Category Archives: City Council

On Crossing Guards

You may have seen that the South Milwaukee City Council voted last week to enter into a contract with a firm to handle school crossing guard duties.

I agree with that decision.

In working with Twin City Security Inc., we are joining communities like Cudahy, West Allis, Wauwatosa, Waukesha and Shorewood who have decided that the best way to deliver this service is by partnering with a third-party firm to do it.

For South Milwaukee, it was a difficult choice, but the right one as we continue to look for more efficient ways to deliver our services.

There are seven school crossing guards in all, and, until the new contract, all were hired and managed by the South Milwaukee Police Department. The city funds four of them. The school pays the city back for the services of the other three. Going forward, Twin City will supply the guards, removing the burden of managing the program from the police department.

The SMPD has long managed to do more with less. The numbers don’t lie — on a per-resident basis, we have the smallest department in the area. And we must manage those resources closely, ensuring the department is delivering on its core responsibilities in every way possible. Managing the crossing guard program took away from that.

Day-to-day oversight of the program — from hiring to firing to payroll to dealing with absences and the like — has proven more and more time-consuming. The program literally has taken patrol officers of the street; at times, officers have had to man crossing guard stations to fill in for guards away from work. That is not acceptable to me.

No one is saying crossing guards are unimportant. However, when balanced with the other duties our police department performs, we feel this is the right move, especially with contracted program costs being similar to our internal costs.

I want to thank all of our guards for their service.

I know some have become local institutions, and we are honoring one of them — Helga Allen, stationed near E.W. Luther for many years — during our police awards ceremony at our May 17 council meeting.

All have also been offered a chance to apply at Twin City, and I hope they do.


Filed under City Council, City Services, Police, Schools, South Milwaukee

Capital Plan: Putting Dollars Behind Our Priorities For A Promising Future

Our biennial capital plan is much more than numbers on a sheet of paper. It’s a chance to show real commitment to investing in priorities for future growth.

The borrowing approved by the South Milwaukee City Council Tuesday night is no different.

The council voted unanimously to borrow more than $7.9 million for a variety of projects ranging from road repairs and equipment purchases to energy efficiency and downtown revitalization. Among the items where money has been earmarked the next two years:

  • More than $2.5 million for road and other engineering projects, including $450,000 to be put toward the nearly $1 million cost to completely rebuild — roadway and utilities — the stretch of Chicago Avenue from north of the Oak Creek bridge to Pine Street. Work is expected to take place this summer.
  • Almost $2.5 million for various water, wastewater and stormwater utility projects, as we continue to upgrade our aging underground infrastructure;
  • Up to $340,000 for the purchase of LED lighting for municipal buildings, and for a pilot program in partnership with We Energies to use LEDs in select streetlights across the city — a significant investment in energy efficiency that has the potential to yield big savings over time;
  • $250,000 for Milwaukee Avenue streetscaping, allowing us to hit the ground running with a significant investment in our city center once our downtown plan in delivered in coming months;
  • $150,000 for the next round of fiber optic connectivity;
  • $75,000 for urban forestry — money that we’ll use to invest in tree replanting efforts and the start of our long-range tree planting program; and
  • $70,000 for rebranding work, as we look to partner with an outside agency to develop a new visual identity for South Milwaukee — and then look to bring that identity to life through opportunities like websites, new street signage and more.

It’s worth noting that each of the projects contemplated in the borrowing will still need council approval, but passage of this plan is significant because it funds them. Without borrowing the money now, it would be another two years before we could even think about undertaking some of this important work. And we don’t have time to wait.

Of course, we’re doing this responsibly.

At the same time we’re borrowing these funds, we’re retiring another approximately $6 million in debt. And we’re getting this money cheaply — our strong Aa2 bond rating, the result of years of sound financial management and responsible budgeting, allows us access to very low interest rates (just over 2% on a 10-year note in this case).

As always, we will spend this money wisely, and make key investments in better days ahead. That starts now.


