Christmas Gift? We Still Have a Few Little Free Libraries Left

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Local woodworker Larry Oleson is hard at work on the Little Free Libraries, and a few are still available to loving homes.

Interested? Email me at erikbrooks32@gmail.com, and let me know why we should add your name to the list. I don’t need a thesis — just a sentence or three on your plans for the library and why it would make a great fit for your neighborhood.

I want to thank our partners for their support of this.

  • That list starts with Larry. He has been so gracious to lend his talents to this twice now. He is making these for free, and this couldn’t happen without him. Take a look at his progress in the image with this post.
  • South Milwaukee Library. As in 2015, they donated all the wood for the libraries, from their collection of retired bookshelves.
  • South Milwaukee Ace Hardware. They are donating a number of materials for the project, including the doors and windows, hinges and latches, nails, screws and more. Very cool.
  • Bliffert Lumber in Cudahy. They recently stepped up to donate posts. We also had a private donation of shingles.

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Police & Fire Commission Chooses Next Police Chief: William Jessup

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The South Milwaukee Police and Fire Commission has chosen our next Police Chief: longstanding Milwaukee Police Department leader William Jessup.

The commission offered Jessup the job at its meeting on Thursday night, contingent on standard pre-employment testing.

Jessup has been with the Milwaukee Police Department for 27 years and currently serves as an assistant chief for MPD, heading its Investigations & Intelligence and Risk Management Bureaus, which include the Training Academy, Human Resources, Information Technology, Communications, Internal Affairs, Public Relations, and budgeting.  Mr. Jessup has commanded MPD’s District 7 operations on the city’s northwest side, and has previously served as an MPD inspector, deputy inspector, lieutenant, detective and officer.

Jessup also has personal ties to the South Shore, having grown up in Cudahy, and working as a paid on call firefighter and emergency medical technician there before beginning his professional career in law enforcement.

William Jessup will officially start in January, and replace Ann Wellens, who is retiring after 28 years on the SMPD, including 12 as its chief. We wish Ann well, and welcome Bill to South Milwaukee.

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2018 Budget Published; Hearing Set for Monday, Nov. 20

We have published our 2018 city budget, and it was another difficult one.

The public safety referendum result certainly helps, allowing us to adequately fund our paramedic program and add two new police officers, while helping us avoid potentially deeper cuts. But it does not solve many of our annual issues we face in funding our city services.

Costs go up. Yet with constraints put on us by the state for more than a decade, it is increasingly difficult for our budgets to keep up. This has left us — and dozens, maybe hundreds of small-growth communities like us across the state — to make hard choices to balance our budget, while trying to invest for the future.

We live within our means in South Milwaukee, and we deliver strong value for your taxpayer dollar. “Doing more with less” is a mantra for us, and I am proud of the work our people do every day to deliver the services you have come to expect from us. This budget delivers on that promise. Again.

After months of hard work by our city administrator, department heads, the council and others, we will present this budget to the community at a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 20, and a likely final vote by the Common Council the next night. Here are a few details …

  • The city tax levy is projected to increase 6.42 percent from $10,764,455 to $11,463,712. This is a little higher than the 5.7 percent increase called for in the referendum, which sought permission to increase the city’s base levy. The additional levy will primarily cover more than $56,000 in refunded tax payments to Caterpillar (the last year of refunds to Cat stemming from their successful challenge of their assessment).
  • Expenditures are projected to increase 4.28 percent, to more than $20.5 million.
  • Revenues are projected to increase 1.61 percent, to almost $9.1 million.
  • The tax rate will not be set until the final budget is passed. I will share that information in a future post.

The proposed budget makes long-term investments in our city and its services.

It includes the creation of dedicated fund to protect the additional funds raised through the referendum and ensure they are spent where they are supposed to be spent. Of note, $348,212 of the $616,641 raised through referendum is going to fund operating costs for paramedics and the new officers in 2018; the rest is going toward building fund balance that will eventually be used to deliver these services as costs increase and paramedic revenues decline over the next decade.

We’re also making an investment in economic development in this budget, allocating $123,520 (about half of that from the tax levy) toward economic development activities in 2018, including the recent hiring of our new economic development director and additional consulting services to help us through the amazing amount of change, challenge and opportunity we’re facing across the city when it comes to redevelopment. I’ll talk more about that in a future post.

