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Budget hearing full of garbage (trucks)

Don’t let the title fool you: Milwaukee’s annual joint public hearing on the proposed municipal budget can get interesting.

Wednesday night’s hearing was city residents’ chance to address the Common Council with comments about the proposed budget, which the council has the power to amend.

Favorite topics included:

  • Housing Infrastructure Preservation Fund: the mayor has proposed cutting the money in half compared to last year’s allocation of $600,000 for the program, which gives public money for repairs on city homes. More than a dozen residents asked the Common Council to double the $300,000 allocation for 2014.
  • Amani Neighborhood: a handful of residents carrying colorful “AMANI” signs sat at the hearing, with some speaking at the podium about increased city resources for non-police solutions to crime and involving residents in community programs.
  • Libraries: while a few library employees joined the call of other city workers to end unpaid furlough days, three of which are proposed for 2014, more stood up in support of the Teacher in the Library tutoring program and Technology Specialist positions.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has included city money for maintaining and expanding those positions, and employees and their students (two of whom spoke in Spanish through a translator) thanked him and asked the council to maintain them.

The biggest kerfuffle arose when city sanitation workers took the podium. Patrick Ames led the charge and was followed by two other employees who finished a prepared statement, while more than a dozen people in the gallery stood and applauded loudly after each speaker. The statement complained of high turnover, increased workload and low wages.

But the real fun began when Allen Burlock took the podium, though Ames later seemed to want to distance himself from Burlock and his remarks.

Burlock offered $3,000 from his personal bank account to any elected official who would do a sanitation worker’s job for the day. This offer was greeted with clapping and yells from the gallery.

Whether or not he meant the offer seriously, Alderman Joe Dudzik, a former sanitation worker, offered to take him up on it.

“I started out,” he said to me after the meeting, “on the back of a garbage truck. You’re not doing anything I didn’t do.”

Maybe Burlock would have thought twice had he known that council member’s penchant for taking action.

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