Public safety & welfare budgets vetted tonight
At tonight’s Public Safety & Welfare Committee meeting, the following city of Kenosha 2013 budgets were vetted: Department of Community Development and Inspections, Police Department, Fire Department, and Health Department.
Frank Pacetti, the city administrator, made an introductory comment saying, “There has been no reduction in any of the services. What has been added is a half-position in the Community Development and Inspections Department, reducing outside services.” Jeff LaBahn, the city’s director of that department, spoke further on that added position. It is a permanent part-time inspector to improve customer service responsiveness and to secure a financial advantage.
Alderperson Michael Orth asked about the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. Tony Gelichi responded to say that, last year, there was talk about the federal level of funding being reduced by 50%. “The cut didn’t happen,” he said. “There has been no talk of that this year,” Gilichi continued. This year, they budgeted the full amount. The executive budget was approved unanimously. Pacetti said that the one-page Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) budget for the department will be reviewed on Monday night at the Finance Committee Meeting.
Chief John Morrissey presented the executive budget and the CIP for 2013-2017. The chief said that there were no significant changes in the budget. The manpower allocation remained the same. The main increase was the personnel costs.
Orth questioned the $120,000 in overtime for investigations. Morrissey explained that investigations have become more intense, especially with computers. The 2013 budget matched the allocation for this year, and they are expected to go a little over the budgeted amount this year. Orth also asked about police officers who help with snowplowing on their own time. “Is it charged back to the Public Works Department?” Yes, came the reply.
Orth also asked about the change in rent for the Public Services Building. The amount is up $16,000. Pacetti said that the rate went up from $5.60 to $7.25 per square foot. Pacetti also explained that the rental expense is for the common area charges in operating the building (heat, light, janitorial services, maintenance charges), not specific to any one tenant. The four tenants in that building are the Kenosha Police Department, the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department, Kenosha County, and Joint Services.
The most significant item is the repair of the shooting range at $25,000. They plan on updating the range and making it safer. It was originally budgeted at $75,000.
Chairman Rocco LaMacchia asked about the increased cost of prisoners’ meals. Morrissey said that the cost in 2011 was $21/day; in 2012, it was $28/day; next year, it will go up to $36/day, and in 2014, it will go up to $44/day. This was an agreement with the County dating back to 2010. Morrissey further explained that, “for many years, we were lower than the state, and we are now playing catch-up.”
The Police Department’s executive budget was approved unanimously by the committee.
For the Police Department’s CIP, Morrissey detailed the continuing five-year plan of replacing squad cars. In 2014, the amount is increased by $25,000. “We came in close this year,” he said. “We spent $277,000 vs. our budget of $275,000. We made it up on some equipment. We have the most modern equipment. Our radios are coming to the end of their life. We normally replace ten squad cars and two to three unmarked cars each year. All cars now have side curtain air bags, and the old cages won’t work. We will be buying Fords this year, the same as the County. The estimate is based on continuing the vehicle rotation and contribute to the safety of our officers and citizens.”
Pacetti commented that there is no money for motorcycles in the budget for the next five years, not because there is not a program any longer, but because the chief doesn’t feel a need for any of them to be replaced. The 2018 CIP budget will include money for them.
Alderperson Anthony Kennedy asked about the old vehicles. He was concerned because he’s been seeing a lot of fake police vehicles. He wanted to know if they were stripped before going to auction, and the police chief said yes.
The Police Department CIP was also approved unanimously.
The Fire Department’s budgets were presented by Fire Chief John Thomsen. He commented that there is “no decline in services based on the budgets. He stated that he believed it was a tight budget, and a responsible one.
Alderperson Kevin Mathewson wanted to know what the job duties of the division chief of quality control and public health were. Thomsen stated that he didn’t really know, and he wanted to defer that question to that position’s supervisor, Thomas Genthner. Pacetti stated that that position was based on an employee settlement. It was a support position which no longer reported to the Fire Department. The wages for that position were in the EMS Division.
LaMacchia wanted to know about the line item, “Other Non-Capital Equipment.” He stated that he didn’t feel comfortable having no dollars in that category. Pacetti explained that, there are unspent 2012 funds. They are going to purchase the needed items now, not in 2013. “They are buying the items early,” said Pacetti.
Orth said that that is true in other departments across the board. He was concerned, not so much for 2013, but for 2014 and beyond. “The baseline will be zero. We don’t want to lose going forward. We want to restore the amounts for regular capital purchases. We want a commitment for 2014. This is something that all departments need to hear.” Pacetti said that next year, the amounts that will appear under “2012 Actual” will be double, and you will see the amount budgeted being half that amount.” LaMacchia agreed. The chief stated that he is comfortable with that.
Mathewson asked about the health insurance expenses. Carol Stancato, the city’s finance director, stated that this is the main number, and it does include retirees. Pacetti explained that the city implemented the same high deductible program coverage for the police and fire department personnel. They wanted to cut the deduction in half, but it would have meant a $1.4 million total bill across the board, for the entire city. Mathewson stated that “he was disappointed with this ‘crappy’ insurance plan for those personnel who risk their lives every day.” Mayor Keith Bosman said that, if the committee could find something to offset the cost, they would lower the deductibles to $1,250 and $2,500.
Orth asked about the line item “Working Out of Class.” The chief replied that this was a new break out line item. It represented the recent spike in sick leave usage of officers and apparatus operators. Orth stated that he thought that possibly this had something to do with employees using their sick leave before retiring or having major surgeries. Thomsen stated that this typically was not the case. Another representative from the Fire Department said that there will be “a huge changeover in the people within the next three to five years.”
