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County Board reverses some of Walker's privatization plans
[November 11, 2008]

County Board reverses some of Walker's privatization plans

(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Nov. 11--The Milwaukee County Board on Monday reversed County Executive Scott Walker's proposed privatization of scores of hospital housekeepers, mental health case managers, skilled trade workers and vehicle mechanics.

Walker's proposed shift from full-time park maintenance workers to seasonal help was also rejected, as the board has done in previous years.

The board did go along with outsourcing 73 food service workers at the county Mental Health Complex, a move projected to save almost $1.3 million a year.

The board also rejected a bus fare increase sought by Walker, scaled back increases for swimming in county pools and playing golf at county courses and said no to installing parking meters along the lakefront on Lincoln Memorial Drive.

Though opponents of most of Walker's efforts were easily able to garner the votes to turn them down, they did so at a cost of an extra $7.8 million, or 3.1 percent, added to the 2009 levy over this year's. That would bring the 2009 levy to $257.7 million.

Walker's version of the budget kept the '09 levy at the same $250 million level as this year's and had an overall spending level of $1.4 billion.

The vote on the property tax levy was 12-7, with Supervisors Gerry Broderick, Toni Clark, Elizabeth M. Coggs, Marina Dimitrijevic, Lee Holloway, Willie Johnson Jr., Patricia Jursik, Christopher Larson, Theo Lipscomb, Michael Mayo Sr., John Thomas and Peggy West in favor.

Voting no were Supervisors Mark Borkowski, Paul Cesarz, Lynne De Bruin, Joseph Rice, Joe Sanfelippo, Jim "Luigi" Schmitt and John Weishan Jr.

The owner of a home valued at $150,000 last year would pay $12.17 more in county property taxes next year, under the County Board's action.

Although most of the board's privatization changes were made on lopsided votes, some fell short of a veto-proof majority of 13 votes from the 19-member board. That sets up a likely showdown because Walker has vowed to veto changes to his outsourcing ideas.

"We are going to get back to zero" levy increase with vetoes, Walker said. He'll issue his vetoes in about a week, he said.

The board did have veto-proof majorities on undoing the privatization of about 30 skilled trade workers, three dozen fleet maintenance workers and 13 case managers.

The votes to reverse Walker's outsourcing of 55 housekeepers at the Mental Health Complex and hiring three dozen private workers at the county's public assistance call center passed by narrower margins. Holloway, the County Board chairman, said it will be difficult to overcome those likely vetoes.

Holloway said the food service worker privatization wouldn't be as tough for employees as the other privatizations the board resisted. That's because a private vendor considering taking over the food service operation has agreed to give the current county workers hiring preference, he said.

The board also rejected Walker's request for a $500,000 study on privatizing Mitchell International Airport.

The board did not disrupt Walker's plan to place oversight of the House of Correction under Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. and merge it with Clarke's operation of the county jail. Under the change, Walker would give up his management responsibility over the House of Correction and county work-release center. The center came under fire in a federal audit early this year.

Holloway said he wasn't enthusiastic about that change, but noted supervisors had little choice because of some $3 million in savings linked to the merger.

Supervisors ordered a specific merger plan by July 1 and use of the National Institute of Corrections audit as the blueprint for changes at the House of Correction.

Weishan urged the board to reject the merger, saying the change would allow Walker to "absolve himself of the problems" at the House of Correction. The federal report criticized the operation as dysfunctional, with serious management, staffing and safety problems.

Holloway said Walker pushed for privatization as a way to leverage campaign contributions. Walker dismissed the charge as ridiculous and said supervisors blocking his privatization efforts were beholden to their union support. Walker has pushed for outsourcing since he first won the county executive post in 2002 and emphasized it in his re-election campaign earlier this year.

Fewer than 260 county workers would be laid off under the board's action, about 80 fewer than the 339 Walker had proposed.

On other items, the board:

Mental Health Complex. Added $750,000 for a detailed study on building a new complex near the current site on the County Grounds. That may also draw a Walker veto because he favors relocating the complex to a remodeled St. Michael Hospital.

Pool, golf fees. Eliminated a proposed $1.50 increase for children under 12 to swim in county pools and trimmed an increase of $3 per nine holes of golf at county courses that Walker sought. The board instead approved increases of 50 cents to $1.25 per nine holes of golf, depending on the course.

Parking meters. Rejected Walker's idea of charging $1 an hour to park along Lincoln Memorial Drive, which would have raised about $405,000 a year.

Bus fares. Kept them at $2 a ride. Walker proposed raising fares to $2.25.

Black Holocaust Museum. Approved $50,000 toward operation of the museum, which closed this year because of funding problems.

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