Full fire department consolidation between five southern Milwaukee County communities will not happen, if Greendale has something to say about it.
Discussions on fire department consolidation have continued since a report about the cost benefits of consolidation was released in late May.
The Public Policy Forum report identifies ways in which fire departments in Greenfield, Greendale, Hales Corners, Oak Creek and Franklin could consolidate and save money — including combining all five into one. The study comes after about a year of research, involving fire chiefs and administrators from all five communities who explored the range of consolidation possibilities.
But Greendale Village Manager Todd Michaels told Patch the officials aren't too keen about a merger.
"All I could say right now is that we are still reviewing the study," he said. "We are very open to some of the concepts in there and more hesitant in reference to full consolidation."
He added that village officials would continue to review the report, but he didn't know if and when the Village Board would take up the issue.
Local officials last year said they wanted to study greater service sharing in the face of ongoing budget struggles for municipal governments.
The Public Policy Forum report presents three models of how that could be done:
- A coordinated support services model would involve comparatively minor changes, such as consolidation in training, vehicle maintenance and fire inspection services for the five departments.
- An operational consolidation model goes deeper. Operations would be unified under a "closest unit responds" approach, regardless of municipal boundary. But the departments remain separate entities.
- Under a full consolidation model, the five departments would merge into one, with its own governance structure, budget, equipment and personnel.
According to the report, the latter model would provide the greatest savings of the three options — about $1 million per year, with no closings of fire stations and minimal reductions in staff.
In beginning discussions, Greendale officials raised concerns about the loss of the village’s autonomy in providing emergency services, fear about losing money through consolidation and worries that service levels could decline.
In October, Trustee Ron Barbian said:
“In my opinion we run the best municipality. People move here for our schools and services we have...Our history shows we perform better services than our neighbors and I don’t want to take that initial step to pursue this. Share services and helping out with response times, we have already been doing it.”
Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi said it's too early to say what degree of consolidation the Oak Creek community and Common Council prefer.
"There's a lot of possibilities," Scaffidi said. "It's about what makes sense for each city, what their citizens think about it, and lastly, what the impact is."
Greendale is one of the communities that relies heavily on a mutual-aid system, particularly with Greenfield.
Greenfield Mayor Michael Neitzke and Fire Chief Jon Cohn have long been proponents of consolidation.
Shortly after the report was released, Cohn said:
"Because there is concern of giving up autonomy and local control, could there be some functional aspects and then an operational outlook and then a few years later, a full consolidation? I think there can be, but I don't think there's time for that due to the current status of financing our budgets.
"We're sort of at a hallmark moment with service levels. If you continue on the status quo, you're going to be faced with cost restraints that will trickle into service-level decisions."
Patch editors David Cotey and Mark Schaaf contributed to this report.