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