Kennedy brought up an issue regarding fire inspection fees. He stated that, during last year’s budget review, a proposal was put forth to start charging businesses for fire inspections. It was not passed, and Kennedy wanted to know Thomsen’s opinion on whether he thought that was the right thing to do or not. Thomsen’s reply was that “it is our policy to follow the will of the Common Council, not our own position to assume fees, appropriate or inappropriate. It’s mandated, and it’s the right thing to do. Fire prevention inspections are the answer; that’s why we do them.”
Kennedy proposed adding a line item for fire inspection fees in the amount of $281,000. Last year, there were lots of categories proposed ranging from $50 for a business less than 5,000 square feet to $750 for an industrial company greater than 500,000 square feet. Kennedy wanted to “take the subsidy off the backs of the taxpayers and put it on the backs of businesses.”
Mathewson was not in favor of this proposal. He stated that we have a lot of empty businesses downtown, and this would do nothing to attract news businesses. “Our taxes are going up, water is going up. It’s not the right thing to do,” he said. “We want to make Kenosha business-friendly. We need to go forward, not backward.”
Vice chair Chris Schwartz wanted to know what other counties/cities are doing. The chief replied that many charge for inspections. “It’s how this body chooses to administer the fee. I would discourage you from charging re-inspection fees. They come to a minimal amount, less than $10,000.” Other communities that charge for inspections are South Shore, Mt. Pleasant, Caledonia, Racine, Milwaukee, Pleasant Prairie, and West Allis.
Pacetti said that the current tax levy is 2.2%. If the $281,000 was approved, EMS Collections would charge their 6.25% to manage the collections. That amounts to $17,577, leaving a net of $263,600 revenue for the city. It would lower the tax levy from 2.2% to 1.74%. Kennedy thought that this would bring some relief to taxpayers. He commented that Mathewson has been bringing up ways to give relief to taxpayers; he was surprised that Mathewson wasn’t in favor of his proposal. “We’re an island in reference to all around us doing this,” he said. Mathewson said that he thought this was merely transferring the tax from the average homeowner to the business owner. He stated that he believed that both needed relief. Orth said that he was in favor of Kennedy’s proposal.
LaMacchia wanted to know if this could be put on the tax roll to save money. Pacetti said that a person needs to be given the opportunity to pay first, then it’s put on the tax roll.
Kennedy’s amendment was approved by a vote of 4 to 1 (Mathewson was the sole dissenting voter).
Schwartz questioned the user fees for fire fighters. She wanted to know if there were any cost savings, or increased efficiencies. “Are the fees evaluated with insurance companies and Medicare to maximize collections?” EMS Billings is competitive with other billing companies. The city doesn’t charge for EMS services. They could charge more for non-residents. The chief said that, “In the end, it would go to Medicare, and you’d get the same thing.”
Kennedy asked who needed to drive the ambulances. The fire chief replied that the drivers have the most stringent requirements. They don’t allow just anyone to drive. “Sometimes, we can’t find qualified people,” said Thomsen. Kennedy asked if the driver of the ambulance needs to be a fire fighter, and Thomsen replied that the contract says yes. The reason Kennedy was asking was the situation with snowplow drivers. His thought was put two EMT’s in the back of the ambulance, and allow another person to be the driver. But, since it’s controlled by the contract, that was the end of the discussion. Mathewson asked if the driver also gives medical care, and the answer was yes. Mathewson asked if patients get better care when the driver is an EMT, and Thomas said yes.
The Fire Department budget was adopted, as amended, by a vote of 4 to 1 (with Mathewson voting against).
Thomsen then went through the Fire Department CIP. He said that the new items that were included were for new operational efficiencies: computer replacement and defibrillator units. “We don’t frivolously request or spend funds,” he said. “This is a bare bones CIP budget.”
Kennedy asked about outside funds; no money is available from outside funding? Thomsen said that they are very difficult to get. “It’s a very competitive process.” Kennedy asked about the homeland security funding. “Is it all gone?” Thomsen said that it’s now a different era. They did receive a lot of items right after 9/11. Kennedy said that we now have an alderman going to Madison. Possibly, he can help. (He’s referring to Alderperson Tod Ohnstad.)
Mathewson stated that he thought that moving the Fire Department offices out to Station #4 was a good idea. He wanted to know when the move would take place. Pacetti said that, once it was approved, the move would probably take place in the spring. Bosman said that they looked at remodeling, but that would cost $400,000. The move is slated to cost $650,000, and Bosman said that, in looking to the future, they thought that it would be prudent to make the move to the west side.
Kennedy wanted to know how much space was left at Joint Services, and the answer was none. The second floor was reserved for County future services. Kennedy thought that the County would like to receive some additional revenue, but Orth reminded him that this would be a recurring cost for the city.
The Fire Department CIP was approved unanimously.
The last department review was the Health Department. Pacetti said that they did a county analysis, and it was lower than the prior year’s budget. This had to do with the $50,000 settlement with the County. He stated that he thought that the city’s “mission was accomplished.”
Mathewson asked about the Police Department’s community service officers. “Aren’t they handling animal control now?” Pacetti stated that, yes, they are. “But,” Pacetti said, “it was never a part of the Health Department. The Humane Society is responsible for housing, storing the animals.
LaMacchia asked about paying the vets. The Safe Harbor Humane Society is asking for a 25% increase. Pacetti said that, “We can’t afford that. We will have to sit down with them and discuss the issues, and renegotiate the contract.”
The Health Department’s budget was approved unanimously.