River Hills on board with NSFD funding formula

Nov. 21, 2013

River Hills — Village President Bob Brunner will give his approval next week when the North Shore Fire Department votes on a proposed funding formula.

After spending nearly an hour in closed session talks Wednesday evening, the River Hills Village Board gave a 6-1 recommendation that Brunner votes in favor of the formula next week. Brunner, who has repeatedly criticized the proposal, was the lone "no" vote.

Trustees declined to comment on the nature of their closed-door deliberations.

The meeting was the second time in the last week that the River Hills board discussed the formula proposal, which Brunner had previously said he would veto at the NSFD board level. Talks among NSFD board members became heated in the last month after Brunner announced his intention to veto the formula, prompting Glendale Mayor Jerome Tepper to say he would advise Glendale to withdraw from the fire department.

Over the weekend, Brown Deer Village President Carl Krueger invoked a provision of the NSFD agreement which allows six communities to expel the seventh on a unanimous vote. The NSFD board Tuesday morning opted to hold over the formula and expulsion deliberations until next week, a move which gave the River Hills board one more chance to sway Brunner.

And though Brunner said last week that he was committed to the veto regardless of what the River Hills board had to say on the matter, he relented Wednesday evening, albeit grudgingly.

"I'm perfectly willing to have all of you express your desire one way, up or down, related to the formula changes, and I will convey to the (NSFD board) whatever that vote might be from each of you, though there are a lot of things I disagree with," Brunner said, adding later, "I think the important thing is it will ostensibly be over by this evening as far as we're concerned, and 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."

River Hills' share of fire department costs is projected to increase whether the proposed formula is approved or 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.

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.

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."

Two River Hills residents spoke on the formula during the public comment section, and both agreed with Brunner.

Resident Bill Lemorande, like 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.

"It makes my home equal to Johnson Controls," Lemorande said, advising the board to vote against the proposal.

Resident Cary Van Aacken said he agreed with his neighbor, Lemorande.

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.

The NSFD board is scheduled to vote on the proposal at a special meeting at 4 p.m. Nov. 25 at Bayside Village Hall, 9075 North Regent Road.

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