A look at the city budget that won’t put you to sleep

This year’s city budget “debate” was a relatively restrained affair. In the final, $1.534 billion accounting, the city will add three new police officers (down from Barrett’s requested 10) and use $2.5 million to knock down blighted buildings. And the average homeowner will see about a $51 bump in their city property taxes, slightly more than the mayor proposed in September.

The 423-page document is a bit of a slog, but here are a few items – a million bucks here, a million there – we found interesting.

Click here to see current and past Milwaukee budgets

1) Get the lead out

City government is finally stepping up to the plate to spend a combined $20 million on the lead crisis, including new personnel and a new program to subsidize the removal of lead water service pipes. Perhaps lost in the shuffle is the program to provide inexpensive (and highly effective) water filters to needy families while they wait for a line to be removed. That’s only getting $150,000.

2) She’s going down

And, uh, City Hall continues to wobble in the ground. The mayor’s budget proposal contained this chilling observation: “Stress has so far resulted in only minor cracking on interior walls, but the risk of a major structural failure would increase with each year.” In 2019, the city will spend $8 million on “steel micro-pilings” to replace the original wooden ones causing the problem – the fourth phase of a project to keep the 1895 building afloat for another 100 years. Work fast, guys.

3) City of sapling

The Department of Public Works is scaling back tree trimming in 2019 but planting tons more, replacing some 3,600 street trees to the tune of $1.2 million. And no, the old ones don’t get relocated to a nice field somewhere.

4) Dept. of nice things

Both the library system and the Fire Department made it through this budget with no service cuts or station closings, and the replacement of the Capitol and Martin Luther King library branches (in mixed-use redevelopments) is still a go. The city’s spending $1.4 million on branch improvements.

5) Party Central

If your idea of fun is sorting and organizing old contracts or the correspondence of Dan Hoan, the city has just the place for you. The Municipal Research Center will serve as the master repository for both city government and Historic Preservation Commission documents, as well as a small lending library focused on urban issues. It will open in the basement of the Zeidler Municipal Building in early 2019. The cost will be about $658,000, according to the city.

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“Call in the Accountants” appears in the February 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop or find the issue on newsstands, starting Jan. 28.

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