Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm
Wednesday, 28 April 2010 18:42
Aldermen ask county to support proposal that would give Port more money for serving non-libraried areas
Port Washington aldermen last week asked Ozaukee County to support a five-year library plan that would increase the amount of money the Niederkorn Library receives for providing services to residents of areas without their own libraries.
Currently, the library is reimbursed for 85% of the cost to provide services to these residents, Library Director David Nimmer said.
The proposed library plan, which would affect all libraries in Ozaukee County, would increase that reimbursement to 93% by 2015, with an eye toward eventually fully reimbursing libraries for the cost of serving people in non-libraried areas, Nimmer said.
About 21% of the library services go to residents outside the city, he said.
“That’s significant,” Nimmer said.
Most aldermen agreed, saying full reimbursement is a matter of fairness.
“Effectively, our taxpayers are carrying some of the town taxpayers,” Ald. Tom Hudson, a member of the Port Library Board, said.
“It’s kind of an inequity. We make our library available to them, and I think that’s a wonderful thing, but they only pay us 85 cents on the dollar. I don’t think that’s quite fair. Everybody should carry their share of the load.”
City Administrator Mark Grams said the Niederkorn Library is used by more residents of the non-libraried areas than any other in the county.
“We’d like to see 100% reimbursement,” he said, noting it would increase the library’s revenues by $18,000.
Although the proposed library plan only calls for a 93% reimbursement, Nimmer said, “It is a step in the right direction.”
Ald. Mike Ehrlich asked why the reimbursement was not set at 100% to begin with.
When the Eastern Shores Library System was established roughly 16 years ago, the reduced reimbursement rate was a compromise intended to get enough votes to approve the system, Nimmer said.
State law requires a minimum 70% reimbursement, he added.
“At the time, it was felt that (the reduced rate was needed so) the non-libraried areas wouldn’t be hit too severely,” Nimmer said.
Ald. Dan Becker, who is also an Ozaukee County supervisor, cast the lone vote against the city’s resolution urging the county to adopt the higher reimbursement rates.
Becker said he plans to vote against the five-year library plan when it comes before the County Board for a number of reasons, including the reimbursement rate.
“I can’t support this plan. Overall, I think it’s a disadvantage to taxpayers in the county,” he said.
The increased reimbursement would result in higher taxes for residents of non-libraried areas, he added.
“I don’t want to increase taxes on anyone, especially in this economic environment,” Becker said.
But Hudson noted, increasing the reimbursement would offset city taxes paid to maintain the library.
The county has sought input from communities on the proposed library plan. The response has been mixed, with some communities favoring the reimbursement increase and others opposing it.
In its resolution to the county, Port officials noted that the tax rate for residents of non-libraried areas has decreased from 30 cents per $1,000 valuation to 24 cents in the last five years. This year, the resolution states, even if the reimbursement formula were set at 93%, the tax rate would still have decreased.
The city doesn’t provide any other service to residents outside its border without full reimbursement, officials noted.
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 17:56
Commission agrees to have ambulance officials prepare feasibility plan for review by State Department of Health
A study to consider the feasibility of a paramedic unit in Port Washington will be undertaken in the coming months.
A committee of ambulance officials will conduct the study and create a plan for the State Department of Health, the Port Washington Police and Fire Commission agreed last week.
“I’ve already had several positive comments about the idea of becoming a paramedic unit,” Commission Chairman Rick Nelson said April 12.
The committee consists of Fire Chief Mark Mitchell, Deputy Chief Jim Riley, emergency medical technician Mari Beth Barbuch — who is training to become a paramedic — and commission member Bruce Becker.
Currently, the Thiensville Fire Department has the only paramedic unit in Ozaukee County. Mequon is also exploring the concept of adding paramedic service.
Riley said he has been looking at other department’s paramedic plans, noting that they vary from a 300-page document to the 12-page report Thiensville submitted.
The study would includes an inventory of staff, vehicles and equipment, expected training and scheduling as well as input from the public. Mitchell said.
“There’s an awful lot of behind-the-scenes, administrative stuff that needs to be put into motion,” he said.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel. There are a lot of these (plans) that have been done before that we can draw on. And we’re fortunate we’re EMT-I (emergency medical technician-intermediate) certified already so we’re not making a quantum leap.
We’re at the second-highest level trying to become the highest level.”
