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Mayor Barrett's 2019 budget includes $20M to address lead issues

Posted at 7:40 AM, Sep 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-24 08:44:25-04

MILWAUKEE -- Mayor Tom Barrett is calling for a historic $20 million investment to address the problem of lead pipes and paint in Milwaukee and the health issues that come along with it. 

Barrett calls the investment unprecedented, but some say it would barely put a dent in the cost to remove all of Milwaukee's lead pipes.

Barrett said about $7.6 million would go toward removing lead paint from homes. The other $12.4 million would pay for the removal of a thousand lead service lines or pipes. That's a mere fraction of those that remain. 

It's a problem tens of thousands of Milwaukee homeowners live with. Ulacier Lafeur admits, lead wasn't a fear of hers until her daughter was born.

"Bathing and cooking and for her bottle and everything so it really concerns me that we do have lead in our water," she said. 

Lafleur's neighbor Jasmin Hoover doesn't risk it.

"I'm not drinking it straight from the tap," she said. 

Especially after her family got a letter to remind them last week. 

"You don't really think about it, but then you get a notice saying, 'hey, you might have lead pipes and everybody in the neighborhood has lead pipes,'" Hoover said.  

Over the past year, lead has been a subject of scandal in Milwaukee after failures surrounding notification and testing of children. Ultimately Bevan Baker was ousted from his job as Milwaukee health commissioner.

"We'll be focusing on removing about a thousand different pipes that have lead in them," Barrett said on Sunday.   

Barrett said the city stopped using lead on lateral lines in the 1950s. Laterals connect city water mains to homeowners' water pipes. 

"The challenge we have is not every house built before 1951 can be addressed in one year." said Barrett. 

That's because about 75,000 lead service lines remain. The city found it would cost a staggering $750 million dollars to replace all of them.

"We don't pretend to say that this is going to solve the problem," Barrett said.  

Barrett already has a priority list for selecting which properties would be selected to have their lead pipes removed. Barrett said the remain 100 child care centers would be first, followed by 450 properties dealing with pipe leaks or other emergencies. 

Barrett's 2019 budget would provide another partial solution by giving homeowners water filters for homeowners. Altogether the proposal would require a tax hike of about $50 a year for the average homeowner.