cost of installing the equipment.
Another devastating fact that was confirmed at the meeting was that if we do not continue operating the current route for the next 25 years (estimated useful life of the equipment) we will be on the hook to pay back the Federal grant in it’s entirely – $64 million dollars!
And now, with no plan to pay for the operation of the route the Mayor has already pushed through, he wants the taxpayers to support expansions? And put us at risk by taking even more Federal grant money?
Lastly, I would like to add that according to the Marquette University Law School poll conducted in October of 2017, 69% of the City of Milwaukee residents interviewed “Think the streetcar costs outweigh the benefits”. What do you think that number would be now after the current revelations? It’s time that elected officials start representing their constituents!
Improve City Services
The budget for the City of Milwaukee is tight, and has been for several years, but there are also numerous places where we are wasting tax dollars. Most City employees understood years ago that due to rising healthcare costs and unexpected fluctuations in the City’s pension contribution obligations would mean that we would have to pay more for our healthcare and a higher percentage into our pension. The problem with Act 10, though, was that basic work rules that served our departments well went right out the window, and when it came to restructuring pay ranges after Act 10, no one took into account what other municipalities were paying their City employees for comparable jobs or what impact wage freezes year after year would have on our ability to retain our hard-working City employees.
The costliest impact of this mistake is that the City of Milwaukee is basically picking up the tab for training people for jobs in other municipalities. If we do not have comparable wages and benefits, once new employees get a little experience under their belt, they leave to take a job in Oak Creek, Greenfield, Wauwatosa, etc. and we are back at square one with continuous vacancies to fill.
One example of this is our 911 operators and the constant shortages in their department. For the last 2 years, we have been struggling with over 30 dispatch operator vacancies and a huge portion of MPD’s overtime budget costs go to trying to keep enough operators on each shift so that emergency calls don’t sit on hold, which, unfortunately, happens frequently. The difference in pay between Milwaukee and the suburbs is minimal compared to the cost that goes into training people who do not stay with the City. This also puts a tremendous burden on the loyal longtime operators who, in addition to performing a very stressful job, are now tasked with continuously training new people.
Another example is with those driving our City plows. Many have very little experience, which was clear during last year’s plowing problems, but what can DPW management do when employees keep leaving for suburban jobs with better pay?
If elected, I would request that our new Inspector General conduct an audit on what we are spending training new employees and how many of them leave within 2 to 5 years. I do know that in the last year, of the 161 employees that have left their City jobs (this does not include police & fire or those who retired), 111 of them had been with the City for less than 5 years and 71 of the 111 have been with the City for less than 2 years. My guess is that an audit would show that the cost of raising the pay range to what surrounding municipalities are paying for the same job would be offset by all the money we are spending in training people we can’t seem to retain.
Keeping Partisan Politics out of City Government
The offices of Alderman and Mayor in this City are defined as non-partisan, by statute, and for good reason. Non-partisanship should be the foundation of the roles and responsibilities of public servants. It helps ensure that when our City leaders are evaluating budgets and legislation, they are free to fight for what they believe is in the best interest of the citizens of Milwaukee instead of voting along strict party lines.
Unfortunately, our current state hyper-partisanship in this Country keeps pulling us further and further away from the impartiality that should be at the core of public service, and that is why I am not affiliated with any political party. This is not a copout or a way to duck the issues because believe me, there are a lot of advantages to having the backing of a political party when running for office. I just don’t want to end up beholden to anyone but the people I represent. I will be your voice at City Hall and no one else’s!
Leaders, on both sides of the political spectrum, who have dug their heels in and refused to work with “them” have already cost this City dearly. The political bickering needs to stop and we need to be replace ineffective representatives with true public servants whose goal is to help Milwaukee succeed!
I do realize, though, that people want to vote for representatives that have values similar to their own and asking about a candidate’s party affiliation can be an expedient way to make that determination. What I am asking of you, though, is to base your vote on the stances I have taken on the important issues impacting Milwaukee and my proposals for improving public safety the quality of life for all of us.