Filed under City Council, South Milwaukee

Saying Farewell To A Community Servant: City Attorney To Retire

South Milwaukee is blessed to have many people who have dedicated their lives to serving their community. No one fits that description more than Joseph Murphy.

SM Common Council for Website 6-9-15-10That’s why it was sad, albeit not surprising, to hear that Joe is retiring after serving more than 34 years as South Milwaukee city attorney. The Common Council accepted his retirement letter, effective May 31, on Tuesday.

Joe leaves behind a legacy of professionalism, hard work, dedication and wisdom — and a commitment to doing what’s right. He was a trusted adviser for me, and I will miss his counsel and guidance on issues big and small.

The Murphy family legacy is even greater. Joe’s mother was among the founders of Human Concerns, and I can’t think of a better example of the family’s desire to make South Milwaukee a better place for all people.

Now, we begin the search for Joe’s successor. We will start by exploring hiring a firm to perform these services, and I’ll keep you posted as we move forward.

You will recall that the city attorney position is no longer elected. The council made that job, and those of the city clerk and treasurer, appointed, effective in 2017, although we accelerated that date last year, when Joe informed us he was moving out of South Milwaukee. Then came word of his pending retirement over the weekend.

I wish Joe nothing but the best, and I can’t think of a better message than this: Thank you.


Filed under City Council, South Milwaukee

Approved: Oak Creek Watershed Restoration Plan To Begin In Early 2016

Oak Creek Parkway fall

What a watershed week for the future of the Oak Creek watershed.

In the past week, the South Milwaukee Common Council, Milwaukee County Board and Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District Board all approved intergovernmental cooperation agreements for the creation of an Oak Creek watershed restoration plan.

Next: The beginning of the planning process itself in the first couple of months of 2016.

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission will do the work, as it develops recommendations to improve water quality, recreational access and use, habitat conditions and targeted stormwater drainage and flooding issues. The status and future of the Mill Pond and dam will also receive special focus as part of the study.

It’s much-needed work that is too long in coming — about 30 years, to be exact. That’s how long it’s been since the watershed has received this kind of holistic planning focus. And I’m proud to help drive it.

Of course, patience is encouraged, as we take a long-term view in fixing the watershed.

The study will take more than two years to complete. My ask: Be heard, throughout.

There will be plenty of opportunities for public input, comment and reaction. In addition to regular meetings of a technical committee comprised of representatives from each watershed jurisdiction, there will be a number of stakeholder meetings for area residents, an open house and other chances to weigh in. More details to come on that early next year.

The study will cost $542,900, with MMSD contributing $280,000 of that — equal to the amount of watershed land mass in the sewerage district boundaries. SEWRPC is contributing $225,000 in-kind, while the remaining $18,950 shares will be paid by the City of South Milwaukee and Milwaukee County.

I have every confidence this will be money well spent, as it yields the information, science, context and road map we need to make decisions big and small in bringing the watershed back to life.

In other words, the work toward a cleaner and more vibrant Oak Creek watershed begins now. Dive in with all the partners who have come together to make this restoration plan a reality.

Let’s go.


Filed under City Council, Milwaukee County, Oak Creek watershed, South Milwaukee

New Firefighter Contract Approved

The city council has approved a new contract with the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1633.

The two-year deal — which begins Jan. 1, 2016, and ends Dec. 31, 2017 — includes 2% pay raises each year and a continued commitment by firefighters to pay the same toward their health insurance and pensions as all other employees do. The latter point is significant because it puts everyone on a level playing field, even though police and fire unions are exempted from Act 10 bargaining limitations.

The union has ratified the deal, and it replaces this contract.

The IAFF Local 1633 represents 21 South Milwaukee firefighters and paramedics, and I thank them for their work on this contract – another strong example of the type of collaboration that can happen among public employee unions and their employers.

And this is a partnership – our front-line firefighters and paramedics working with department and city leaders on matters that are truly life and death. We are only as good as our people when it comes to delivering our services, and we’re blessed to have some of the best in the SMFD.

