Cracks in the Foundation

An analysis of building repair and replacement needs at the city and county of Milwaukee

September 2017


Video Summary

Our latest research finds that buildings owned by the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County face substantial and expensive repair and replacement needs that will need to be accommodated in increasingly tight capital budgets. While there is hope that the City’s building challenges will be manageable going forward, the County is facing a far more dire set of circumstances that currently appear unmanageable.

Other key findings:

  • Three of the County’s most mission-critical buildings — the Safety Building, Mental Health Complex, and Medical Examiner’s Office — should be fully replaced as soon as possible.
  • City buildings are in acceptable condition overall, though only because major renovation at City Hall and the Police Administration Building (PAB) are underway.
  • In light of the need to replace the Safety Building and competing needs from other functions, Milwaukee County appears to lack the capacity to finance the capital needs of its buildings if it wishes to stay within its self-imposed borrowing limits.
  • The need to finance the City Hall and PAB projects has caused the City’s capital finance environment to tighten, as other capital needs have been deferred and higher-than-desired levels of borrowing have been pursued.
  • Capital financing challenges facing both governments are inextricably linked to their operating budget challenges, which include the need to spend increasing amounts of local tax dollars on retirement obligations in the face of stagnant revenue streams.


Local Government Infrastructure Series

Picking Up the Pieces is the fifth and final installment of a series on infrastructure needs for Milwaukee’s city and county governments and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. A Fork in the Road? focused on local roads, bridges, and buses owned by Milwaukee County and the city of Milwaukee. Beneath the Streets focused on water, sewer, and wastewater treatment infrastructure owned by the city and MMSD. Cracks in the Foundation focused on city and county building repair and replacement needs. Delay of Game focused on Milwaukee County-owned parks, recreational, and cultural infrastructure.