Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley gave his 2023 State of the County Address at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) on February 21. It was the first time that he could hold the event in public because of COVID-19.

The address highlighted Milwaukee County’s commitment to its strategic plan to achieve race and health equity, it also emphasized the importance of partnerships in improving public health and public safety throughout Milwaukee County.

“When you have great partners, the possibilities for what you can accomplish are virtually limitless,” said County Executive David Crowley. “I’m proud to have developed strong partnerships at every level of government to bring much needed resources to our area. I’m just as proud to have worked with leaders in the many communities that make up Milwaukee County to invest those resources upstream to improve health outcomes and quality of life for everyone – regardless of their zip code.”

Crowley was the youngest County Executive in the history of Milwaukee County. As the first Black leader elected to serve in the role, he took office in May of 2020 at the very start of the pandemic.

“All of us with the vision to achieve race and health equity have a role to play in this work, but the only way to make a true impact in the lives of our neighbors is to work together to solve the problems ahead of us,” said Crowley to a crowd of nearly 500 attendees.

Crowley began the address invoking the words Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who spoke at UWM almost 60 years ago during the height of the civil rights movement.

“All people of good will must work together in a very vigorous and determined manner to solve this problem …”

The County Executive implored the audience to apply the statement to the challenges facing Milwaukee County today like opioid overdoses, the affordable housing crisis, and community violence. His address highlighted several projects that Milwaukee County will embark on in 2023.

These initiatives include the first full year of operations at the Mental Health Emergency Center; purchasing and installing opioid harm reduction vending machines at eligible locations throughout Milwaukee County; continuing the Healthy County Challenge in 2023; formally launching Community Prevention Programs and Family Supports to provide urgent supports for youth and their family; launching first year of the revived Milwaukee County Youth Commission to embark on a new era of youth leadership; launching the Medication Assisted Treatment Program at the Community Reintegration Center to address drug dependence and recidivism; executing contracts to build affordable housing in Milwaukee County suburbs and the King Park neighborhood; investing $2.5 million in federal funds in the ACTs Housing home acquisition fund to facilitate the creation of new Milwaukee homeowners; and launching the East-West Bus Rapid Transit System later this year and moving forward on a countywide plan to combat reckless driving.

Crowley also shared his dire fiscal forecast ahead if an additional revenue stream is not identified for Milwaukee County during current negotiations on local government reform. By 2027, the county is projected to have zero local dollars to fund local services. In order to offer core services like housing, public safety, transportation, and other quality of like services Milwaukee County needs an additional revenue source.

“A strong partnership looks like Milwaukee and Madison working together to make sure the county can continue to fund services along the public safety continuum that improve quality of life for residents,” said Crowley. “I continue to be encouraged by conversations with the state legislature and the Governor on local government reform that includes a 1% sales tax for Milwaukee County. We are ready to be a strong partner with our leaders in Madison to ensure the safety of residents living in all 19 municipalities within Milwaukee County.”

County Executive Crowley’s 2023 State of the County Address - February 21, 2023

It’s an honor to join you all this morning at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for the first in-person State of the County Address of my administration. I consider myself lucky to give a speech on the campus in which I’m currently enrolled. As a father, it’s important that I set the example to finish what I’ve started and pass on the value of a college education to our young daughters.

Thank you to Chancellor Mark Mone and the entire campus administration for graciously allowing us to be here today.

It’s exciting to see so many Milwaukee County leaders, partners, allies, and others who share our vision of race and health equity, be present in the same room. Thank you to the many leaders of local government within Milwaukee County for being here today. Your leadership and partnership have been invaluable over the last three years, and I only look forward to what we will do together in the future.

Thank you to members of the Wisconsin State Legislature for joining us as well. As we’ve worked to strengthen the partnership between Milwaukee County and the State of Wisconsin, having a voice in Madison advocating for us back home has been critical to communicating a new direction for our region.

I’m also incredibly grateful Wisconsin has champions like Congresswoman Gwen Moore & Senator Tammy Baldwin. Over the last three years, they’ve fought tooth and nail to bring resources to Milwaukee County to address the pandemic and the needs of communities in every zip code. My thanks go out to both the Senator and the Congresswoman for all their help in supporting our vision and mission.

