North Shore Fire Department levy will not increase next year

Daily staffing to drop but reorganizing staff helps cut costs

Aug. 20, 2011

The North Shore communities won't see an increase in cost for the North Shore Fire Department under a budget proposal that will be considered for adoption in September.

Holding the line on the contributions received from each of the seven municipalities - Bayside, Brown Deer, Fox Point, Glendale, River Hills, Shorewood and Whitefish Bay - will likely mean a reduction of the minimum daily staffing from 27 to 26 firefighters per day. Minimum staffing has dropped from its original 30 as budget problems became more acute over the last four years.

Under the proposal the department would face a $33,000 shortfall but Fire Chief Robert Whitaker said there is approximately $40,000 accrued in an Health Reimbursement Account that could be used to cover the shortfall. He warned that the shortfall could increase depending on the amount of overtime the department incurs during the year. The department will closely monitor overtime expenses, he said.

Fox Point Village President Mike West reminded the board that state law allows consolidated departments to exceed the levy limit, set at zero percent for 2012, but there appeared to be little appetite for even a 1 percent increase even though it could help the department with staffing issues.

The department would also be reorganized as part of the budget plan, going from 102 to 99 firefighters. The reduction in staff would be the result of retirements, not layoffs.

As part of the reorganization, Whitaker proposed eliminating a vacant deputy chief position and creating seven captains.

The captains would assume some administrative responsibilities in addition to firefighting, Whitaker said. Five would be station managers. The other two would be training specialists, he said.

The department has five stations. Each station has three to six lieutenants who are in charge of the administrative functions of the stations.

"It's management by committee," Whitaker said.

Whitaker said the training specialists would address a loss of staff time for training that occurred with the vacant deputy chief position.

"We try to schedule 20 hours per employee per month," he said. "That is a benchmark that the ISO looks at."

The ISO provides insurance ratings for fire departments and recently gave the high rating of two to the areas of the North Shore that have hydrants. The ratings are used to determine insurance costs in the communities. Prior to consolidation, the highest rating among the communities was a four.

The department currently has 24 lieutenant positions, which would be reduced to 17 as part of the reorganization.

A 0.6 public education position would be reduced to a 0.4 public education/administrative assistant position and the duties and titles of some of the office staff would be changed.

The board scheduled a special meeting at 7 a.m. Sept. 26 in Fox Point to discuss and likely adopt the budget.

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