Nuisance Properties, Drug Houses and the CPU
The following description is from Ald. Donovan’s recent newsletter:
“The CPU, an experienced law enforcement team, is tasked with handling long term problems that often cannot be handled with a single call for service to the police department, with a focus on nuisance properties that are the scene of repeated problems at the same address such as drug dealing, trouble with neighbors and loud music. It’s a big task and the CPU gets results!”
As many of you are painfully aware, it only takes one nuisance house to bring down the quality of life in a neighborhood and the CPU has a long track record of restoring stability to neighborhoods when it comes to enforcing the 80/10 nuisance ordinance. This ordinance states that if there are 3 verified calls for police service to a property within a 30 day time period, the CPU will notify the property owner that he must meet at the police station with the CPU and the Assistant District Attorney and present a plan of how he/she will abate the nuisance in order to avoid substantial costs charged to the property. If the landlord does not follow through, he/she will be changed, in full, for every subsequent call for police service to that property for the next year.
These officers also conduct what’s called a “knock and talk”, where they go directly to the problem property and speak face to face with the residents. This tactic has proven to be very effective in abating the nuisance behavior.
In addition to residential properties, this ordinance can also be used to go after nuisance businesses, like motels that look the other way when it comes to prostitution, sex trafficking, drug dealing and other illegal activity.
The District Attorney’s office has recently secured State funding to help pay for this unit, but with the additional extreme cuts to the MPD, we may not have the officers needed to staff this program. This is just another example of what a huge impact these cuts to public safety will have on the quality of life in our neighborhoods.
Mayor Barrett & County Executive Abele's 1% Sales Tax
As you are probably all aware by now, Mayor Barrett and County Executive Abele are asking the State to allow them to add a referendum item on the ballot in April asking voters to support a 1% increase in the sales tax for Milwaukee County. If this does move forward, the City of Milwaukee’s share would be approximately $70 million per year.
My concern is that even though the Mayor has stated that he would restore the 60 officers he has cut in this year’s budget, we really have no guarantee that he will follow through with that promise. We need to demand that the Administration and the Council agree on how this money will be spent before they ask for our support and then include those details in the legislation. As I stated this summer, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for at least half that money to go directly to public safety.
To put these dollars into perspective, it would cost $4.16 million to stop the cut of the 60 officers in this year’s budget. I would also like to point out that the yearly operational cost for the Milwaukee streetcar is approximately $4.3 million, yet the Mayor never mentioned cutting that funding in his budget – he went directly to public safety.
A sales tax is not the solution I would prefer to help stabilize our City budget. The best solution would be to have our fair share of State-shared revenue restored, which has been declining since 2003. According to Mayor Barrett, “Since 2003, State revenue has grown 61% – almost $14 billion. Milwaukee’s shared revenue from the State of Wisconsin has shrunk by 9% – $21 million.” What would we have if our share had grown by 2% per year like it should? We would have over $100 million more this year alone to fund core City services.
So why have our share of these funds declined each year? According to State representatives, both Democrat and Republican, it is because they feel that our Mayor wastes money on foolish projects like the streetcar instead of tackling serious issues like poverty, violent crime and and reckless driving. Whether we, as City residents agree with their assessment or not doesn’tmatter. If our Mayor refuses to work with the State Legislature on compromises, like elected officials have done for decades in this State, this problem will only get worse. This is why partisan politics should not play a role in local government – when you burn bridges and refuse to work with the State Legislature for political reasons, Milwaukee suffers.
That said, we are now in a desperate situation and the only feasible alternate revenue source available to us is the sales tax option. This is not what I would prefer, but if it’s the option our Mayor and County Executive are pushing for, I just want to make sure that our City’s leaders are
completely transparent about how that money will be spent. $70 million could go a long way in strengthening our police department, restoring the MFD’s med units, equipment and engine houses, fixing our roads and replacing our City’s thousands of dangerous lead water lines.