Marquette Wire

Milwaukee county property taxes to increase

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The Milwaukee County Board reversed part of County Executive Chris Abele’s budget last Wednesday, overturning 23 of the 25 budget vetoes he issued.

County property taxes will increase 1.4 percent next year to $279.3 million. Abele said in a statement that his proposed changes would have spared taxpayers $5.2 million over the next three years.

Some of the most significant rejections included Abele’s parks policing plan and his veto against increasing county employee benefits.

“My vetoes struck a number of strong compromises with supervisors while lowering the property tax rate,” Abele said in a press release. “It’s a shame the board decided to throw that all away and continued their attack on me and taxpayers. As I’ve said all along, the board should vet my proposed budget, but the undisciplined decisions they made today are putting Milwaukee County on a dangerous fiscal path.”

Steve Taylor, second vice-chairman of the Milwaukee County Board and supervisor of District 9, said he favored the majority of Abele’s vetoes because he is opposed to increasing property taxes.

“Milwaukee County residents are already overtaxed, and they can ill afford another tax increase in the middle of a recession,” Taylor said. “The vetoes I did vote to override, such as restoring several deputy sheriff positions as well as increasing the much-needed funding for the county’s EMS program, dealt with public safety, which is an issue I feel very strongly about.”

The most expensive budget amendment resulted from the board’s $3.6 million investment in county employee flex spending accounts. These payroll tax-exempt accounts allow employees to reserve chunks of their salaries for certain sanctioned expenses – usually medical costs or care of dependents – and expire at the end of each year.

But much of the investment’s tax impact was counterbalanced by reducing county employees’ net gains. The board voted to scale back salary increases and terminate a bonus program supported by Abele.

The board also voted unanimously against Abele’s initiative to consolidate Milwaukee County Parks with the Milwaukee Police Department, which he said would save $1.5 million. The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department currently performs park patrol duties, but Abele and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett planned to merge the city police force with the county parks system in 2013 to spare tax dollars – the first cooperative city-county effort in a decade.

Critics argued that the plan would divert already limited resources from the city and cost county deputies their jobs. Milwaukee County Board Supervisors David Cullen and Willie Johnson, Jr. denounced the plan in a press release.

“(The parks policing plan) would have compromised public safety by overburdening the already-stretched MPD and by jeopardizing response times to citizen calls,” the release said. “Instead, this committee of the Milwaukee County Board listened to the citizens of Milwaukee County and opted to increase the county’s investment in public safety.”

Another board victory resulted in the enforcement of the residency rule on Abele’s economic development director, Brian Taffora. The rule stipulates that county employees must live in Milwaukee County, but Abele’s personnel director granted Taffora, an Ozaukee County resident, an indefinite waiver in the spring. Taffora will now need to seek reappointment and secure board support annually to continue in his job if he continues living outside Milwaukee County.

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