Consolidation is an unpopular word in the Village of Greendale.
On Oct. 4, the Village Board of Trustees held off on approving a $1,500 contribution toward a study to review the potential consolidation of fire, emergency medical, and police and fire dispatch services with other southern Milwaukee County communities. The board wants staff to review the agreement and clarify that the village will pay up to $1,500 and that the study will involve coordination and shared services, not just consolidation.
That study, to be performed by the Public Policy Forum and the Greater Milwaukee Committee, comes on the heels of Gov. Scott Walker’s state budget, which asks municipalities to find ways to continue to deliver good service with less resources.
Coordinated, shared or consolidated services in southern Milwaukee has been a topic of discussion since June for the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council, a group of Milwaukee County mayors and village presidents—including Greendale President John Hermes.
Cudahy, St. Francis and South Milwaukee have already progressed to the point that those discussions will continue on an independent track. The Council also cited benefits experienced by the North Shore Fire Department and noted the recent retirements of several fire chiefs in the southern part of the county as one rationale for shared services or consolidation.
If consolidation were to happen it would be between Greenfield, Hales Corners, Oak Creek, Greendale and Franklin. Currently, Greendale is the lone holdout to approve the $1,500 to pay for the study.
At the Oct. 4 meeting, board members and staff expressed their objections to consolidation, however, some agreed the village needs to at least participate in the study. The decision on whether or not to take part in any consolidation or sharing of services could come later.
Among the objections Greendale officials raised were the loss of the village’s autonomy in providing emergency services, fear about losing money through consolidation and worries that service levels could decline.
“For us to say that we wouldn’t even look at some type of coordination or consolidation would be a disservice to the taxpayers,” said village manager Todd Michaels.
Michaels said if the study was only for consolidation then the village would definitely not participate. He said it would have to include sharing services and coordination.
Trustee Ron Barbian believes that by participating in this study the village is one step closer to consolidation.
“In my opinion we run the best municipality,” Barbian said. “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.”
Fire Chief Tim Saidler said he’s against consolidation, but advised the village to go ahead with the study.
“It (the study) might prove that it’s not cost beneficial for the Village of Greendale to consolidate with these other communities,” Saidler said. “This is probably going to show that we do it economical, provide excellent services and excellent response time. But you still have to go out there to see if there are any other better things to do.”
Trustee Greg Turay was concerned that the other communities might try to ride on the back of the Village of Greendale.
“Others know that we are efficient and we have a good department whether it's fire, police or dispatch,” Turay said. “Are they trying to suck us up?
“I don’t want to get sucked in something where we are a loss leader and where it’s going to cost us money and save them money.”
Michaels said they currently operate under a mutual aid system. Greendale relies heavily on that system. Greenfield could decide not to provide mutual aid at any time under the current system.
The communities can’t go forward with consolidation without Greendale, said Michaels. “Greenfield can’t combine with Franklin by driving fire trucks through Greendale to get there.”
Michaels also expressed “grave concern” about combining with larger communities and as a small community having no voice.
“I'm personally much more proponent of some type of automatic system where perhaps if we have more calls than Greenfield we pay them some extra money because their trucks are coming here more than we are going there,” Michaels said.
There is also a possibility that response times will decrease for other communities, but might increase in Greendale, said Michaels.
Alan Sikorski said “I want the fire department at my house when I have the next heart attack in four minutes. I don’t hear that Greenfield will be there in eight, too late.”
Village President Hermes wants to protect the autonomy of the Village, but agreed to participate in the study. He said the only way the Village would ever go along with consolidation would be if it improved services and saves money, otherwise it won’t happen.
“We all enjoy our autonomy here and we want to protect that,” Hermes said. “When we think about losing garbage services or contracting those out we all have a personal heart-felt feeling that we know that our employees can do it better and when there is a citizen complaint we know that they can call us instead of going to a Waste Management facility and have the phone picked up and say ‘Who is this again?’…but we should never be fearful of looking at new methods of saving money and potentially improving efficiencies of services while saving money.”