Public Policy Forum Blog

Proposed City Budget Maintains Service Levels Despite Limited Revenue Growth

The month of October reflects a change of weather, scenery, and, of course, the consideration of the City of Milwaukee’s Proposed Budget. In our annual Budget Brief – released this morning – we highlight some of the key proposed investments in 2016 and discuss how the City avoids cuts in services despite its limited revenue options.  

Overall, the 2016 Budget is once again reflective of sound budget management practices made in the past and current year, and represents another fiscally responsible budget plan. However, the budget balancing act may become more challenging in future years as new budget pressures present themselves, including a return to inflationary increases in health care costs and the potential need to reduce transfers from reserves. 

A few key highlights of our analysis include:

  • The budget makes targeted investments in priority areas and holds the property tax levy at the 2015 amount by leveraging $5 million in healthcare savings, $1 million in workers compensation savings and increasing the transfer from the Tax Stabilization Fund.
  • The proposed budget for the Milwaukee Police Department contains no change in the number of sworn officers while eliminating three furlough days and providing funding for body cameras. Also, given the spike in homicides, we offer some perspective on MPD staffing and expenditures by comparing Milwaukee to four other cities experiencing increases in homicides. We find that the City’s proposed per capita sworn strength and police spending are near the middle of the peer group.
  • The City has made an effort in recent years to raise fees to recoup the full cost of certain services, such as solid waste and snow and ice removal. Charges for Services now comprise 20.5% of total revenues (compared to 12.5% in 2005) and have increased by 88% during the past decade.
  • State shared revenue comprises 40% of the City’s overall revenue and has decreased 4% since 2005 in nominal terms. Milwaukee is much more reliant on intergovernmental revenue than most of its peer cities.

The 2016 City of Milwaukee budget brief can be found here and our media release here. Stay tuned for the release of our 2016 Milwaukee County brief later this week.

Mike Gavin