Friday, July 18, 2008

Milwaukee County's $20+ Million Question To SEWRPC: What Have We Gotten For Those Tax Dollars?

Through a little-noticed annual transfer in its budget, Milwaukee County has sent a tidy sum to the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission since SEWRPC's 1960 establishment to help fund agency operations.

As the county's financing gets more strained, and public services from parks to transit keep taking cuts, isn't it time that Milwaukee County taxpayers - - and also Milwaukee city residents who pay about 48% of the county annual levy - - get a solid accounting for the money that is sent to SEWRPC each year?

It's not chickenfeed:

In just this decade, the Milwaukee County budget has delivered $7,250,000 to SEWRPC.

The payments in this decade have consistently covered about 36% of SEWRPC's operating budget, SEWRPC records show.

In past years, Milwaukee County's share of the SEWRPC operating budget was higher - - falling from 65% in the early 1960's to 50% in 1980 to 40% in 1995 - - because Milwaukee County's share of the seven-county region's equalized property value has fallen relative to the other counties shares.

SEWRPC receives additional funds in grants from and contracts with other local, state and federal agencies; 100% of the SEWRPC budget comes from public sources.

But Milwaukee County's dollar contribution to SEWRPC is still the largest county contribution among SEWRPC's seven member counties - - Milwaukee, Waukesha, Walworth, Washington, Racine, Kenosha and Ozaukee.

Despite carrying the lion's share of the counties' annual funding to SEWRPC, Milwaukee County continues to get the same three votes on the SEWRPC board that the lesser-valued, and lesser-populated counties have.

But SEWRPC's county-members-only board is not based on population.

That means the City of Milwaukee gets no seats on the commission, even though the City of Milwaukee's annual share of the SEWRPC operating budget through Milwaukee County - - about $400,000 this year - - exceeds the payments made to SEWRPC by each of these counties: Washington, Ozaukee, Walworth, Racine or Kenosha, records show.

That is what is called taxation without representation, and is one reason among many that the City and/or the County of Milwaukee should withdraw from SEWRPC and use Milwaukee tax and planning dollars on programs and people that place Milwaukee city and county interests first.
In the 48 years of SEWRPC's existence, with the funding formula, but not board power tilted towards Milwaukee County, the Milwaukee County total tax dollar transfer to SEWRPC has been $20,470,000, SEWRPC records show.

Isn't it time for Milwaukee County to state what value it feels it has received for all those Milwaukee city and county property tax dollars?

Certainly it would hold a contractor to those standards, and also for reporting compliance with applicable statutes regarding minority employment.

Isn't it time for Milwaukee County to hold SEWRPC accountable for the use of those dollars, and to make sure more SEWRPC spending and jobs go to Milwaukee city and county residents?

Though Milwaukee County has the largest number of minority residents among the seven SEWRPC counties, there are only five full-time minority employees on SEWRPC's full-time staff of 66 - - one professional employee, three technical employees and one clerical employee, according to SEWRPC affirmative action records.

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