We’re investing in our front-line people, too. The budget includes a 2 percent across-the-board salary increase for employees, including police and fire union members, whose contracts expire at the end of the year. This is to protect the investment the city made in the compensation pay plan, and to keep us competitive in the marketplace for talent, something increasingly difficult to do.

Health insurance continues to be a budget challenge, as we work to maintain a competitive benefit despite significantly rising costs. For years, we’ve done that through plan design and premium contribution changes. This year, our renewal came back at +3.5 percent, or more than $92,000 in additional costs. All in, health insurance will cost the city more than $2.8 million in 2018.

The budget includes new revenue sources, including a $110,000 increase in state transportation aids, and the following recommended user fee increases:

  • An increase in the self-deposit station daily usage fee from $2 to $3 – still a bargain compared to many other area communities. In an independent study of our Street Department earlier this year, we were told this a “Cadillac service” that few, if any communities, provide at the cost we do. We are proud to continue to deliver it, in a more sustainable way.
  • Changes to the special pickup and chipper policy. Unlike what you may have read online, the first special pickup or chipper job will remain free in most cases (those three cubic yards and smaller for special pickups; 12 cubic yards or less for chipper jobs). Fees will be assessed for larger jobs and/or additional pickups. For example, there will be a $25 fee for additional special pickups, and for those greater than three cubic yards, with another $25 for each three cubic yards beyond that. Similar fees will apply for larger and more frequent chipper jobs. This is a reasonable approach, reflecting that not all special pickups are created equal, and that this is another one of those “Cadillac” services that, even with the new fees, we will continue to provide a high level. Some area communities do not provide this service at all.
  • A 15 percent increase in charges to users of our commercial garbage pickup service. Dozens of apartment buildings, businesses, schools and others use this service, which was a money-loser for us. This increase puts us more on par with what private collectors charge. It’s the first price increase in eight years.
  • The addition of a $500 motor vehicle crash response and cleanup fee, charged to those involved in major accidents. It reflects the cost of services our first responders provide above and beyond patient care, from de-energizing vehicles to cleaning up the scene.  Many communities charge this fee, which is usually paid for through insurance coverage.

We welcome your feedback on the budget, either at the public hearing or one-on-one. Or comment here.

I again thank everyone who had a hand in shaping this document. This is the single most important thing we do every year, and, while it’s not easy, it’s important work to ensure we continue to be good stewards of taxpayer (your) money.

I’m proud to say we are.

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Get Your Feaste Tickets Now

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From the South Milwaukee School District …

Hark! It’s time to gather for music, fun, food, and frivolities! The 39th Annual Ye Olde Christmas Feaste will be held December 9-10, 2017 at South Milwaukee High School. Come join us in song, good humor, and feasting in an old English courtly atmosphere, with you as an honored guest.​​​​ Our student performers look forward to entertaining you. The deadline to order tickets is December 4, 2017. $30/each or book a full table (6 people) for $170. Order your tickets now.

Here is a PDF of the flyer.

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Saturday: Celebrate Literacy at South Milwaukee’s Barnes & Noble Bookfair

Proud to be a small part of this, reading from 11:30 to noon. See you there!

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Here is a Word version of the flyer.

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Business Spotlight: Skyline Catering

Here is the latest installment of South Milwaukee Business Spotlight, a collaboration with the South Milwaukee Community & Business Association where we’ll spotlight a local small business regularly. Businesses are chosen by the SMCBA.

This month, we profile Skyline Catering, owned by South Milwaukeeans Ernie and Kathy Wunsch.

The Basics

Skyline Catering, Inc.: 5601 South Pennsylvania Avenue, Cudahy, WI 53172

  • Our deli is open from 5:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Our catering department is open any time, we do events 24/7 with some exceptions for holidays.
  • 414-294-4808
  • www.skylinecatering.com. You can find us on Twitter and Facebook as well.
  • Founded 1997
  • Owners are Ernie & Kathy Wunsch
  • 27 employees plus another 35 “on call” for larger event days.

Learning More

 
Ernie started in the hotel/restaurant business at the age of 16 in 1977 working for the Samson brothers at Harold’s fine dining at the Red Carpet hotel near the Milwaukee airport.  It didn’t take long to realize that he was fascinated by the industry and very interested in pursuing a career in food and beverage .  Over the next 20 years Ernie filled almost every position in his craft at country clubs and major hotel chains throughout the country, working with many talented chefs, managers and up & coming staff members.
 
