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Milwaukee living wage to cost taxpayers $218K for new government jobs

By   /   April 23, 2014  /   No Comments

By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter

AP file photo

PAYING MORE: Milwaukee County taxpayers could have to spend about $218,000 annually to create three new government positions to oversee compliance of the county’s living wage law.

MILWAUKEE, Wis. — The recently passed “living wage” in Milwaukee County already could be spurring job growth — in the public sector.

Taxpayers are being asked to spend nearly $218,000 a year to hire three new compliance officers to oversee the county’s union-influenced living-wage law.

The county’s Audit Services Division on Thursday will present a resolution on the potential staffing increase to the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors.

The proposal contradicts repeated claims by Supervisor David Bowen that the $11.32-an-hour living wage he authored with Service Employee International Union-affiliated officials would not cost taxpayers because businesses contracting with the county would absorb the added expenses.

Supervisor Deanna Alexander said she never believed those statements from Bowen, which is why she invited him to participate in a March debate on the economic impact of the living wage.

Bowen, who hasn’t returned phone calls or emails from Wisconsin Reporter over the past several months, later declined at the urging of a Big Labor advocacy group.

“(Bowen) publicly testified (the living wage) wouldn’t cost Milwaukee County money because the costs would all be passed along to, and absorbed, by business owners,” Alexander told Wisconsin Reporter. “Never mind that such a premise still means that it costs someone something, and that government by its own virtues, passes every cost along to the public in one way or another.”

But Alexander conceded she likely will vote in favor of the resolution because the request is being made by a department that’s trying to comply with regulations set by the county board.

“On the other hand, though, I want to stand on principle against it because the policy causing the expense is bad for the county, and is clearly resulting in the inflation of government regulation,” Alexander said. “I believe that most people, whether liberal or conservative, really just want to be free, and the one-two punch created by these burdensome rules push us in the opposite direction.”

The resolution would release $78,384 this year from the county’s contingency fund to pay for three employees and equipment for the Milwaukee County Audit Services Division.

One staff member would start in August and the other two would begin in September, Director of Audits Jerome Heer said.

Total expenses would jump to $217,369 in 2015 because the employees would be working for the entire year, according to a fiscal note prepared by Paul Grant, the county’s audit compliance manager.

The estimated $217,369 doesn’t include any possible wage or benefit increases in 2015, Heer said.

The three staff members would be responsible for enforcing the living-wage ordinance, including conducting investigations of employee complaints, managing the quarterly reporting process and responding to open records requests.

The board is also scheduled to take action Thursday on a resolution from Bowen rebidding the contract for county janitorial services to include the living wage.

The Milwaukee County Department of Administrative Services had asked supervisors to lock in a $3.4 million deal with CleanPower, a private janitorial firm in Wauwatosa, before May 19 when the living wage takes effect.

Taxpayers could save close to $2 million over the next three years without the automatic wage hike, according to a fiscal analysis from County Comptroller Scott Manske.

The amended resolution that includes the living wage was passed 7-0 last week by the county’s Finance, Personnel and Audit Committee. Even board members who voted against the living wage earlier this year put their support behind issuing a new request for proposal.

“I am not interested in refighting the whole issue around living wage,” Supervisor Patricia Jursik said at the April 17 committee meeting. “It’s now the policy of this county and that’s the state of fact.”

The living wage, which applies to thousands of county employees and workers under contract with the county, is projected to take about $11.3 million from the county tax levy through 2019, according to Manske’s report.

But the annual costs are expected to increase even more after 2019 when the reserves of the Milwaukee County Department of Family Care are predicted to dry up.

Contact Adam Tobias at atobias@watchdog.org or follow him on Twitter @Scoop_Tobias

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Adam is an investigative journalist for the Madison-based Wisconsin Reporter. Contact him at atobias@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @Scoop_Tobias.

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