Here is the statement from IAFF Local 1633 President Kurt Egner …

The Firefighters of Local 1633 are proud to serve the citizens of South Milwaukee. The Union values its partnership with the City and we are pleased to have participated in the smooth negotiation process that resulted in what we believe to be a reasonable agreement for both parties.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Filed under City Council, Fire, South Milwaukee

Making South Milwaukee A More Beautiful Place

The city’s new Beautification Committee is a reality.

The city council this week appointed the following eight citizens to this new group, which is tasked with promoting, encouraging, and working to enhance the beauty of our fair city. They are:

  • Betsy Abert
  • Cathy Bassett
  • Patti Bergeson
  • Paul Berens
  • Sue Hebner
  • Leah Manthey
  • Brian Morrison
  • Jim Shelenske

This is a great group that brings a lot of passion, hard work, skill and differing perspectives to the table.

We’ll look for the group to meet for the first time later this month and start its important work. And we may look to add a few alternates in coming weeks, as applications continue to come in.

Do you want to apply to join a city commission or board? Do so here.


Filed under City Council, South Milwaukee

Cleaning Up Our Roadways, One Tree Stump At A Time

The city continues to invest in urban forestry.

This time, it’s in stump grinding and removal.

The South Milwaukee City Council last Tuesday approved spending around $20,000 for the grinding of 196 tree stumps in street right of way and restoration of those areas. That includes 116 stumps from trees removed by property owners prior to 2014 — when ordinance changes stepping up the city’s ownership of street trees went into effect — and another 80 from trees removed by the Street Department in 2014 and 2015.

Removing dead and diseased trees like this is part of our ongoing commitment to this service, and we have a long ways to go, both in tree removal and replanting. But we’re making progress.

Removal will continue for years. A quick drive around town shows just how many dead or dying trees we have in the right of way in South Milwaukee.

And we’re making progress toward replanting.

Year one of the Arbor Day program was a big success, and we’ll bring it back in 2016.

We have to do more. The Beautification Committee will help.

One of its top duties will be to assist in tree planting efforts, including advising on a community tree management program (per Tree City USA requirements), coordinating an Adopt a Tree program for area residents, leading the Arbor Day celebration, and helping secure private funding for city tree planting efforts.

Want to join the committee? There is still time to apply. Please do so this week here.


Filed under City Council, City Services, South Milwaukee, Urban Forestry

Moody’s Affirms City’s Strong Bond Rating

I am proud of how the city manages its finances — taxpayer money, your money. Our Moody’s bond rating supports that belief.

The independent rating agency has reaffirmed our bond rating as Aa2, based in part on the city’s “sound financial operations.” You can see the full report, tied to our upcoming bond sale, here.

I’d like to thank all of our departments heads and staff for their work in getting us to this point, and the city council for supporting responsible budgets that help us live within our means.

This rating is really strong by comparison — just two steps below Moody’s highest Aaa rating — and besides being a reflection of our responsibility as financial steward, it also has practical value. It means we can borrow money at lower interest rates, which continues to result in real savings for the city.

Of course, there are risks to this rating going forward, and the reports notes those. Nothing is guaranteed. And improving from an Aa2 is very difficult. Nonetheless, I still see my job as driving, as Moody’s puts it, “sustained growth and expansion of the city’s tax base and economy.” That work is just getting started, and even brighter days are ahead.

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Filed under City Council, South Milwaukee

Appointing Our City Attorney

Joseph Murphy has been elected South Milwaukee’s city attorney 17 times, and he’s ably served in that role for more than 33 years.

I consider him a trusted advisor, who I lean on for sound, reasonable advice on a variety of issues. He works hard to make sure the city is protected from threats, and he stands up, and behind, the work we do as a city government every day.

I am happy to say he will continue doing that work, just not as an elected official.

Attorney Murphy is moving to Milwaukee, which means he’s resigning his elected seat. However, the city council — recognizing his skill in the job, his desire to keep serving in it, and the will of the voters — appointed Joe to the role of city attorney as their meeting on Tuesday.

