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Communities won't see increase from North Shore Fire Department

Sept. 28, 2011

Fox Point - Meeting early Monday morning, the North Shore Fire Department Board of Directors approved the department's 2012 budget but acknowledged it may have to make adjustments depending on the resolution of cuts proposed in the Milwaukee County 2012 budget.

As adopted, the $13,843,909 budget maintains the contributions of the seven member municipalities at the 2011 rate.

Fire Chief Robert Whitaker told the board that lower than anticipated health, workers' compensation and property insurance premiums helped erase $25,000 of an anticipated deficit in the budget. The remaining $15,000 will be covered by a transfer from money accrued in a health reimbursement account.

The budget includes wage increases of 1 percent on Jan. 1 and Oct. 1, 2012 for employees covered by the union contract.

Under that contract, which expires Dec. 31, 2012, firefighters pay 5 percent of the health insurance premium costs and have a deductible of $500 for single coverage and $1,000 for families if they participate in the department's wellness program. If they do not, the deductibles increase to $1,000 for single coverage and $2,000 for family.

The health insurance payments apply to all Fire Department employees who are not covered by the contract. United Healthcare provides health insurance for the department.

All non-sworn employees pay half of their Wisconsin Retirement System costs, while sworn personnel are exempt under Acts 10 and 30. The WRS rate increases in 2012 from 23.6 to 23.8 percent for protective category employees, sworn firefighters and chiefs, in the department and from 11.6 to 11.8 percent for general category employees.

The department will reduce its sworn personnel from 102 to 99 full-time positions in 2012 and reduce its administrative staffing by one, from 13 to 12. Daily staffing levels will remain at 27 but will likely drop to 26 at times, depending on vacation schedules or illness.

Paramedic supplement cut?

The budget is balanced with all those changes, but Bayside Village President Sam Dickman asked what would happen if the county cuts the paramedic supplementary payment.

Whitaker said there are two options. The board could make use of a state statute that allows consolidated departments to exceed the levy limit exemption for member communities and increase their yearly contributions. Given the budget crunch going on in the seven communities, that option appears dead on arrival.

The second and more likely option if the county does eliminate the payment, would be the elimination of three to four jobs. That would likely come from a combination of firefighter jobs and administrative hours, Whitaker said.

Whitaker said he met with several county supervisors last week to ask for their help to keep the supplemental payments in the budget. County chiefs hope to see at least part of that funding kept in the budget, he said.

The county plans to keep the $4.3 million that supports the paramedic training, communications and medical oversight of the program. Whitaker said that he is hopeful that the county might cut part of those costs rather than eliminating the subsidy.

"The county paramedic program is an example of a successful consolidated program," Whitaker said, questioning the cuts.

Union President Steve Tippel of Local 1440 has been attending meetings with supervisors and the ICC. The cut in funding will hurt both firefighters and North Shore residents, he said.

"This will mean jobs but also a cut in the level of service in the North Shore," Tippel said.

State law also provides an exemption to the levy for county-run EMS programs, he said.

"It (Milwaukee County EMS program) is the longest running example of consolidated service, started in 1973," Tippel said. "I don't know what better examples of consolidation there are than the county EMS program and the North Shore Fire Department. I don't know what gives. We are stuck in the ultimate bad spot. "

County Executive Chris Abele presents his budget to the County Board of Supervisors on Thursday.

AT A GLANCE

Total municipal operating, capital and debt service contribution:

Bayside: $768,340

Brown Deer: $2,192,971

Fox Point: $1,278,104

Glendale: $3,407,046

River Hills: $364,468

Shorewood: $2,163,419

Whitefish Bay: $2,138,793

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