Fire Department Holds Breath on County Board Vote Slated for Monday
North Shore Fire Department facing possible $362,000 cut that could force additional personnel cuts.
As the North Shore Fire Department struggles to balance its budget for 2012, there’s a cloud looming overhead. Without a supportive vote from the Milwaukee County Board, NSFD could have to plug a $362,000 hole in its budget.
“If the county cuts more money out, we either have to adjust our expenses for next year or we have to find a new revenue source, which these days is tough to do,” Fire Chief Robert Whitaker said.
NSFD receives $362,000 annually from Milwaukee County for paramedic services, which pays for people and equipment. And with the cuts proposed by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele in his 2012 budget, those funds would dry up.
Whitaker says he and his staff have been busy reorganizing the department to further cut expenses and make the operation more efficient. He said they've eliminated a 40-hour deputy chief position and created seven captain positions that are assigned three shifts for coverage on the street every day. That was to help keep service on the street at similar levels without having to reduce staffing at the fire stations.
“We’re eliminating a deputy chief, three firefighter positions (all of which are vacant through attrition) and we’re eliminating the public education specialist position,” said Whitaker.
The public education specialist, Jill Glanz, has been offered an administrative assistant position at a lower wage and her former duties will now be handled by one of the new captains. The department now has 113 full-time positions.
“My budget is almost 90 percent people,” Whitaker said. “Do I need to change my staffing levels? Do I need to cut positions that are currently filled? All these options have to be looked at to try to balance the budget because we can’t have a budget with a deficit. You have to have a balanced budget."
The North Shore Fire Department provides services to seven communities including Shorewood, Whitefish Bay, Glendale, Fox Point, River Hills, Bayside and Brown Deer. Those communities will not be asked to pay more for services in 2012.
“We can continue to provide the service," Whitaker said. "The county has committed to continue to assist us in provision of service. But we will take on that $360,000 expense on our own for salaries, equipment and things like that that we need to continue to provide. Otherwise, there’s a risk for another evaluation and what do we cut out to make up for that loss?”
Whitaker and his staff are crossing their fingers until the Milwaukee County budget meeting which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, at the Washington Park Senior Center, 4420 W. Vliet St., Milwaukee.
“More harsh choices may have to be made before January if the county doesn’t come back with $360,000 for our share of the money," he said. "In my dreams I wish they would but, I don’t know if they will."