With the vote on the public safety referendum happening Tuesday, I wanted to thank the many, many people who have taken the time to learn more about the issues around our paramedic funding and police manpower.
As you consider your vote, I wanted to one last time call attention to the informational materials on the city website here … and specifically answer a few questions that I’ve heard a lot and seen around social media.
From the Frequently Asked Questions document …
If the referendum passes, will this lift the cap on the tax levy allowing the city to raise taxes annually without the input of the taxpayers?
No, any future increases are restricted by state-imposed levy limits. The City would need another referendum to make any increases beyond what is allowed by the state. There are no plans for another referendum at this time.
Has the City taken any action to reduce costs?
In the face of decreased state aids, levy limits and declining county funding for the paramedic program, the City has made a number of budget cuts since 2003 including the following staff reductions:
- 3 Firefighters;
- 1 Fire Inspector;
- 1 Police Officer;
- 1 Engineering Aide;
- 1 Clerk;
- 1 Public Health Nurse; and
- 2 DPW Workers.
Additionally the City has implemented a variety of other cost saving strategies with immediate and long-term impact. These actions include:
- Significant changes to the employee health plan, including increased employee
contributions as well as higher deductibles and co-pays;
- Requiring that employees contribute more to their pensions;
- Freezing wages for some employees in certain years, including in 2017;
- Eliminating retiree health insurance for new civil service employees; and
- Taking advantage of technology to increase efficiencies – automated garbage collection,
- LED lighting to reduce lighting costs, investment in fiber optics and a new payroll system.
Why not explore service consolidation with surrounding communities?
The City has explored in the past – and will continue to pursue in the future – opportunities to partner with surrounding municipalities to find cost savings. Examples for potential streamlining and partnerships include fire and dispatch services, IT services and public health services.
At the request of municipal leaders in Cudahy, South Milwaukee and St. Francis, the Public Policy Forum released a study in September 2013 exploring the possibilities for sharing or consolidation of fire services. The report found there is already considerable service sharing and cooperation among the three departments. It also concluded that while there would be potential operational savings and long-term vehicle replacement savings, they must be weighed against the service-level issues that could arise with lower staffing models.
South Milwaukee has also recently entered into an agreement with Cudahy and St. Francis to formally explore joint purchasing and sharing of fire department equipment and supplies. While partnerships like this and consolidation are worthwhile for South Milwaukee to consider – and city officials plan to explore additional partnerships going forward – initial assessments have suggested that cost savings would be limited. In addition, the process to pursue consolidation would take several years and would not be a viable option to address the budget shortfall the City will face starting in 2018.
Can the City create a dedicated fund to ensure that the additional tax dollars will only be used for public safety?
The City currently has a segregated fund for paramedic services because revenue comes from a number of sources including existing property taxes, funding from Milwaukee County and fees collected for transports. The City is exploring the option to create a segregated fund for police services.
How will the new officers be used?
While a new police chief will make the final determination on how best to use the additional officers, following the retirement of Chief Wellens in January 2018, the current staffing plan calls for:
- 1 full-time Crime Prevention Officer focused on strengthening relationships with
neighborhood groups and businesses to enhance existing prevention programs; and
- 1 full-time officer assigned to a “power-shift” assisting with additional call volume and increased need for police services throughout the City.