By Doug Hissom Special to OnMilwaukee.com Published Oct 09, 2009 at 5:19 AM
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OnMilwaukee.com, its advertisers or editorial staff.
So Scott Walker wants to close six pools -- several on the North Side -- to build one large aquatic center on the South Side? How does that make budgetary sense?

It does to County Exec Walker who wants to spend $11 million to build the aquatic center while closing Pulaski and Noyes indoor pools and the outdoor pools at Washington, Holler and Jackson Parks and Pelican Cove.

Walker wanted to close the pools this summer but public pressure kept them open.

The fact that the existing pools serve more people isn't lost on several county supervisors, who propose keeping the pools open and throwing in $1.5 million in deferred maintenance for them, at a cost of $6.5 million. Their plan would also build two indoor water parks at Pulaski and Noyes, recognizing that people need some water sports during the long winter months.

Four supervisors -- Marina Dimitrijevic, Johnny Thomas, John Weishan, Jr., and Chris Larson -- said they will make the budget amendment.

"Our indoor and outdoor pools are vital to the community," said Larson. "These residents are here to remind us that, even as we build onto our great park system, we cannot and will not abandon what generations have built before us."

Another Moan About Hoan: Count Milwaukee Port Director Eric Reinelt as another dubious vote on lowering the Hoan Bridge, as some city officials and chamber of commerce types have proposed. When asked at a budget hearing earlier this week, Reinelt agreed that resurfacing and lowering the Hoan "would be detrimental to the economic health of the port."

He also agreed that restructuring the bridge would create a competitive disadvantage for the Milwaukee port compared to Chicago and Detroit.

Reinelt noted that 120,000 trucks a year go through the port and on the Hoan.

As for the lift bridge idea that would replace the high rise Hoan overpass, Reinelt said the port could live with that given that Chicago has several lift bridges on the way into its port.

He said, however, he'd have to see designs before taking a solid stand on the deal. A study is underway to project what a lowered Hoan Bridge would look like compared with the cost of repaving.

Pork and Police: One Milwaukee alderman seemingly wants more pork and another wants more cops and firefighters. So goes budget time in the big city.

After Mayor Tom Barrett released his budget last month Ald. Jim Bohl promptly posited his thoughts on the road-building portion. Barrett's budget boosts spending by 16.5 percent for fixing streets but Bohl pontificates that it still leaves the city far from the "promised land," whatever that may be.

He notes a city study that found maintenance was underfunded for the past 20-plus years and that 21 percent of the streets are in poor condition. He said Barrett's budget falls short some $21 million over what the report recommends. Barrett's plan would throw $12 million at road repairs.

Bohl said the mayor's proposal would have the city on an 80-year cycle of repair instead of a 60-year cycle, which is preferable.

"The mayor's trying to do a good thing and I give him credit, but his plan leaves us far from the promised land and more like we've got another 40 years in the desert," Bohl said.

Meanwhile, South Side Ald. Bob Donovan continues to embrace the public safety crews of the city. He's scheduled a weekend rally with firefighters and police officers at Serb Hall, "calling on Mayor Tom Barrett to create a plan for improving the city's finances and the overall quality of life for residents.

"This constant budgetary attack on Milwaukee's firefighters and police officers has got to end," Donovan said.

Police pay and benefits is the largest single item in the city's budget.

"Once you start chipping away at the edges of public safety services, that's when people who would have otherwise been OK start dying," he said, adding some melodrama to the issue.

Dichotomy in the Schools: The Milwaukee Public Schools have been taking it on the chin this week at Milwaukee city budget hearings. The city has covered the cost of MPS capital expenditures through its more favorable bond rate, as well as lending the schools the use of the City Attorney's office for a reasonable fee since the early 1990s. The so-called chargebacks for the city attorney's office and other city aide was a source of irritation for more than one School Board member who viewed them as meddling.

But it came to light during a hearing considering the election commission's budget that the city could actually get a better deal leasing space from the private sector than from MPS.

That caused some consternation from Ald. Michael Murphy not only during that meeting but also at one later in the week at which the Common Council's Finance Committee was told that the city is still chipping in some $20 million a year in debt service for the schools and that the city is on the hook for about $800 million down the road.

"And they're charging us for the use of their rooms?" Murphy asked sarcastically.

Election Commission Susan Edman also told the committee that the city could save $200,000 per election if the spring elections were rescheduled to coincide with the fall elections. Spring elections are of the non-partisan sort such as those for municipal positions, school boards and judges.

"To spend that kind of money for a 6 percent (voter) turnout is just ridiculous," she said.

But Edman said it's not all about money. She said a fall-only election "would overwhelm the electorate," since there would be so many races on the ballot that voters couldn't keep track of them all.

Babs Gets Local Support for Guv: Two Milwaukee County supervisors are among the first to pitch their names behind Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton's bid for the statehouse.

Marina Dimitrijevic and Peggy West endorsed Lawton this week.

So far, Lawton has been the only Democrat to declare her candidacy since Gov. Jim Doyle said he was going to quit after his term ends next year. Lawton has negatives among the party regulars and there is still persistent hope that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett would get in the race.

"Barbara Lawton has been a true leader on environmental issues and working to create the clean energy jobs of the future," said Dimitrijevic, who is one of the more green members of the County Board.

West is substantially less specific.

"(Lawton) is deeply committed to Milwaukee and improving our economy and schools. I know she will be a great governor who understands Milwaukee and provides solutions to the challenges that face our city."

Doug Hissom Special to OnMilwaukee.com
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.