Pubdate: Tue, 10 Nov 1998 Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI) Copyright: 1998 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Contact: http://www.jsonline.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/265 Author: Tom Held Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?137 (Needle Exchange) COUNTY WON'T FINANCE NEEDLE EXCHANGES Supervisors Reject Using Tax Money For Program As They Approve Budget For 1999 By a one-vote margin, the County Board on Monday refused to spend taxpayer money on a needle exchange program for injection drug users as it approved a 1999 budget of just over $1 billion. An amendment to kill the $100,000 allocation to the Lifepoint Program, run by the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, was passed by the board on a 13-11 vote. The amendment would have failed with a 12-12 tie. The close vote confirmed what a difficult issue the needle exchange funding was for supervisors, who fielded more than 1,000 calls from constituents opposing or supporting the allocation in the last week alone. Speculation about the vote on the funding dominated much of the recent budget discussion. The overall budget adopted by the board Monday on a 19-5 vote calls for a tax levy of $194.2 million, an increase of 2.78% from the 1998 tax levy. The board's actions on the budget slightly reduced the tax levy proposed by County Executive F. Thomas Ament. Total spending in the 1999 budget represents an 8.24% increase from the $932 million in the 1998 budget. The tax rate for county purposes will drop, however, to $5.98 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, down 1.34% from the $6.06 in 1998. Spending to house prisoners in the House of Correction and operate the Sheriff's Department accounted for the largest portions of the budget increase. Capital projects, including computer upgrades, helped drive up the capital improvements budget to more than $112 million. All five supervisors on the County Board Black Caucus cast the votes against the final budget package, and they stated their frustration with what they called a lack of capital spending within Milwaukee's central city. The board's vote against a request for $1 million to help fund a recreation center for the Boys & Girls Club in Metcalfe Park served as a lightning rod for the black supervisors' objections. Their arguments for more spending on programs to prevent drug abuse and crime were a common theme throughout Monday's daylong budget deliberation. "Jails and corrections are the wrong way to go," said Supervisor Lee Holloway, who argued passionately for the Metcalfe Park project. "You're losing. You know you're losing." Discussion on the needle exchange amendment was brief, and contrasted with the month of intense lobbying that preceded the vote. Ultimately, two supervisors who had been pegged as supporters of the needle exchange, T. Anthony Zielinski and Roger Quindel, voted with the majority against the funding. "Their votes surprise me," Ament said late Monday afternoon. Quindel said he agonized over the item for weeks and actually struggled to find a way to justify voting in favor of the allocation. His opposition and vote rested with his experience with morphine after being injured in the Army, and the experiences of friends who became addicted to injection drugs under similar circumstances. "Purchasing the tools of destruction with tax money is just wrong," Quindel said. "I can't do it. "Injection drug use is growing, and the answer isn't to say, 'Do it safely.' The answer is not to do it." Supporters of the funding touted the needle exchange as the best way to curb the spread of AIDS among injection drug users. They also called the $100,000 an investment that would save the county money in future medical expenses and incarceration costs. "I think the County Board turned its back on the AIDS epidemic today, and it lost an opportunity to save thousands of lives," said Doug Nelson, the executive director of the AIDS Resource Center. "I think it was a vote in which fear-based politics triumphed over good public health policy." Ament, who placed the $100,000 in his budget proposal, cannot veto the amendment that removed the funding. He would not say whether he would attempt to put the money into his budget for 2000.