This means Joe will be an employee of the city, in a role similar to that of our other department heads.

I support this move because I think we get to keep a great attorney with a deep knowledge and passion for our city in that job.

It’s also something we planned to do soon anyway. You will recall the council voted last year to make the role of city attorney – as well as those of city clerk and city treasurer – non-elected jobs starting in 2017. This moves up that date two years for the attorney.

I thank Joe for his continued service and wish he and his wife Kitty well in their move.


Filed under City Council, South Milwaukee

Public Works Update: 13th Avenue, Clark Avenue, Oak Creek Bridge Repairs

We continue to invest in our infrastructure in South Milwaukee. Some of the early projects for 2015 …

  • At our meeting last Tuesday, the city council approved spending $97,535 to repave 13th Avenue between Milwaukee and Marquette Avenues. Work is expected to be complete by the end of June.
  • Also on Tuesday, the council voted to spent $139,157 to replace the fascia below the bridge over Oak Creek along Milwaukee Avenue. If you’ve drive north on 15th Avenue toward Milwaukee in recent years — as I’m sure you have — I’m sure you’ve seen the large hole in the fascia below the bridge on the east side of the creek. The city will replace it and the other three walls with decorative precast panels. Work is expected to be complete by early June.
  • We’re also advertising for bids for repaving Clark Avenue, 5th to 9th Avenues.

Learn more about our engineering projects here.

I’ll keep you posted on more projects as construction season begins in earnest soon.

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Filed under City Council, City Services, Construction, South Milwaukee

Rounding Up Tuesday’s Council Meeting

A few other items on Tuesday’s agenda, in addition to the ownership change for Grant Park Plaza

  • The council voted unanimously to deny a liquor license and (separately) a conditional use permit for the Iron Breed Motorcycle Club at 428 Marion Ave. (corner of 5th and Marion). I had voted against the conditional use permit at the Plan Commission level.
  • The council also voted to make some changes to how we run meetings. It was mostly housekeeping and making changes to our ordinances to reflect our current practices. One change: The council decide to put an end to the “committee of the whole” concept — something we haven’t done in years anyway. Under this concept, the mayor can call a meeting of the council for “informal discussion” of various matters, without voting on them. I support the decision. We can (and do) already use regular council meetings to debate issues, with that debate at times not leading to a vote. You can see the updated ordinance here.
  • The council also voted to clarify how we handle complaints about the keeping of pit bulls. It put enforcement in the hands of the Health Department and laid out the process for complaints and appeals regarding the dogs. See the updated ordinance here.
  • And the council voted to add Jerome Bzdawka to the Board of Health.


Filed under City Council, South Milwaukee

Rounding Up Tuesday’s Council Meeting

It was a busy council meeting Tuesday night …

  • The council voted 7-0 to approve a memorandum of understanding with Milwaukee County on maintenance responsibilities for Oak Creek inside the City of South Milwaukee. This was an agreement years in the making and puts in writing verbal agreements and past practice from previous decades around who is responsible for duties like creek bed vegetation removal. I thank our city staff, attorney, County Supervisor Pat Jursik and others for their work in pulling this together. Of course, this is just the start. We still need to figure out bigger and longer term solutions for the entire Oak Creek watershed, and there is significant progress being made on that front, too. Stay tuned for more details soon.
  • The council approved the nomination of Nate Keller to the Plan Commission. With his background in construction project management (including the Potawatomi Hotel) and engineering, Nate will be a terrific fit for this important committee. I welcome him on board. I also wish Dave Friedrich well and thank him for his years of service. Do you want to serve on one of our boards or commissions? Fill out an application, and we’ll keep it on file.
  • The council also voted to unanimously endorse the League of Wisconsin Municipalities’ Partnership for Prosperity legislative agenda. As mayor, I want to see South Milwaukee have a stronger role in state legislative matters, and putting our support behind this common-sense agenda makes sense. Let’s hope some of this sees the light of day in Madison in the upcoming session, as we seek to fuel the true economic engine of our state: the work happening in our incorporated communities.
  • We also honored three Eagle Scouts: Jake Simuncak, Dan Rolefson and Chris Sobczak.

