Milwaukee County Board passes living wage ordinance, 12-6

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The Milwaukee County Board on Thursday, February 6th passed an ordinance that would raise the minimum wage for county employees, and employees of companies that have a contract with the county. The ordinance raises the minimum wage for those workers to $11.32 an hour.

Now that this ordinance has passed, there is concern this will hurt the county in the long run.

By a vote of 12-6, the Milwaukee County Board passed the ordinance on Thursday.

Among those smiling afterwards was Kevin Walker, who works security at the Mental Health Complex.

"I can be able to go to work and not concentrate on how I'm gonna pay bills, how I'm gonna take care of my daughter -- just be able to feel like a man," Walker said.

Critics of the ordinance say this will cost the county millions of dollars, as companies will just charge more to provide services in order to cover the increased wages.

"I think every person would like to have a pay increase, but this is not the way to do it because what you're essentially doing is putting it on the back of the taxpayers of Milwaukee County," Milwaukee County Supervisor Steve Taylor said.

Others against the ordinance include Milwaukee County Supervisor Deanna Alexander and Milwaukee County Supervisor Steve Taylor.

Taylor said the following in a statement: “I am extremely disappointed with my colleagues who voted in favor of this misguided proposal.  This measure creates a $1,000,000 deficit in our budget and the Milwaukee County taxpayers will be forced to pick up the tab.  This is also a blatant attempt to strengthen union support and funding.”

The Milwaukee County Comptroller's Office estimates the ordinance will cost the county $1 million this year.

Next year, the estimate increases to more than $4 million, by 2017, nearly $5.5 million and by 2019, more than $7 million.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele says in a statement: "I continue to invite supervisors to consider broader action to address poverty that doesn't undermine Milwaukee's fragile economy -- such as joining me and other Democratic leaders in pushing for an increase in the state and federal minimum wage."

Supporters of the ordinance packed Abele's office after Thursday's vote, calling for him to support the ordinance.

Its sponsor, David Bowen says we shouldn't read too much into the early estimates.

"Those numbers are projections and we need to be very clear that those aren't definite numbers. It could be very minute in the numbers that might come back to the board," Bowen said.

This ordinance does not apply to all workers affiliated with the county -- for example, the Milwaukee Art Museum and Mitchell International Airport are exempt.

Abele has not indicated whether he will veto the ordinance. However, 12 votes would be enough to override a veto, and there were 12 "yes" votes Thursday.