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Milwaukee seeks guide for neighborhood investment plan

A Milwaukee alderman wants to make sure officials can track exactly how the city spends money on foreclosed homes.

The most recent attempt to establish such detailed oversight failed when Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett vetoed a resolution that would have required the city’s Department of Administration to outline all of the expected 2014 expenses for the Strong Neighborhood Investment Plan.

That veto, Alderman Robert Bauman said, creates the risk that the Common Council will not be informed when money for the program is moved around.

According to the vetoed resolution, at least $10,081,500 in capital and operating money is set aside for the SNIP, which is entering its first year of operation. The money will be used to prevent homes from entering tax foreclosures, to sell or rehabilitate foreclosed homes the city owns and to demolish others that cannot be saved.

But the money is scattered throughout the 2014 budget, and that makes it difficult for aldermen to track expenses, said Bauman, co-chairman of the Special Joint Committee on the Redevelopment of Abandoned and Foreclosed Homes.

The money is scattered because different departments have different responsibilities in connection to SNIP. The Department of City Development, for example, will be responsible for orchestrating sales and managing city-owned homes, and the Department of Neighborhood Services will oversee demolitions, said Aaron Szopinski, SNIP housing director, during a meeting Tuesday of Bauman’s committee.

The resolution would have required the Common Council approve requests to shift money away from specific SNIP line items, such as demolition. The Common Council would have had to approve such a shift if the amount of money was either $100,000 or 10 percent of that overall line item, whichever was less.

That wording could have resulted in the Common Council reviewing transfers of as little as $1,000, Alderman Michael Murphy said.

Consolidating the SNIP money is an alternative, Bauman said, that he proposed during budget deliberations in fall.

“They didn’t want anything to do with that,” Bauman said. “They wanted their little pigeonholes to remain intact.”

The resolution, he said, was a compromise.

Barrett could not be immediately reached for comment.

The DOA’s Budget and Management Division recommended Dec. 3 that the resolution be adopted, according to a reply letter attributed to Szopinski, then a fiscal planning specialist.

The Common Council passed that compromise 14-0 on Dec. 17, according to city records, but the mayor vetoed it Dec. 30.

“It makes no sense whatsoever,” Bauman said. “It’s goofy.”

According to Barrett’s veto message, the resolution would have created an unnecessary bureaucratic burden. The message describes an objection to the resolution’s wording, especially the phrase “whichever is less,” because that could “hinder the timely deployment of resources and services.”

Murphy, who sponsored the resolution, said Barrett’s staff drafted the entire compromise, including the “whichever is less” line. That involvement, Murphy said, suggests the mayor supports transparency in how the money is spent, and a compromise can be reached.

If the Common Council had to sign off on $1,000 transfers, Murphy said, those department leaders could face delays in reaching SNIP’s goals.

If the veto is upheld, Murphy said, he will introduce a new resolution that would remove the percentage wording but specify an amount less than $100,000 to trigger Common Council review.

But Bauman said he is worried the veto means the Common Council could be kept in the dark about how the money is spent. He said he expects aldermen to debate whether to override the veto at the Common Council meeting Wednesday.

“It’s important to keep the feet to the fire,” Bauman said, “and make sure the various departments know they’re going to be accountable.”

About Beth Kevit

Beth Kevit is the Milwaukee city beat reporter and also covers real estate. She can be reached at [email protected] or 414-225-1820.

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