NSFD board trying to take funding formula discussion behind closed doors

Glendale mayor says 'frank conversation' can't happen in open session

May 8, 2013

Members of the North Shore Fire Department board of directors say deliberations over a revised funding formula should take place in closed session, away from the public.

At a special meeting Tuesday morning, facilitator Rob Henken - president of the southeastern Wisconsin-based Public Policy Forum - presented a summary of his meetings with individual NSFD board members, the issues facing the board as it begins to revise the funding formula, and a list of preliminary options the board can consider as the debate continues. The board hired Henken in March to help mediate negotiations between board members as they work to define a funding formula that will replace the current formula in 2016 and determine how much each of the seven member communities contribute to NSFD's budget.

Henken reported that most NSFD board members find the current formula to be fair and were unanimous that the current components of the formula, population, equalized values and usage, were the right community measurements to include in the formula. Most board members are open to changing the weighting of different property types in the formula; in the current formula residential properties are taken at face value, industrial property value is counted twice and manufacturing property value is counted three times. Henken reported mixed feelings among board members on whether non-levy revenues, like ambulance fees, should be subtracted from the share of the community in which they are generated - currently those revenues are pooled together regardless of where they come from - through "revenue offsets" and whether community contributions should be the product of negotiations between board members or the result of an analytical formula.

At the end of his report Henken brought forward a series of potential formula changes for the board to consider, all of which would weight all types of property equally and increase the emphasis on usage to 40 or 50 percent of the formula, which is currently split equally three ways between usage, population and equalized property value. Some would add revenue offsets as well. At the request of board members he will also bring forward models that would keep the three-way split but include tweaks to property weighting and revenue offsets.

Yet, when Henken asked board members to weigh in on the potential changes - in effect to begin the heavy lifting of negotiating the particulars of the new formula - they balked, saying the negotiations should take place in closed session rather than in an open meeting. Bayside Village President Sam Dickman said he was "blindsided" by the meeting, after which Brown Deer Village President Carl Krueger and Glendale Mayor Jerome Tepper piped up to support the idea of closed session negotiations.

"We should be in closed session so we can have a full and frank conversation about (the formula)," Tepper said. "I don't think that happens in open session."

Fire Chief Robert Whitaker said that after extensive talks, NSFD counsel William Dineen had concluded the talks should take place in open session, as per Wisconsin open meetings law. After the board's objections Whitaker said he would take the matter back to Dineen. Other board members said they would take the matter to their respective municipal attorneys for consideration.

The next meeting over the formula, and whether it will be open to the public, will ultimately depend on how the lawyers' opinions shake out, Whitaker said.

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