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Survey says: River Hills residents split on shared police, DPW

They want cost savings but are wary of impact on service

Nov. 6, 2013

River Hills — Recently released results of the 2013 River Hills village survey show residents are split on whether the village should consolidate its police and public works with area departments.

The idea is a perennial topic of conversation throughout the North Shore, and though no one has gone so far as to call a vote on the matter or solidify a proposal, general interest has increased in recent years as state-mandated levy limits have squeezed municipal budgets.

The survey was distributed over the summer and had a 33 percent response rate. Among more general questions about the level of service in River Hills — residents overwhelming rated service as excellent or good — the theme of the survey was: how to do more with less?

"The trustees were looking for input from the residents on how to fund the services of the village with the budget dollars we have," Village Manager Chris Lear said. "The board would like to maintain our low tax rate, and how to do that is difficult."

When asked how to deal with budget constraints, a majority of respondents said the village should hold the line on property taxes, consider staff cuts, or hold the line even if that means making staff cuts. On the flip side, about 46 percent of respondents said the village should maintain services, presumably with increased taxes over time as a result.

When asked directly whether they supported a police consolidation, about 41 percent said yes, 8 percent were unsure, and 51 percent said no. On a potential DPW consolidation, about 57 percent indicated support, 12 percent were unsure, and 31 percent were against it.

Yet, when asked how the village should deal with increasing costs over the long-term, 61 percent of respondents said the village should consider sharing services with area communities, while about 39 percent said the village should use some combination of increased property taxes or user fees.

"I think it was kind of a horse a piece," Lear said. "What I took away from it was that the public is neither all for or all against shared services. To a large degree the people are saying, 'keeping the budget low and keeping the tax rate in check is important to us, so don't turn a blind eye to shared services.'"

With the village already running a light crew at Village Hall and sharing the fire and health departments, Lear said the only place the village could realistically save money with a consolidation would be the police and public works departments. In the current year the village spent nearly 70 percent of its overall budget on police, the North Shore Fire Department and public works.

"Really, when it comes to River Hills, our only considerable departments that aren't shared are public works and police," Lear said.

Among the rest of the survey results, Lear said only one thing surprised him: a seemingly widespread perception that the Milwaukee Country Club pays no or not enough property taxes. One respondent wrote in the comment section of the survey: "Start charging the Milwaukee Country Club taxes."

Lear said that the club is assessed at the same rate as any other village property owner, and tax records indicate the club paid about $160,000 in village taxes in 2012.

"It was really kind of flabbergasting in a way," Lear said. "I had no idea that people thought the country club had any break on taxation. I'd show anybody who comes in here proof that we do receive the taxes."

BY THE NUMBERS

51

percent of respondents who said "no" to a potential police consolidation

57

percent of respondents who said "yes" to a potential DPW consolidation

61

percent of respondents who said the village should look at consolidations as a cost-saving measure

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