When you have great partners like these, the possibilities for what you can accomplish are virtually limitless. It’s because of our partnerships and our shared vision that the state of Milwaukee County is stronger today than the day I was sworn in.

As the first Black elected County Executive in the 177-year history of Milwaukee County, I understand I didn’t get here on my own. I stand on the shoulders of the giants in this room and the giants who came before me.

In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited this very ballroom at the height of the civil rights movement. At the time, Milwaukee was dealing with tensions common in large cities across the country: segregated justice, economic inequality, fair public housing, and more.

During his visit, Dr. King said in an interview that “All people of good will must work together in a very vigorous and determined manner to solve this problem…”

He was speaking on the issue of school segregation, but that statement can apply to so many challenges facing Milwaukee County today — the scourge of the opioid epidemic, the affordable housing crisis, or the violence ravaging our neighborhoods and taking lives too soon.

All of us with the vision to achieve race and health equity have a role to play in this work, but the only way to make a true impact in the lives of our neighbors is to work together to solve the problems ahead of us.

Milwaukee County is here to lead on collaboration with a strategic plan that focuses on the root causes of our challenges and seeks to meet the needs of residents who’ve seen generations of disinvestment in their neighborhoods. When we meet the needs of everyone, we can create a safe, healthy county where everyone has what they need to thrive.

In 2023, we will continue to make the necessary investments in behavioral and mental health, public safety, housing, and transportation. We will do it sustainably and focus on making the biggest impact possible in the lives of our residents.

If healthy communities are our goal, then the resources to live healthy lives should be in the most vulnerable parts of the county. Last month, Governor Evers declared 2023 the year of mental health – and in Milwaukee County we pride ourselves on our ability to deliver mental health services.

2023 will be the first full year of operations for the brand-new Mental Health Emergency Center which opened late last year. The building is the culmination of a multi-year effort to move to a community-based model of care and bring services to the doorstep of those who need it the most.

Mental health and substance abuse issues not only lead to negative health and social outcomes for individuals experiencing them, but also for the County as a whole. That’s why comprehensive, community-based approaches are needed to address these issues facing residents.

To do that, it takes collaboration with folks like Dr. Maria Perez. Chairwoman of the Milwaukee County Mental Health Board and Vice President of Behavioral Health at Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers.

Maria is a leader in the mental and behavioral health space, and I am incredibly grateful to have her, and others like her, helping us address the health needs of some of our most vulnerable residents. Thank you, Maria.

By ensuring that we meet the need for community-based programming and support for those experiencing mental health and substance abuse issues, we can drive a safer and healthier Milwaukee County.

In the last budget, we doubled down on that philosophy by making a historic $21 million investment in Community Access to Recovery Services – or CARS — to expand the program. CARS provides a variety of services to help adults with behavioral health needs to achieve the greatest possible independence and quality of life by facilitating access to appropriate supports needed on the road to recovery.

In addition, just last month in collaboration with the County Board of Supervisors, we allocated over $11 million of opioid settlement funds for projects focused on treatment, abatement, and other strategies to address the opioid epidemic in Milwaukee County.

Those settlement funds have the potential to be a gamechanger in the fight to end the opioid epidemic and save lives. Some of the first dollars will go to the purchase and installation of harm reduction vending machines at locations across the County – and I look forward to the first vending machine being installed in the Marcia P. Coggs Health & Human Services building next month.

This is just a fraction of what Milwaukee County is doing to address some of the most acute health needs in our neighborhoods. There are so many frontline workers and community partners on the ground doing incredible work to improve the health of our residents.

It’s also important for all of us to be mindful of our mental and physical health even when we aren’t facing a crisis. Last spring, partners like Damian Buchman, founder and director of The Ability Center, helped us launch the Healthy County Challenge. Together, we led accessible hiking trips on the trails and cycled on the bike paths in our county parks to encourage all residents to get outdoors and foster their physical and mental well-being.

