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County Board votes to keep wheel tax at $30 (UPDATE)

The Milwaukee County Board has approved a budget plan for 2018 that would keep the local wheel tax at $30 a year per vehicle, again putting the board at odds with County Executive Chris Abele.

County supervisors used a meeting on Monday to approve various sweeping changes to Abele’s 2018 budget plan. Among other things, the changes would eliminate a proposal to double the county’s current wheel tax to $60 a year. Vehicle owners in Milwaukee County now pay a $30-a-year wheel tax in addition to the $75 registration fee they pay to the state.

The changes that supervisors made to the budget on Monday came as part of a sweeping amendment from County Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb. Board members approved it by a vote of 16-2.

The overall budget plan was then later approved with a 15-3 vote.

Abele’s proposal to increase the wheel tax to $60 a year was meant to raise about $14.7 million that could be put toward transit operations and various road projects next year. In rejecting that additional revenue, the amendment approved Monday would reduce county departments’ spending by less-than 1 percent across the board. It would also eliminate various capital projects, including three planned improvements along Rawson Avenue in Oak Creek.

Opponents of doubling the wheel tax argued such a change would go down poorly with county residents.

Supervisor Steve Taylor pointed to a recent referendum in which the majority of voters rejected the idea of a $60 wheel tax. He said that ignoring the results of that election would be tantamount to saying the will of voters is negligible. Supervisor Willie Johnson said such a move would be “political suicide.”

Abele has argued that a wheel tax is one of the county’s only means of raising new revenue.

Board members on Monday acknowledged that the county is indeed strapped for cash. To remedy the situation, Supervisor Marcelia Nicholson called on lawmakers in Madison to provide the county with more money.

“We need to look at our state Legislature, we need to look at our governor who is consistently starving our county of resources,” she said.

Perhaps the biggest critic of the amendment was Supervisor Deanna Alexander, who unsuccessfully tried to introduce an alternative plan. Alexander cited various reasons for her opposition to Lipscomb’s plan, including that it would eliminate a capital project to make repairs to a box culvert and railing on West College Avenue.

She held up pictures she had taken of that part of the street, pointing out the county had put in concrete blocks to prevent the existing railing from falling off the edge of the street.

“That’s an interesting choice (eliminating the project),” said Alexander. “It’s one I don’t support.”

She also wasn’t happy that the amendment would keep intact Abele’s plans to install parking meters at the county’s lakefront parks. The money raised from these parking fees would raise $1.6 million to pay for maintenance.

Her colleagues voted against discussing the proposal, effectively killing it without the need for a vote.

International Terminal project also affected

Separately, the county board endorsed a budget amendment that would effectively require county staff to take a few additional steps in work associated with planning the construction of a new international terminal at the General Mitchell International Airport.

The amendment would require county officials to precede any design and engineering work with a market study and the collection of other financial information. Their findings would have to be presented to board members.

The county first announced last year that it intended to build a new international terminal to replace the existing one. Abele’s budget plan calls for $25 million to be set aside for the airport project.

With Monday’s vote, the budget’s next stop is the county executive’s office.

Abele released a statement Monday afternoon saying he will not sign the budget, citing concerns with the proposed $15 million in cuts to county services.

“With a vote of 15-3, clearly supervisors believe that $15 million in deep cuts to transit, public safety, parks, and social services are what is best for the future of Milwaukee County,” he said in the statement. “While this is not the sustainable budget I proposed, and I remain profoundly concerned about the cuts the Board has approved, I respect the County Board’s policy authority and will not fight their policy decision.”

Abele added the board’s budget plan “does not improve the county’s long-term fiscal outlook.”

About Alex Zank, alex.zank@dailyreporter.com

Alex Zank is a construction reporter for The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 414-225-1820.

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