‘Fair Deal’ work group makes recommendations to address Milwaukee County revenue issues

Milwaukee County Courthouse

A work group tasked with finding a solution to Milwaukee County’s funding challenges has developed proposed legislative changes aimed at addressing what they say is an imbalance between what the county sends to Madison in tax revenue and what the county receives in state support for its mandated services.

Milwaukee County Courthouse

Fair Deal for Milwaukee County Workgroup, which is co-chaired by county board chairman Theodore Lipscomb and county executive Chris Abele, has been meeting since October to come up with solutions to the county’s revenue issues.

As expenses to run county programs increase, reimbursement payments to the county – including general transportation aids, basic community aids, shared revenue and mass transit operating assistance – have remained stagnant since 2010, according to county documents.

The group is expected to put forth several recommendations today to address the funding issue, including an increase in state shared revenue payments and other state aids to at least match the rate of inflation.

Additional proposals from the group include:

  • Full reimbursement of the tax levy costs incurred by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office to provide expressway patrol services. Milwaukee is the only county in Wisconsin that is responsible for patrolling its expressways.
  • An equal split of Circuit Court and Register of Deed fees collected by the county, which the group said are disproportionately sent to the state.
  • Acceptance of federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage for 80,000 Wisconsin residents to help reduce local government health care costs.

If all of the proposals were implemented, it would result in $15.6 million in total additional funds for the county’s operating budget, according to county documents.

The county is expected to have an estimated $98.9 million capital deficit in 2020 and faces a structural deficit that is projected to grow to $79.8 million by 2023.

Meanwhile, the county faces a growing list of large-scale capital projects. Among possible future projects are a new criminal courthouse, a new home for the Milwaukee Public Museum, needed upgrades to the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, a new forensic sciences center and deferred maintenance of its parks.

A recent Wisconsin Policy Forum report found Milwaukee County lacks the capacity to finance the mounting capital requests of its parks, recreational and cultural facilities under its self-imposed borrowing limits.

The Fair Deal work group is expected Thursday afternoon to adopt a resolution for possible legislative action, which would then be considered by the Intergovernmental Relations Committee and county board.

Among the Fair Deal work group’s members are Marty Brooks, chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Center District, and Paul Mathews, president and CEO of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Both the Wisconsin Center District and Marcus Center are seeking funding for major capital projects in downtown Milwaukee: the convention center expansion and Marcus Center’s planned campus upgrade.

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