NSFD board passes funding formula

Tepper requests North Shore-wide approval by end of year

Nov. 27, 2013

The matter was all but settled Monday afternoon when River Hills Village President Bob Brunner, called first in a roll call vote, gave his assent for a funding formula proposal he had pledged to veto up until last week.

Following his "yes," the rest of the North Shore Fire Department board quickly and without further discussion passed the proposal unanimously.

Now approved by the NSFD board, the formula proposal will need to be ratified by the village boards or common council in each of the seven NSFD member communities. Glendale Mayor Jerome Tepper requested that each board vote on the proposal by the end of the year, so that in the unlikely event the formula is turned down somewhere, Glendale could still issue its two-year withdrawal notice, effective 2016, by the end of the year.

Also on the NSFD board agenda was the potential expulsion of River Hills, a subject which was retired after Brunner voted "yes" on the funding formula.

"There's no need to go into that discussion," Brown Deer Village President Carl Krueger said, adding later, "I'm very happy that NSFD is going to stay together as a cohesive unit."

A tense month

Until last week, the fate of the proposed funding agreement, and the makeup of NSFD itself, was uncertain.

In the last month, a standoff between Brunner and Tepper may have had either community out of the fire department. Critical of the funding proposal, Brunner had threatened a veto, prompting Tepper to threaten to have Glendale leave the department at its first available opportunity in 2016.

At a Nov. 15 River Hills Village Board meeting, Brunner said he was committed to the veto regardless of what the River Hills board had to say on the matter. His stance caused Brown Deer Village President Carl Krueger to invoke a provision of the overarching NSFD agreement that allows six communities to expel the seventh on a unanimous vote. The NSFD board last week held over the formula and expulsion discussions until Monday, a move that bought the River Hills board one last chance to sway Brunner.

The next day, Brunner finally surrendered his veto and said he would follow his board's direction. After nearly an hour in closed-session talks, the River Hills board delivered a 6-1 recommendation that he approve the formula, with only Brunner voting in opposition.

"...Unfortunately it looks like River Hills taxpayers are going to be paying for this formula change forever, and there won't be any relief in future years," Brunner said at the River Hills meeting last week.

New formula shifts shares

River Hills' share of fire department costs was projected to increase regardless of whether the new funding arrangement is approved or if Glendale leaves the department.

According to a sample calculation by the Public Policy Forum, which mediated discussions throughout the year and helped create the proposed formula, River Hills' share of NSFD costs would increase by about $33,000 under the proposed formula. Since the proposal includes a five-year phase in, that would mean a roughly $6,000 annual increase in costs between 2016 and 2020.

Elsewhere, the Public Policy Forum calculation showed Glendale, Fox Point and Brown Deer's shares all decreasing while the other communities saw an increase. Among the communities, Fox Point had the biggest decrease in percentage (0.81) while Bayside had the biggest increase (0.31). As a percentage of its current share, River Hills had the biggest increase at 10 percent, as Brunner pointed out.

Brunner pointed to a specific point in the proposal, a change that counts all types of property value — residential, commercial and industrial — equally. The current formula weighs commercial and industrial property types higher than residential under the assumption those types of properties cost more to protect.

Counting all property values equally shifts some costs off communities with higher amounts of commercial and industrial properties and onto NSFD member communities, like River Hills, which are mostly residential.

Fire Chief Robert Whitaker and Public Policy Forum President Rob Henken have said the change makes sense because technology has made commercial and industrial properties less costly to protect and NSFD's majority of calls have shifted over time from fire calls to emergency medical service calls.

Henken also has said the change is offset to a certain degree by another change in the proposal, an increase in emphasis on historical use.

Estimates by NSFD administrators show that if Glendale — which among the member communities contributes the biggest share for operating costs at more than $4 million — were to leave, River Hills would face a roughly $111,000 increase, the smallest among the NSFD member communities.

The estimates show Brown Deer bearing the largest increase if Glendale were to leave, at about $671,000, with Shorewood and Whitefish Bay close behind and Fox Point and Bayside in the middle.

A 'private club'

At the River Hills meeting last week, Brunner went on to criticize the conduct of the NSFD board members, whom he said spoke among themselves and brought the possible expulsion to bear without consulting him first.

"I think the (NSFD board) is acting like a private club, in terms of not having members meet a certain standard," Brunner said. "...The only thing they can accuse me of is voting in a way that protects the taxpayers of River Hills."

Krueger responded Monday that expulsion has to be on the table when NSFD board members resort to extreme measures.

"If communities take a position where they're going to give notice or leave, or in another case, veto something important, the discussion has to be on the agenda to have the board members discuss the various options," Krueger said. "In this case, as it turns out, I think it was just a bunch of political posturing and nothing came of it."



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