Tree removal $200,000 over budget

A split tree on the lawn in front of the Kenosha County Courthouse.

At tonight’s Storm Water Utility committee meeting, the issue of the tree removal clean-up after the storm on June 30th was discussed due to the line item in the budget being overspent by $200,000.  Alderperson Steve Bostrom brought this issue forward for review by the committee.

Former Storm Water Utility director, Ron Bursek, was present and answered the committee’s questions.  During the throes of the emergency, he said that he had a plan in place, but it was “circumvented by the city administrator.  The following morning, the instructions from administration were to get contractors in here.  The mayor said that we didn’t have the manpower or the equipment to deal with the emergency situation.”  The city administrator, Frank Pacetti, respectfully disagreed with Bursek.  He said that he took his direction from his boss, the mayor.  The mayor admitted that he told Bursek to make use of whatever resources were needed.

What Alderperson G. John Ruffolo wanted to know was, “How are invoices from August 10th to September 17th still considered an emergency?”  The city was paying $550/hour to the same contractor over two months after the emergency.  There were invoices in amounts such as $20,000, $25,000, and $33,000.  There was an invoice for $22,000 for work at the municipal golf course, dated Sunday, September 11th.  “How is that an emergency?  I don’t think this is explainable.”  There were invoices for picnic areas as well.  Ruffolo said that in his twelve years, he’s been involved in emergency situations before; these types of requests have always come before the committee.

Pacetti admitted that, after the initial two weeks after the storm, that the city should have stopped, taken a moment, and re-evaluated the use of contractors.  “Costs never entered my mind.  The costs did get out of hand, I admit that.  We were not on top of it.  I didn’t know they were charging us $550/hour.  But, we put positive procedures in place to prevent this from happening again.”

Both the mayor and city administrator were questioned at length regarding the definition of an emergency.  “When does an emergency situation cease being an emergency?” Alderperson Jan Michalski wanted to know.  Pacetti’s reply was, “Once the streets and sidewalks were cleared.”  He also stated that there are different levels of emergencies.  “Red is high alert.  This was the first couple of weeks immediately after the storm.  Lower level emergencies are for split trees, for example.”

“At what point were dollars discussed with contractors?” Alderperson Steve Bostrom asked.  Pacetti replied that it was never discussed.  Bostrom said that in August and September, the city should have reverted to using its own employees, allowing them to work overtime, and thus putting more money in the city employees’ pockets and, at the same time, saving the city thousands of dollars.

Alderperson Ray Misner was not happy that no one was “watching the checkbook.  We were told twice tonight that a mistake was made.”  Misner called for a written report by the next meeting, and a policy update to follow for those who might come along after the current employees are gone.

Chairman Anthony Nudo agreed with Misner.  “If nothing is put down in writing, then we have the chance of repeating our mistakes.  In closing our discussion, it’s apparent that, after the initial emergency, there was a failure to communicate, failure in oversight, failure in many aspects.  We, as legislators, have the responsibility of oversight over other branches of government.  This communication has been fruitful and helpful.”  He stated that he’s not sure where to go from here.  Nudo will discuss it with his vice chairman, Ruffolo.  Nudo also stated that there may be a policy in place already, but it was not followed in this instance.

Ruffolo thanked Bostrom for bringing this issue to the committee’s attention, and he also thanked Bursek for coming on his own time to attend the meeting and answer the committee’s questions.

Alderperson Theodore Ruffalo made the point of saying that there are emergency meetings called all the time for cabaret licenses and bartender license applications.  But, there was not an emergency meeting called for this issue.  “This is poor leadership.  There should have been an emergency meeting called.”  Ruffolo agreed, and stated that emergency meetings should be part of the new procedure.

One Response to Tree removal $200,000 over budget

  • Eric S. says:

    Was this hourly rate for the entire crew or a single person. If this is for a single person, then this is crazy. Most lawyers don’t make that much per hour and some of that goes to their support staff. If this rate was for the crew, it would be nice to see it broken down and compared to the overtime rates of city employees.

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