I say this a lot: There are 19 different communities in Milwaukee County, too often delivering their services 19 different ways. In these budget times, that’s not sustainable.
We have to come together where possible, be aggressive in seeking partnerships to ensure citizens continue to get the high-quality services they have come to expect, in the cost-effective manner possible.
I’m proud to say we’re taking a step toward that with the fire departments in South Milwaukee, Cudahy and St. Francis. The issue: equipment sharing and joint purchasing.
Earlier this month, the South Milwaukee Common Council unanimously backed an agreement between the three communities supporting joint equipment purchasing. Cudahy and St. Francis voted to approve the deal this week.
So, what does this mean?
In short, it builds on a partnership we already see in South Shore emergency services every day, formalizing it in two key areas, and providing a framework for what is a significant step in the relationship between our three communities.
As part of the agreement, three departments will agree to regularly explore jointly buying potentially dozens of materials, from big-ticket items like fire engines and ambulances to smaller, more everyday like tools, equipment, fire extinguishers, computer equipment and training materials. From the agreement …
The concept of cooperative purchasing is not new. Volume buying and centralized procurement has gained considerable prominence as a means by which local governments can secure a greater return for the expenditure of public funds through taking advantage of the economies of scale. Cooperative purchasing often enables the smaller user to secure the price advantage of larger volume purchasing.
In most cases, cooperative purchasing results in reduced costs derived from large scale centralized purchasing (including reduced shipping/handling costs), improved specifications leading to less duplication of equipment/services and better equipment familiarization, and increased price competition. Advantages are obviously not limited to actual dollar savings on goods as indirect savings are also realized by eliminating administrative duplication, thus saving time and personnel hours.
This would also cover many items on the first list. Here is how the sharing piece will work, per the agreement …
- When an individual fire department identifies the need for an item or service included on the Suggested Cooperative Purchase Item list, it shall contact the other departments to determine if a suitable item is available in their own respective inventory. This assessment shall include the forecasted acquisition of major automotive apparatus and/or miscellaneous mobile equipment and the determination if a replacement is necessary.
- If the determination is that the item is deemed necessary and exists in the inventory of another department, an evaluation should be conducted to determine availability and suitability of the item and any costs associated with sharing the equipment.
- If it is determined that the item is available and suits the needs of the requesting department, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) shall be developed between the involved departments outlining the parameters for sharing, including responsibility for maintenance and repair costs, indemnification, a projected timeline for the sharing period and a list of associated costs.
- Items made available for sharing shall remain the property of the original owner and nothing contained in the MOU shall be interpreted to convey any rights of ownership to the borrowing agency.
Indeed, the biggest savings may be in this purchasing and potential sharing of large equipment.
We all respond to same fires in the South Shore already. Next time there is a fire call in town, take a look at the names on the sides of the trucks: South Milwaukee, Cudahy, St. Francis, Oak Creek, the 128 Air Refueling Wing … those are among the departments that always rush to our aid when the bell rings.
(The image in this post is an example; it’s a picture of a South Milwaukee truck fighting a fire in downtown Cudahy.)
The question this: Do we all need ladder trucks? Do we need all the engines we have? Or would be it be more cost effective — while still providing the same level of service — if we share some of those pieces?
This agreement will force that necessary conversation, while still allowing communities flexibility and ultimate control over their spending decisions.
Maybe we can do something like they do in Hales Corners and Greendale … or maybe we decide it’s best not to in that particular case. At least we’re crunching the numbers.
You can read the resolution we passed in South Milwaukee here. It does a good job of explaining why we are leading this effort, and why it’s so important.
In the end, we have to explore these kinds of partnerships, and we will continue to do so. In an era of state-imposed levy limits, decreased revenues and ever-increasing expenses, we must work together as communities to ensure taxpayers are getting their maximum value for their dollar. This agreement is a great start.
As Alderman Joseph Bukowski said at a recent council meeting, “It’s irresponsible for us not to do stuff like this.” I couldn’t agree more.
Check out NOW coverage of this story here.