Milwaukee County Courthouse

The battle between the Milwaukee County Board and County Executive Chris Abele came to a head Wednesday as the ball returned to the legislators to accept or override the executive’s vetoes.

The Board had approved a $6.25 million levy increase for 2012, at odds with Abele’s plan to freeze taxes in his 2012 budget proposal. In turn, Abele used his veto pen to erase the levy increase and restore most of his original vision for 2012, with some small concessions to the Board.

But the board prevailed in the end by setting a final 2012 Milwaukee County property tax levy of $275,370,8836, an increase of $5.8 million or 2.15% higher than the 2011 levy of $269,554,701.

The County portion of the annual property tax bill is estimated to increase $2.93. For a home assessed at $150,000, the increase is estimated to be $3.84.

Prior to the veto override meeting, Board Chairman Lee Holloway said he had the votes to override Abele and restore more funding to EMS programs, sheriff deputy positions, parks workers, employee wellness plans and cultural programming.

During the board’s budget adoption meeting, supervisors voted 13-6 to accept a budget of $1.2 billion in spending in 2012; however, the levy of $275.8 million only received a 12-7 vote, one shy of a veto proof majority of 13.

After attempts to combine all of the EMS vetoes into one vote which passed, then failed, the board overrode Abele’s veto and approved $1.5 million to the county-wide EMS program. But, they did sustain his veto to keep the current subsidy formula for EMS in place with the county’s 19 municipalities.

Abele originally zeroed out the EMS subsidy, which was amended by the board with a $1.5 million addition to the budget. In his veto, Abele lowered the subsidy amount to $722,527, acknowledging cutting the subsidy all at once was punitive.

There was a bit of discussion on whether to end the EMS formula and put a new, more Milwaukee-friendly contract in place. Supervisors John Weishan (West Allis, Greenfield and portions of Milwaukee) and Marina Dimitrijevic (Bay View and southeast Milwaukee) spoke in support of changing the contract; something Abele had vetoed for being unfair to the negotiating process.

“It wasn’t a great formula. It was a bunch of mayors getting together and making an agreement on a handshake,” Weishan said. “Allowing the municipalities to decide how to spend this money is inappropriate.”

Supervisor John Weishan. Photo courtesy of the City Channel.

Dimitrijevic said people need to remember that the board restored $1.5 million to the fund and the idea of them taking control of how the money is distributed is not unreal. She also hinted at a need to punish some of the communities with her comments.

“The ICC (Intergovernmental Cooperation Council) and some mayors make disparaging comments about this board, the board that restored some of the money the Executive cut,” she said. “The ICC mayors yell at us for raising the tax levy, but why don’t they raise their own tax levies to support EMS. I interested on how this can be partnership when those same mayors are making these comments.”

Supervisors also restored $1.5 million to fund 25 sheriff deputies and 2 deputy sergeants in the Tactical Enforcement Unit and Parks Patrol on a 17-2 vote to override the veto. This was something Abele had completely unfunded in his initial budget and with his veto pen. Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo, who is also chairman of the personnel committee, said the restoration of these positions were crucial to the adoption of a new Sheriff Deputies Association contract that would give back pension contributions to save the county cash.

The also restored a number of other deputy position that Abele vetoed out of the budget for the same reasons.

Abele had vetoed a $50,000 expenditure to support cultural programs in the parks, saying this type of programming could be found within the current parks budget. The board disagreed and restored the funds to the Parks Department.

Another parks issue drew an Abele veto – to freeze the Park’s Department budget at the 2012 level through 2016.  this would have tied the hands of future supervisors to change the funding to the county park system.  Abele said no way. The veto was sustained by the board, but just barely on a 12-7 vote.

Supervisor Eyon Biddle used five words – “Do it for the children”  – to explain why the board should override Abele’s veto of a $2 million bond issue to replace the HVAC at the Kosciuszko and King community centers. Abele said the board’s approval of this future expenditure violated their own rules of prioritizing capital projects in his veto message.  Those on the board agreed, sustaining the veto with an 11-8 vote, two shy of the number needed to override.

Following the meeting, County Board Chairman Lee Holloway said the overrides and moves by the board were responsible to maintain the quality of life and will only cost the owner of a $150,000 home approximately $4 next year.

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