Milwaukee County is in a financial crisis. That is no secret. Like most governments around the nation, we are staring down the barrel of a structural deficit. Also, like most governments, we have historically been reluctant to make the tough decisions necessary to eliminate this deficit.
But, after kicking the can down the road for more than a decade, we are running out of extra roadway.
The $45 million deficit for 2011 will grow to a $153 million hole by 2014. The types of reform needed to correct a problem of this magnitude will only evolve out of a collective and concerted effort from the entire Board of Supervisors.
To get the ideas flowing and the debates started, I have developed a “Blueprint for Restoring Financial Solvency in Milwaukee County Government.”
The plan begins by pointing out the true problem we face, which is not necessarily the deficit itself, but rather our inaction thus far to enact permanent solutions. Until all of us work together to develop a plan and take action, the structural deficit will continue to eat up more of our cash each year, forcing cuts and the elimination of programs and services.
One of the major reforms I am recommending in my Blueprint would revamp the way we prepare our budgets. The current process protects underperforming departments and programs by penalizing those that are running efficiently. Without any incentive, departments have no motivation to constantly seek better and more efficient ways to operate. The new budget process I propose will reverse the current practice by rewarding efficiency at the expense of the inefficient.
Recognizing the fact that wages and benefits are the single biggest driver of our structural deficit, my Blueprint proposes specific actions to bring these costs more in line with the private sector.
Property owned by Milwaukee County must be evaluated and inventoried with the parcels deemed nonessential being sold. In my Blueprint, I point out a few examples of how the County is wasting millions of dollars each year by underutilizing some buildings and inefficiently using others.
The plan further explains why holding too much property hurts the County.
We need to modernize County services. The Milwaukee County Transit System is a great case study detailed in the Blueprint. The plan calls for stricter evaluation of privatized services and the development of a uniform program to identify which services should be considered for outsourcing and which should not. I also believe reforming the County Board itself should not be exempt as we consider improvements for the rest of County government.
I put forth this plan strictly because, as a County Supervisor, it is my responsibility to take an active role in overseeing the County’s operations and help develop solutions to the problems we face. It is not a platform for launching a bid for another office, as some have surmised.
The plan is available at county.milwaukee.gov/Sanfelippo or by calling 414-278-4247.
Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo of West Allis represents the 17th Supervisory District, which includes Greendale and parts of West Allis and Greenfield.