The Milwaukee County Board on Monday adopted a 2015 budget of $1.3 billion that increases spending by 1.31% and provides more tax money for the sheriff’s office, transit system, parks and cultural institutions.
After a daylong meeting, the board voted to increase the final tax levy by $3.66 million, to $282.9 million, more than the levy of $279 million that County Executive Chris Abele had proposed, which was at the 2014 level.
The budget now goes to Abele, who has until Nov. 19 to present his vetoes to the board.
While the final budget was approved, the vote was 11-6. Supervisors Deanna Alexander, Mark Borkowski, James “Luigi” Schmitt, Anthony Staskunas, Steve Taylor and John Weishan voted no.
Staskunas said he voted against the budget because of the increased spending on transit, which he thought was done without study and more public input.
But Weishan said he voted against the budget because “the board no longer has control over the budget process with the Behavioral Health Division budget, which is a political farce.”
The $59 million tax levy for behavioral health caused the most discussion Monday. It has been the source of frustration and anger on the board because, for the first time, the County Board has no say over that budget, programs or anything dealing with the Behavioral Health Division.
A state law passed last year stripped the County Board of oversight of behavioral health. Control is now in the hands of a new, appointed Mental Health Board consisting of members from the medical and advocacy communities.
The state passed the new law after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s “Chronic Crisis” investigation that found patients died of abuse and neglect as politicians ignored calls for reform.
Under the new law, the County Board can only “incorporate” the division’s budget into the overall county tax levy. Some supervisors have called it “taxation without representation” because they — as elected officials — have no say over the behavioral health budget.
To protest the behavioral health levy, supervisors asked for a separate vote on that levy of $59 million, which is an increase of $1.6 million.
Supervisor David Cullen said that while Abele said he had proposed no new taxes in his budget, he increased the behavioral health budget by $1.6 million, although it was folded into that budget.
As a symbolic gesture on the behavioral health tax levy, seven supervisors abstained from voting, seven voted no and only three voted yes.
The behavioral health budget eventually was incorporated into the final tax levy.
Two new initiatives led by Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic — on transit, parks and cultural assets — were adopted.
The $1.5 million transit amendment provides for free bus rides for seniors and the disabled, extends Route 80 service to Oak Creek and creates Route 276 to provide additional service to Brown Deer, areas where jobs are growing.
The board also agreed to authorize $10 million in new capital funding to address deferred maintenance in county parks.
It also agreed to restore a proposed 5% cut to the operating budgets of the Charles Allis Art Museum, Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, the County Fund for Performing Arts and the Milwaukee County Historical Society.
The sheriff’s office received the biggest tax levy increase — $2.6 million more than Abele’s recommendation — which brought the sheriff’s budget to $69 million.
The sheriff retains park patrols and gets some positions funded. The sheriff also will take over supervision of courthouse security from the facilities division to help cut down on overtime.
Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. has stationed deputies at the courthouse near security guards, and that has helped add to his projected $5 million increase in overtime this year.
Abele is likely to veto the sheriff’s budget increase, the transit increase and the parks amendments.
He issued a statement Friday urging the board to reject the three budget amendments because of the cost.
Dimitrijevic said she was excited that the board approved the transit and park measures.
“We have to move forward with transit and we have to reverse the trend of not maintaining the parks,” she said. “It’s easy to say no, but we can do more and we need to do more.”
The board also approved the following changes to the budget:
■ Kept four wading pools — Hales Corners, Wedgewood, Vogel and Cannon — open. The Parks Department will study and evaluate the safety and costs associated with the pools and report back by April.
■ Restored $310,000 to continue to operate the indigent burial program to help bury those whose bodies are unclaimed, or whose families need some help paying burial expenses.
■ Continued to contract with the University of Wisconsin Extension to operate the Nature in the Parks program at the Wehr Nature Center.
■ Asked that the county continue its lease agreement with the Cudahy Sportsmen’s Club in Warnimont Park for one year while exploring environmental issues surrounding the gun club, which has been operating in the park since 1932.