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Filed under City Council, South Milwaukee

Council Denies St. Adalbert’s Rezoning

The South Milwaukee City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday night to deny the rezoning request by Gorman & Co. to convert the former St. Adalbert’s campus into 31 apartments.

I support the vote for reasons I outlined previously.

Check out coverage from TMJ4 and Fox 6.


Filed under City Council, Development, South Milwaukee

Automating Garbage Collection: Delivering Efficiency, Safety, Cleanliness

As mayor, I want to get behind measures that allow us to deliver our first-class city services even better.

Automated garbage collection is one of those opportunities.

Starting in 2015 — one pickup day at time — we’ll be rolling out this new approach in South Milwaukee. Here is what it means …

When your day is changed over, your garbage will be picked up only in city-provided 95-gallon brown cans, and using our trucks’ automatic arms. We already have the trucks to do this. As for the carts, that will be a focus in the months ahead.

For those who don’t have the carts, we will provide you one, at city expense, ahead of that day’s changeover. Look for a mailing with more information ahead of your rollout date, with more details on how to get a cart and where to put it

If you already have a brown cart from the city, great. Keep it. You can take a second one or tell us not to leave one for you.

Here is the ordinance the South Milwaukee City Council passed in late November. It includes quite a bit of detail necessary to execute this — including instructions as to where carts will eventually have to placed as we begin automated collection. (Note: The location requirements may be a big change for those folks with alleys, for example.)

We will roll this out in phases starting this April. Stay tuned for more information as it gets closer.

While it may take some time to get used to the change, it is one many other communities have instituted. And the benefits are real.

  • Efficiency: Automating the pickup process will speed up the work significantly, perhaps by as much as 50%. How? Currently, for homes that do not already have brown carts, the driver of the garbage truck stops the truck at each location, parks the truck, gets out, throws the trash into the back of the truck, and gets back in the truck. Going forward, once the new process comes to your neighborhood, the driver will stop the truck, and, from his seat, extend an automatic arm that grabs the cart, lifts it and throws the garbage into the truck. The arm then places the can back where it was. And on to the next house the truck goes. This saves quite a few seconds — which add up when you are talking about hundreds of collections per day. These saved minutes (hours, really) will free up our people to do other work that might be put off, or skipped entirely.
  • Safety: This is a much safer process for our city crews, and reduces the risk of injury that goes with lifting heavy cans.
  • Cleanliness: This will also make for a cleaner city on garbage days. No longer will you see bags of garbage and other loose items on the sides of our roads and alleys — some ripped open and strewn about by scavenging animals.

In other words, I see this as a big win, an example of how there is always the potential to take a fresh look at the services we provide and ask, “How can we do them better?”

My ask: Please be patient as we roll this out. As I wrote, this will not happen overnight, and it won’t come without some issues I’m sure. But we will keep the lines of communication open and do our best to make this as seamless a transition as possible.


Filed under City Council, South Milwaukee

Help Shape The Future Of Downtown South Milwaukee

Wanted: Lovers of downtown South Milwaukee, and its promising future.

The city is now accepting applications for membership on the new Downtown Advisory Committee, which will act as a key advisory group to the Plan Commission and city council as we shape the future of our city center.

The group will have nine members in all, with at least four of them being downtown business or property owners. I will personally nominate those members for consideration by the full common council. A plan commissioner will also be part of the committee, as will an aldermanic representative.

There will also be four citizen members. Want to be one of them? Please fill out this application. (You’ll recall that we instituted an application process for membership on our boards and commissions when I took office in April.)

This is an important committee, one that will play a major role in the development of our downtown plan and provide a necessary voice as we make some key decisions in the months and years ahead.

I love downtown South Milwaukee, and am bullish on its future. I hope you are too — and that you will consider being a part of the debate. We need passionate people to get in the game and continue our downtown momentum.


Filed under City Council, Development, South Milwaukee