Damian, thank you for your help and the continued collaboration of The Ability Center in this effort. The Ability Center has been a great partner in our commitment to accessibility and serving our residents with disabilities. From supporting our successful initiative to make Bradford Beach the most accessible beach in the country to advocating for a universally accessible sports complex in Milwaukee County, you’ve been faithful allies in our work toward equity.

Damian, I hope you have your hiking boots ready as we prepare to launch the 2023 Healthy County challenge later this year!

Initiatives like the Healthy County Challenge are a result of Milwaukee County’s focus on addressing the root causes of the issues facing residents. We can create healthier and safer neighborhoods by moving resources upstream to prevent poor outcomes before they occur.

Public health is public safety – and few understand that philosophy better than Milwaukee County Health and Human Services Director, Shakita LaGrant-McClain. Since being appointed to lead the largest department in our organization, DHHS has integrated services for veterans and seniors to elevate their unique needs. The result is a continued commitment to serving our veterans and older adults by better connecting them to the resources they need.

Last year, more than $4 million in infrastructure improvements for Milwaukee County-owned senior centers were passed by the ARPA task force and County Board. The Agency on Aging served over 650,000 meals and launched a new financial navigator program to provide financial counseling, tax preparation and fraud prevention to older adults.

Before the pandemic, veterans faced challenges when adjusting to life after service. We know the unemployment, homelessness, and mental & physical health challenges that existed before the pandemic have been magnified since 2020.

The head of Milwaukee County Veterans’ Services, Rick Flowers, has done an excellent job making sure our veterans know we are here for them. Last year, the office provided 60 grants to individuals needing financial, dental, rental, and other means of assistance.

People passionate about making change are a precious resource in Milwaukee County – and our veterans are often overlooked even though they come with a wealth of experience and training in an array of tasks and responsibilities. That’s why I’m glad Christian Thornton and the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce are working each day to support veteran owned and veteran friendly businesses.

Veterans know what it means to put in a hard day’s work and can appreciate a job well done. I admire the passion our veterans possess to continue serving others after they return home.

Rick and Christian, thank you both for helping us make sure our veterans are supported and valued.

Under Director LaGrant-McLain, we’ve also launched, and expanded, the Credible Messengers program to connect justice-involved youth with neighborhood leaders, experienced youth advocates, and individuals with relevant life experiences.

I’m talking about mentors like Bridget Whitaker from Safe & Sound and Dawn & Victor Barnett with Running Rebels who’ve dedicated themselves to supporting our youth and ending the cycle of reckless and unnecessary violence in our streets.

Together, we’re making an impact in shaping the lives of our young people. Our most recent data shows that more than 75 percent of youth who entered the Credible Messengers program did not re-offend. That is a massive success that wouldn’t be possible without a forward-looking vision and partners who share our goals. Thank you all for the work you’re doing each day.

In 2023, we’re going even further to move resources upstream and prevent violence before it occurs. Later this year, the DHHS will formally announce the launch of Community Prevention Programs & Family Supports to provide urgent and intentional prevention, diversion, intervention, personal development, and mental wellness support to young people in our community.

Our goal is to be highly responsive to youth involved in high-risk behavior. We will immediately connect them with a support system that addresses root causes and offers opportunities, resources, and guidance to change their trajectory.

As someone born and raised here, I understand that sometimes our leaders almost sound afraid of our youth. At a young age, I had my life changed by mentors who cared for me and helped me unlock my true power and potential.

Too often the needs of our youth are overlooked, their problems don’t get addressed, and as they grow into adulthood they don’t prioritize engaging in civic activity. We want to break that cycle of neglect by empowering youth to promote a more just and equitable society.

Last year, I worked with Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson to revive the Milwaukee Youth Commission to serve as a representative body for youth in Milwaukee County government. Youth Commissioners work in partnership with me and the Chairwoman to make advisory recommendations about policy and budgetary decisions.

When more and more young people have access to opportunities that build their skills and knowledge, and that empower them to effect change, decision-making becomes more representative and our entire community benefits.

