Mayor Barrett ahead of public hearing on budget: "This is not the budget I had hoped to introduce"

MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Common Council hosted a public hearing Monday evening, October 9th on Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's proposed 2018 city budget -- a plan that has drawn criticism over cuts to police and firefighters.

During the hearing, one by one, residents approached members of the Common Council and asked them to reject public safety cuts in the proposed budget.

"I cannot live with the cut. Can you?" one asked.

"We'd like to urge you to reconsider closing Engine 6," another said.

The proposal outlines a reduction in positions at MPD, as well as the fire department. As many as six stations could close, including the historic firehouse at Franklin and Brady on the city's east side. That could add up to 25 seconds to response times.

"Now is not the time to be cutting these services. If anything, we should be increasing in the most densely-populated areas," a resident said.

Count Mayor Barrett among those who also don't like the budget, even though it's his proposal.

"This is not the budget I had hoped to introduce," Barrett said.

Barrett said he must acknowledge the elephant in the room -- an overall lack of funds for the city to continue functioning as it has been.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

"So at a time when the city is putting more money into the police department, the state Legislature and the governor have been putting fewer dollars into the state shared revenue program," Barrett said.

On top of that, Barrett explained pension costs have skyrocketed, going up $22 million in one year. He said that's the equivalent of the entire library system budget.

"When you have a tragic incident and you're waiting for someone, two seconds seems like two hours," a resident said.

Barrett is asking for the state's permission to ask voters to decide on a half-cent sales tax referendum to help recover some of the services on the chopping block. Not everyone wants to pay.

"There`s got to be another way to generate money. I don't know about that half-cent referendum if that will really fly," a resident said.

If the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature allows the referendum, it could go on the April ballot. Barrett said that could generate $35 million a year, enough to keep many fire stations open and hire an additional 12 officers.