Since Scott Walker was first elected as Milwaukee County Executive in 2002, every single year he has proposed ending the farm and fish hatchery located at the House of Correction, now known as the County Correctional Facility – South (CCF-S). And every single year, the Milwaukee County Board restored the proposed cut.
In 2008, Milwaukee County adopted Walker’s proposal to shift the responsibility of the CCF-S from the County Executive’s purview to the Sheriff’s Office. That change started to take effect towards the end of 2008 and was finalized in the beginning of this year.
As the County Executive and his staff start preparing their proposal for the 2010 budget, Sheriff Clarke has picked up where Walker left off and is proposing to shut down these programs again.
The County Board asked Jerome Heer, Director of Audits, to prepare a report regarding the value of the farm and fish hatchery. Mr. Heer prepared the report, which is dated June 30, 2009.
In the report, Mr. Heer notes that most of the physical labor is provided by a variable number of inmates, depending on the season. The actual cost to the county for the three correction officers, heat, electricity, etc was budgeted in 2009 to be a total of $285,352.
However, Mr. Heer also notes that the Hunger Task Force contributed approximately $175,000 to the maintenance and staffing of the program. Furthermore, Mr. Heer gives an approximation of the tangible benefits adds up to be about $211, 000. Per Mr. Heer’s report:
Using conservative retail values for produce, nursery stock and fish stock, as well as actual sales revenue from the Firewood and Recycling programs, we estimate the following monetary values attached to the tangible benefits of the Farm and Fish Hatchery.
• Food for the poor and elderly. According to the HTF, produce from the FFH is used in the preparation of 58,000 meals served to 34,000 individuals at local soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Produce from the farm that was harvested by inmates and distributed by the Hunger Task Force in 2008 had a total value of approximately $81,000 (see Attachment C).
• Fish stock. The Fish Hatchery produces approximately 40,000 fish annually. The fish are used primarily to stock the lagoons and ponds in the Milwaukee County Parks system. Attachment D is a listing of fish stock provided by the Fish Hatchery to various parks in the system in 2008 and 2009. Based on a limited internet search for retail fish stock, we estimate the value of the fish provided in the two-year period was approximately $168,000, or about $84,000 annually. The Fish Hatchery also provides some fish stock to the Milwaukee County Zoo for animal feed.
• Tree Stock for Parks. The Parks Department uses an unknown number of saplings maintained at FFH orchards to replenish stock throughout the Milwaukee County Parks system. Neither the Hunger Task Force nor the Parks Department could provide documentation of the number of trees transplanted annually for Parks use.
• Firewood to Parks. According to CCF—S staff, revenue from firewood sales in 2008 was approximately $1,000 per month, or about $12,000 for the year.
• Recycled materials sales. In 2008, revenue from recycled materials totaled approximately $14,500.
• Rental fees from Hunger Task Force. The 10-year lease between Milwaukee County and HTF, executed in December 2006, provides for annual lease payments of $20,000 for The Hunger Task Force’s use of the FFH land and buildings.
• The FFH may potentially be a small alternative food source for animals at the County Zoo. Several animals at the Zoo are fish eaters. Currently, the Milwaukee County Zoo purchases ocean-caught fish for seals, penguins and other fish-eating birds. As the ocean fisheries become depleted, the cost of those fish will rise. The Zoo would like to find alternative fish sources to feed some of the animals to augment the ocean-caught fish. The FFH has grown two batches of trout eggs up to feedable size trout in indoor cement ponds for the Zoo. The FFH environment is ideal for producing parasite-free fish. The fish that were produced were tested and found to be acceptable, both on pathologic examination and in taste trials with the penguins. Staff at the Zoo and CCF—S were having informal discussions regarding the appropriate level of cross-charges for this activity when the former House of Correction was transferred to the Office of the Sheriff. There is some question as to the viability of the FFH producing larger quantities of food for Zoo animals, however, as the food must be flash-frozen and packaged for year-round consumption. Whether or not FFH fish can be a consistent, economic source of food for the Zoo will depend on agreement for appropriate cross-charges and the market price for ocean-caught fish. In 2009, the Zoo anticipates spending approximately $20,000 on ocean-caught fish.
In total, we estimate the value of tangible benefits provided by operation of the FFH totals approximately $211,500.
Mr. Heer’s report goes on to also list the intangible benefits from the farm and fish hatchery, which include teaching inmates work skills that can be used when they are reintroduced into the community, gives the inmates a chance to “give back to the community” even while incarcerated, provides neighbors a physical and visual distance from the CCF-S, the taxpayer cost of inmate programming is subsidized by the Hunger Task Force and is not reliant on governmental funding, stocks Milwaukee County parks and lagoons with fish that the citizens can catch without undue travel or expense, offers programming with volunteers helping the elderly, the disable and children learn how to fish, County Parks get free firewood for the facilities with fireplaces, excess firewood can be sold to the public at inexpensive rates, provides pumpkins for the zoo and parks for Halloween and other events, and provides in house recycling for the waste from CCF-S.
It should be obvious to anyone that any burden on taxpayers, which is negligible, is greatly outweighed by the many benefits which stem from keeping the farm and fish hatchery in operation. This is even more true given the current struggle that the nation, and the county, finds itself in. More and more people, unfortunately, are finding themselves in situations where these benefits would be most fortuitous, and could make a real difference in people’s lives.
Milwaukee County First calls on and strongly urges County Executive Scott Walker and the Milwaukee County Board to recognize the numerous benefits of these programs, and to reverse the unfortunate and short-sighted budget recommendation of ending these needed and useful programs, and to restore them in the 2010 budgets.