Over the past few months, we’ve selected some of the best and brightest young minds in our area to serve the County. Behind me are Commission Co-chairs Aaron Lee and Mia Moore. I’ve had the honor of speaking to them both several times throughout this process and I am confident they are the right pair to usher in this new era of youth leadership in Milwaukee County. Thank you both.

Preventing crime and violence by moving resources upstream is important, but it is just as important to give the right people the resources they need to bring offenders to justice and support safe streets.

In the last budget, we featured a joint project with the Medical College of Wisconsin and State of Wisconsin to fund a new Forensic Science and Protective Medicine Center located in the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center.

The new space will co-locate the Medical Examiner’s Office, the Office of Emergency Management, and the State Crime Lab – taking law enforcement, justice system, and emergency response coordination to a level never previously seen in Wisconsin.

Together, we will enhance public safety, save lives, and operate a more efficient and cost-effective response to emergency situations.

It’s an important investment when you think about how our justice system was disrupted by the pandemic. Many parts of our system are still working to recover and I’m proud to say that thanks to the Evers Administration allocating dollars to Milwaukee County, we’ve seen progress in clearing the backlog in our courts. We’ve drastically reduced the cases held in misdemeanor court and criminal traffic courts have a negative backlog when compared to 2019.

We have more work to do, and we hope to see the backlog cleared by 2024. Nevertheless, we are heading in the right direction because of the leadership of Chief Judge Mary Triggiano and the efforts of individuals doing their best each day with extremely limited resources.

Thanks to their hard work, justice is not on hold in Milwaukee County.

As residents move through the justice system and find themselves in our care, I believe we have an obligation to provide a structured rehabilitative environment that prepares individuals to return to their neighborhoods as assets to the community.

I know that Community Reintegration Center Superintendent, Chantell Jewell, believes that as well. She has led the transformation of how Milwaukee County creates opportunities for those in our care and facilitates long-term change in the individual.

Individuals housed at the CRC can continue their education through the Education Preparedness Program thanks to a partnership with Marquette University.

In addition, the new Family Engagement Center offers services designed to prevent violent crime, reduce recidivism, and provide support for minors with justice-involved guardians.

The center focuses on providing holistic family services, facilitating in-person family visits, family mediation, and assistance in transitioning back into society upon release.

Also, the CRC now offers a financial literacy program in partnership with Chase bank and workforce assistance through a partnership with Employ Milwaukee.

Finally, the CRC recently introduced the Medication Assisted Treatment Program which gives residents with an opioid addiction the treatment they need to reduce their dependence on the drug and reduce the chance of overdose once they leave our care.

These are significant steps forward to ensure our residents receive the assistance they need to reduce the likelihood they’ll return to the CRC. Most importantly, it helps rehabilitate and reform those who find themselves in the justice system — making our neighborhoods safer and communities more productive.

Speaking of our neighborhoods, when I was sworn-in three years ago I said that I was determined to move Milwaukee off the list of most segregated communities in the country.

Many asked how we would accomplish that feat and my answer was simple: partnerships & collaboration. We’ve brought stakeholders to the table, built relationships, and found ways to help each other reach our organizational goals.

Partners like Wauwatosa Mayor Dennis McBride and West Allis Mayor Dan Devine who’ve championed our efforts to invest $15 million in federal funds to create affordable housing in their respective cities.

And partners like Shorewood Village President Ann McKaig who is presiding over a $2.5 million allocation toward creating affordable housing in her municipality.

Thank you all for sharing our vision for a more equitable Milwaukee County. I look forward to seeing your communities diversify as these developments move forward.

As someone with first-hand experience with housing insecurity, I can testify to the negative consequences that come with being evicted or having to move frequently. It’s because of those experiences that housing security is a top priority for me as County Executive.

Whether it is getting unsheltered residents into permanent housing via our nationally recognized Housing First program, preventing evictions via providing free legal counsel for financially eligible households, or working with suburban municipalities to increase the amount of affordable housing in their communities – we are leading by example on housing throughout the County.

