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No quick rescue for Wis. paramedics funding
By Rick Romano
MILWAUKEE — Unhappy with County Executive Chris Abele's budget cut of a $3 million paramedic subsidy to municipalities, local mayors were meeting this week, emergency personnel were appealing and at least one prominent leader in the senior community was issuing a warning.
They all hope to persuade Abele to save the subsidy before he unveils his budget today. If not, they say they are prepared to challenge the cut through the anticipated extended review and voting process.
Mayoral meeting The mayors of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council of Milwaukee County met Wednesday to review the cut.
ICC Chair Tom Taylor, Franklin's mayor, called the meeting one week after attending a meeting of mayors and fire chiefs called by County Supervisor Mark Borkowski, chair of the Emergency Medical Services Council.
Taylor and Abele approach the cuts from somewhat different perspectives.
"I'm sharing the information with the ICC from last week's meeting because members need to know," Taylor said. "We need to be proactive, which is much better than reacting to the budget after it is presented. The difficulty is that there are contracts in place between municipalities who are providing services to other municipalities." Difficult compromise He said he appreciates Borkowski wanting to be creative in asking municipalities to financially pitch in so that the county could restore part of the funding, but he noted that even the $3 million subsidy historically has been challenged.
"I've already said that we actually need $6 million," Taylor said.
Borkowski said he was disappointed that last week's meeting did not result in any specific compromises. He pointed out that one of those compromises could come in the form of training and continuing education that would not require overtime pay.
"I just thought that if the communities could give a little and come up with, say $1 million, that the county may be willing to fund $2 million," he said. "We're all going into an election year and I thought it would be a very positive way to restore this program." Borkowski questioned Abele's move to cut the subsidy in the wake of pushing for the approved domestic partner benefits among county employees and increasing the salary of County Parks Director Sue Black.
"The benefits cost about $800,000, he said. "The salary increase was not that much, but it is a problem in our financial situation. I just think these are bad moves." Hot issue for fire chiefs Moving to restore the sub- sidy, the Milwaukee County Association of Fire Chiefs wrote a letter and resolution to Abele, noting that the paramedic program is a "well-established example of a regionalized effort" and it is "nationally recognized" as one of the top programs in the county.
"The chiefs are just waiting and hoping that his budget gets straightened out," said Mike Jankowski, association president and Hales Corners' fire chief. "We have all turned in our own budgets for the year." Jankowski said the chiefs hope to get the subsidy and then have an appropriate amount of time to plan for future budgets.
"This is really about the patients," he added. "If the subsidy is cut, fees may increase and, worse, services may be cut." Seniors are watching Service cuts and increased fees will not play well with seniors, said Casper Green, a member of the county's Commission on Aging.
A Franklin resident who recently ended a long stint as president of that city's Senior Center, he said older adults will be affected the most.
"I'm sure the senior population will be heard," Green said. "I'm afraid the suburbs in Milwaukee County have been treated like a stepchild." He noted that revenue sharing has changed dramatically over several decades and that the state mandate on tax levy increases also threatens services. "I understand the county's financial problems and they need to do something," Green said, "but paramedic services and other essential services like them must be maintained." Abele's view The paramedic subsidy cut is part of a plan to fill a projected shortfall of $55 million.
"I'm committed to introducing a budget without a deficit or levy increase," Abele said in a recently released statement. "I'm looking for ways to save Milwaukee County taxpayers money, including by reviewing discretionary spending and encouraging consolidation.".