With a wonderful new marriage to Kathy, our first baby right around the corner and a stroke of luck in the form of Kathy’s company needing me to step up and pull off a catering project, the proverbial light bulb went off above my head and Skyline corporate catering was created in December of 1997.  Heck, if I was willing to work unlimited hours for all of my Country Club and Hotel bosses, why not invest those blood, sweat & tears into my own ideas and ventures.  It only took twenty years to figure that out!?
 
Skyline Catering is unique because of our philosophy of treating all of our staff members as family, being genuinely concerned for their needs which I fully believe translates to customer care as well as client and employee retention.  Although we have upwards of 400 corporate clients, we as a complete team, know each and every clients particular needs.  We Have a saying at Skyline that “The answer is always yes, if it can be thought of, it can be done.”  So many customers are used to hearing “no” and “we can’t do that” from other businesses,  it’s refreshing for them to hear the word yes and have us find a way to make their vision come true.  One other item which isn’t really unique, as many other local businesses do it as well, is that we are very involved in the community, schools, non profits, charities and our armed forces.  Giving of ourselves is not only personally very rewarding, but it is a good thing to do for your business if you do it in a sincere way.
 
Our biggest challenge over the years has been staying part of the conversation or “fresh” if you will.  In 1997 there were literally only 10 major catering considerations for corporate or personal catering.  People in need always knew the “go to” caterers and mainly used them for their events.  I noticed this back then and thought that with the right business model and extra effort, we could eventually compete.  It was a constant battle to be a legitimate contender for consideration as a corporate caterer until about 2007.  We now believe that we can compete with and exceed the overall experience of any local large establishments.  We do this by keeping in tune with our client’s needs, constantly changing our menu ideas, being willing to customize any menu and truly attempt to work within our clients budgets.
 
We are asked, “What is our biggest opportunity” and I would have to refer to giving back.  Being blessed with a great family, outstanding community, dedicated, loyal and talented staff members, fellow entrepreneurs, good decision making and a business model that has tested time, we are grateful for the opportunity to give back and share with others possible encouragement, donations and hope.
 
We are always researching growth and have grown each year for the past 19 years.  My thoughts on growth are not to just jump into something without plenty of due diligence and careful thought on how it will affect your family, finances, health and community.  Fast growth adversely affects your customer experience and we don’t want to lose the faith that our clients have in us.  New growth needs to be thought of from every angle and not from a singular or selfish point of view.
 
To me, South Milwaukee is on the edge of a possible breakthrough in development.  My family moved to South Milwaukee 9 years ago because we saw a great, close knit community with outstanding services, a top notch school system, and potential for business investment and growth.  We have not been disappointed in any way with our new hometown from the top leadership to all of the caring people and wonderful businesses.  This city has potential and I am hoping and pushing it to take the next step as best as U can.  The only thing I would like to change about our fine city is the way that we sometimes still think of ourselves.  We are not that city that other cities smirk at or don’t pay much attention to because they think we are not serious.  We are a gem that is about to be discovered and our attitudes need to reflect that.  No more living in the past for this family and entrepreneur, it’s time to move forward and be proud of it!
 
I was asked to list something people would be surprised to know about me and my business.  Me…no surprises except maybe the fact that I went to an exclusive private school in 8th grade only (long story) that catered to the wealthy and Hollywood crowd in Los Angeles back in 1975.  I even danced with Melissa Gilbert at a class function!  Business…what we are told about anything can be accomplished with the right idea, hard work and unbridled passion is true.  In 1997, all I had was a credit card with a $2,000 limit, the physical help of a good friend, the support of my family and something I believed in.  Hopefully and God willing, Skyline will carry on and be part of this fine community for many years to come.

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Gallery Night Set for Nov. 25

Our list of business-building special events in South Milwaukee gets more special all the time. The latest addition: Gallery Night on Saturday, Nov. 25.

Mark your calendars for this new Shop Local Saturday event!

Thanks to organizers Jamie Allard (owner of Serendipitous Design & Gifts) and Ryan Lemire-Gonzalez for their work in pulling this together. I love it.

Special plug for Parkway Floral’s “Little Shop of Horrors Night.” Details here.

Gallery Night flyer

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