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Lead heads Milwaukee budget

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is calling for the city to set aside nearly $11 million for replacing lead pipes and removing lead paint from properties in its next budget.

Barrett, presenting his plans to members of the Milwaukee Common Council on Monday, said the money includes $5.2 million that would be spent to replace lead service lines at 385 daycares. The budget would also put money toward replacing about 300 leaking or failing lead pipes at residences, he added.

“To address lead in drinking water, this budget starts a commitment to full removal of lead-service lines,” Barrett said Monday.

Another $4.3 million would be put toward making more homes free of the dangers of lead paint. Barrett pointed out that the city has so far worked on eliminating those dangers in 17,000 residences.

Even so, about 70,000 homes in the city get water from street mains using pipes — often known as laterals — made of lead. The cost of replacing those pipes has been estimated to be about $770 million.

Besides reducing harmful exposures to lead, another benefit of replacing the lines could be the creation of jobs for local residents. Barrett said that every contract that uses public money to remove lead service lines will be tied to the city’s Residents Preference Program. This program typically requires that 40 percent of the construction work on city contracts be performed by unemployed or underemployed residents. The requirements are also attached to private developments that receive at least $1 million from the city.

Alderman Russell Stamper said the removal of lead laterals should be at the top of the city’s to-do list.

“I would say lead laterals, safety and then neighborhood revitalization are the three-top priorities,” Stamper said following Barrett’s address to the Common Council. “And hopefully we can use this challenge (of removing lead pipes) as an opportunity to put people to work.”

He said that he plans to review the mayor’s proposals and then take steps to ensure local residents who want to work on the lead-replacement project can receive any needed training.

Stamper was one of the prime movers behind changes made to the city’s resident-hiring program earlier this year. Approved by the Common Council in June, the overhaul eliminated a rule that had prevented residents from benefiting from the program for more than five years. It also, among other things, established credits for contractors who exceed the city-set apprenticeship and residency requirements.

Even while pushing for an ordinance requiring the replacement of lead service lines, Barrett said it’s important that poorer residents not be saddled with a heavy financial burden.

“These new changes will also ensure low- and fixed-income homeowners do not have to choose between replacing their line and keeping the lights on,” Barrett said. “My proposal is to keep the owner’s cost of replacing customer lines to less than $20 a month.”

In previous budgets reaching back to 2005, the city has spent more than $50 million on lead abatement, he noted. Although lead service lines have received the lion’s share of attention recently, Barrett pointed out that the leading source of lead poisoning in children is lead paint in older homes.

Barrett also called for a 60-percent increase in the city’s budget for its Compliance Loan Program, which lets homeowners take out low-interest loans to hire contractors to make property improvements. The goal is to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.

Barrett said this year has so far seen the sale of 369 tax-foreclosed homes and businesses, far more so far than the previous year. The city has been working to shrink the stock of properties it has acquired after the owners fell behind on paying property taxes.

The mayor also noted that the city has increased the money set aside for public-works projects by nearly 85 percent over the past three years, “addressing a backlog in street and sewer replacements.”

About Alex Zank, [email protected]

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

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