Wisconsin Policy Forum: ‘Milwaukee has a Local Gov. Infrastructure Problem’

October 3, 2018
Milwaukee from above.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum has collected data regarding the condition of Milwaukee County buildings, roadways, buses, sewer pipes, water mains, cultural assets, and other infrastructure. It concluded that the cost of maintaining infrastructure exceeds the government’s financial ability. Rob Henken, president of the forum, wrote an article outlining a potential plan of action for the county in the Journal Sentinel.   

According to Henken via the Journal Sentinel, findings that lead to this conclusion include:

  • To maintain an appropriate replacement cycle for its 400-plus buses, Milwaukee County should be spending more than $13 million annually in local funds to buy new buses. Doing so would exhaust nearly a third of its annual borrowing capacity.

  • Over half (56 percent) of City of Milwaukee streets were rated in poor or fair condition in 2016. Although the city is using a high-impact streets repaving program to alleviate the problem, that strategy only places a short-term Band-Aid on heavily traveled streets

  • Milwaukee's aging water mains prompted a Public Service Commission directive to increase the pace of replacement to 20 miles of mains per year at an annual cost of more than $20 million. Meanwhile, the need to replace 76,000 lead service lines may require millions of dollars.


Henken suggested in his article that officials should consider the following:

Special Sources of Capital Financing

Since large projects cannot be accommodated in regular local government capital programs, some states allow voters to decide on special financing strategies to pursue them. If a special tax was given to Milwaukee for ongoing renovations, for example, millions of dollars could be put toward more basic needs.

Look to the Private Sector

Seeking philanthropic support from business and civil interests is also an option. The county can also pursue public-private partnerships to finance and operate public infrastructure.

Liquidate or merge assets

Intergovernmental partnerships may offer some help, along with nonprofit entities weaning themselves off government support. The article urges the government to “size up the scope of the problem,” and take action.

Source: Journal Sentinel