This year, we’ve invested $2.5 million in federal funds to support the ACTS Housing home acquisition fund. ACTS’ goal is to acquire at least 100 properties this year and convert them into owner-occupied homes – with 80 percent of homeowners coming from communities of color. That means instead of wealthy out-of-state investors buying up homes just to make a profit, the acquisition fund will help put Milwaukee’s housing stock back into the hands of Milwaukeeans.

In addition, we’ve seen significant progress on a plan to make a transformational investment in the King Park Neighborhood. Recently, we acquired 90 lots in the neighborhood to develop 120 affordable single-family homes. We’ve partnered with local developers like Kevin Newell, President and CEO of Royal Capital, to get to work building those homes so we can get residents in them as soon as possible.

This puts us one step closer to building much-needed affordable homes and creating a new generation of first-time homeowners in a historically underserved community. Thank you for your help in making a huge investment in the King Park neighborhood, Kevin.

The neighborhood is also home to our Marcia P. Coggs Health and Human Services Center and adjacent to our new Mental Health Emergency Center. The affordable housing development project is part of a broader, transformative investment in the entire health of the neighborhood. Last year, Milwaukee County committed $32 million in ARPA funds to develop a new building to keep key services in heart of the community. Under this plan, Milwaukee County will have its first-ever building created for, and dedicated to, administering Health & Human Services.

Residents should be able to live in any zip code throughout the county. They should also be able to access the employment and recreational opportunities in any zip code.

Too often, residents face hurdles to freely moving around the County. Whether it’s reckless driving, lack of transit options, or transportation infrastructure, lack of effective transportation means that our residents are limited as to where they can live, work, and play.

After seeing ridership on the Milwaukee County Transit System increase last year, I am excited for the launch of the East-West Bus Rapid Transit system launching later this year. The BRT means faster commutes and a more connected county.

We also need to make sure our roadways are safe for everyone, that’s why Milwaukee County is moving forward on a countywide plan to combat reckless driving funded by grants received through the Transportation Alternatives Program.

The time is now for collaboration between Milwaukee County and its municipalities to create a comprehensive, data-driven plan to increase safety for all who use our streets and roadways. I am committed to identifying strategies to keep drivers, bicyclists, transit riders and pedestrians safe.

The story Milwaukee County is simple, when we have the necessary resources, we invest them in our core service areas and make an impact in the lives of the people who live here. We thrive on our partnerships and ability to spur collaboration.

However, to keep offering core services like housing, public safety, transportation, and other items that ensure a high quality of life for our residents, Milwaukee County needs a strong partnership with the state of Wisconsin to bring new, additional revenue our way.

Currently, the cost of services are outpacing our current revenues – and we are limited by state law in how much revenue we can raise locally. By 2027, we are projected to have no local dollars to fund local services. We need sustainable sources of revenue to maintain services and amenities that make metro Milwaukee a competitive region to grow businesses and attract and retain talent – including public safety.

A strong partnership looks like Milwaukee and Madison working together to make sure the county can continue to fund services along the public safety continuum that improve quality of life for residents.

I continue to be encouraged by conversations with the state legislature and the Governor on local government reform that includes a 1% sales tax for Milwaukee County. We are ready to be a strong partner with our leaders in Madison to ensure the safety of residents living in all 19 municipalities within Milwaukee County.

They say if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. I want Milwaukee County to go far, very far, on its journey to achieve race and health equity.

That’s why over the last three years, I’ve valued the relationships we’ve built with everyone in this room. Because together, we can go farther than we can even imagine.

Almost sixty years ago, Martin Luther King visited Milwaukee and reminded us that “All people of goodwill must work together in a very vigorous and determined manner” to solve the problems of his era.

Today, we have the same responsibility. Thank you all for being people of good will and being dedicated to improving life for the people of Milwaukee County.

And for others, who may not have gotten on board with our vision just yet. I have a message for you: my door is always open.

Whether you are in the public, private, or non-profit sector there is always a seat at the table for you to join us in the work to achieve race and health equity.

I’m optimistic that we can come together to face all our challenges, improve both the health and safety of our neighborhoods, and move Milwaukee County in the direction of the motto of this great state: forward.

Thank you and God Bless.

© Photo

Lee Matz