MILWAUKEE – The Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday, Nov. 22 overrode a veto from Mayor Cavalier Johnson – restoring funds to keep all library branches open and save two fire engines.
The library board met Tuesday to set its hours for 2023. It’s not just about time, it’s about taxpayers’ money – and the argument is not over yet.
Johnson‘s budget proposal would have cut hours at four Milwaukee Public Library branches, temporarily closing the Martin Luther King branch where the Kelly family works.
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“I like to use the internet for documents and papers,” said Brandon Kelly. “It’s very convenient. It’s nearby. The commute is very good. Three minutes driving, 10 walking.
“It’s great for the community. People in the community can use it for access, don’t have to travel far to use the computer or get a book or anything, whatever they need from the library.”
There are already plans to tear down the MLK branch and put a new building in its place. Under the mayor’s actions, though, it would have meant to temporary building during construction. With the Common Council restoring funds, it means there will be money for a temporary MLK branch.
“It would be a struggle finding a ride, to finding a route to get to the new places I need to get to, or the far way library,” said Beyonce Kelly, a high school sophomore. “Very thankful that the library is still here. That they aren’t going to take it away.”
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Library funding was part of a back-and-forth conversation between the Common Council and mayor.
“I have to plan, and the city should plan for the fiscal cliff that has been projected to come for some time. So we’re working to do that. Unfortunately that requires cuts to services, so we’re in the best position to continue to provide services without massive cuts all at once,” said Johnson. “I don’t want to cut libraries, I don’t want to cut police, I don’t want to cut the fire department.”
“Losing two firehouses delays response time, and it truly is a game of seconds when it comes to saving people’s lives, whether it’s fires, whether it’s heart attacks,” said Eric Daun with the Milwaukee Professional Firefighters Association.
The Common Council tapped into $4 million of Milwaukee‘s American Rescue Plan Act money. It means less money for lead abatement and streetlight repairs. The Common Council is also using some money by delaying the first police recruit class by four pay periods. The firefighters’ union is still sounding the alarm about the future.
“We need help. We know the impending doom is in the city. We know the city is in a financial crisis. We need help from the state,” Daun said.
Common Council members and the mayor agree.
“I am working day in, day out, very hard to build new relationships with legislators, in order to get new resources into Milwaukee, so we won’t have to be in the situation where we have to cut services,” said Johnson.
“If we don’t receive the funding that we deserve and shared revenue from the state, massive changes will happen in the city of Milwaukee,” said Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic.
City leaders point to a looming pension problem that will drain many city resources. The Common Council is using federal COVID-19 relief money to fill today’s budget holes, but that temporary money won’t be available in a few years – bigger worries are still ahead.