West Allis readies administratively trimmer city budget

Nov. 20, 2012

West Allis - With changes in at least one administrative position, the Common Council was expected to approve an adjusted $109.6 million city budget this week for 2013.

The budget reflects a decision by the administration and finance committee to lop off a proposed energy sustainability coordinator. Also as part of the committee review, aldermen also put Fire Chief Steven Hook on notice that they want to see fewer chiefs in his department.

"You have too many chiefs," said Alderman James Sengstock, committee chairman, told Hook.

Budget elements

As the 2013 proposed budget emerged from the committee review and went to a full council vote Tuesday, it called for a levy that would cost $9 more for the owner of a home assessed at $150,000 for city services. The proposed 2013 levy is up 0.69 percent and stands at $40 million.

The overall budget is up 1.2 percent from this year, but the general fund, viewed as the operating budget, would be up less than 1 percent mainly because of employee wages, officials said. No one spoke at a public hearing held Nov. 5.

The 2013 budget would fund six positions that were approved for 2012 but not funded. Three of those are firefighters.

It also would fund two new part-time positions. One is $25,000 for a promotion, marketing and branding program employee to build the city's image. The other is $25,000 for a neighborhood enhancement facilitator who would get property owners to keep up their properties.

Overly energetic proposal

Aldermen nixed the third proposed addition, the energy sustainability coordinator who would have earned $50,000.

Before hiring an energy coordinator, the city needs to know where it's going in this area, said Alderman Michael May.

"We don't know what we want," he said.

Hiring now would be like buying some land and arriving with a truck intending to build a house without a plan, May said. Instead, he advocated going the route other communities have taken: starting with a committee to map out a plan, then writing for grants and finally hiring a coordinator.

The city needs to find out more "before we hire a full-time position we'll never get rid of," Alderman Thomas Lajsic concurred.

Chief among concerns

Gunning for more savings in personnel, Alderman Vincent Vitale chided the fire chief for having the same number of chiefs six years after the two had met face to face and discussed reducing the number.

"Nothing has been done," Vitale said.

The imbalance is more noticeable because the number of firefighters is now so low, Sengstock said.

"The firefighters are down to skeleton in terms of bodies," he said.

But Hook said the ball is already rolling toward eventually reducing the number of chiefs.

"We're trying to set ourselves up for that in the future," Hook said, noting that the reduction will come through attrition, a common city practice.

The department also is exploring sharing jobs with other communities, he said.

Hook also clarified that "chief" is the term used for anyone who is not in the firefighters union. Fire chiefs are in the same category as police captains, he said.

He also defended the department's budget performance, noting that for the 15 years he has been chief, he has brought the budget in at or below pay increases and met all the city's budget requirements. He also increased revenues, partly through the ambulance fee, Hook said.

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