A public hearing on the feasibility plan must be held before it is submitted to the state, Mitchell noted.
The committee will meet with Tom Dietrich, the county’s director of emergency medical services, to discuss the concept with him, Mitchell said.
Dietrich, who wrote the protocols for Thiensville’s service, has already said he backs the idea, Mitchell said.
The committee will also look at the financial implications of a paramedic service, he said.
“What is the total cost going to be? I don’t know,” Mitchell said. “But I don’t see the cost being on the taxpayer but on the users.”
To determine how much revenue could be realized by a paramedic unit, the committee will meet with LifeQuest, the company that handles ambulance billing, he said.
The cost of the program is not expected to be excessive because the city already has much of the equipment needed and paramedics are likely to be paid, on-call volunteers just like the current firefighters and EMTs are, Mitchell said.
“That’s where we’re saving a lot of money,” he said, noting many paramedics are seeking part-time work. “They’re chomping at the bit. Every week I hear from some more paramedics.”
Approximately a dozen paramedics have expressed interest in working with the department — including three of its own EMTs who have paramedic certification and two others who are nearing the end of their training — Mitchell said.
Mitchell estimated the feasibility study and plan could be completed by the committee in May and sent to the state by July 1.
“I’m not going to carve that date in stone,” he said, adding he’s not sure how long the state review will take.
He would like to see the program operating by late this year or early 2011.
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm
Wednesday, 14 April 2010 18:05
Damage from vandalism prompt city to consider closing route west of plant
Visitors to Port Washington’s north beach may find themselves with one less way to get there this summer.
The Board of Public Works on Tuesday tabled for one month a recommendation that the city close the beach path that leads around the west side of the wastewater treatment plant.
“I hate to make it less convenient to get to the beach,” Ald. Mike Ehrlich, a member of the board, said.
Wastewater Supt. Dan Buehler recommended the city close the path because of damage and vandalism to the plant. Over the last couple years, he said, a handrail has been “ripped out,” the air conditioner damaged and graffiti scribbled.
Perhaps most serious, he said, was that someone threw paper onto a gas flare, starting a small fire that left a 6-by-6-foot area charred and could have been much more serious.
“Next to that was a whole hillside of dry grass,” Buehler said. “It all could have gone up.”
Board Chairman Tom Veale noted that a fence separates the path from the plant, but it’s still easy for vandals to damage the facility.
“The proximity of the building to the fence is so close that if someone has it in their mind to vandalize it, there’s little to stop them,” he said.
Ehrlich added, “This is a case of a few people are wrecking it for everyone else.”
Even if the city closes the west path around the plant, Buehler said, people heading to the beach still have two ways to access it — through the path on the east side of the plant, which is handicapped accessible, and via the staircase from Upper Lake Park.
“I’m on the fence,” Ald. Jim Vollmar, a member of the board, said. “I think it’s used more than the (east) walkway and is a popular way for people to get to the beach.”
Buehler estimated that about twice as many people use the western path, noting it is about 150 feet shorter than the east walkway.
The path is also easily accessed by people parking in the Yacht Club parking lot, Vollmar said.
However, Vollmar also expressed concern about the safety of a retaining wall adjacent to the path that is leaning and may need repairs.
Buehler said he’s been told the wall hasn’t changed its angle in 20 years, but Dave Ewig, the city’s water superintendant and street commissioner, said he believes the wall is in need of work.
“The issue you’re having with the wall bowing out is similar to the problems you’re having north of the stairs,” he said, noting the bluff in that area is “very unstable” and prone to mudslides.
The board decided to table the matter for a month so members could look at the situation before making a decision.
The path is currently blocked from the public. Buehler said it is typically closed from the end of October until May.
A LOCKED GATE prevents people heading to Port Washington’s north beach from using a walkway that traverses the west side of the wastewater treatment plant. Although the gate is traditionally opened on May 1, officials are considering leaving it locked this year because of vandalism and safety concerns. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm
Wednesday, 07 April 2010 19:20
County poised to follow requirement giving crews prevailing hourly rates on jobs done for municipalities
Ozaukee County Highway Department workers could be paid more than their union salaries when they do work for townships and municipalities beginning this year.
The County Board on Wednesday was poised to allow the increased wage scale to conform with a state law requiring that it pay the prevailing wage to employees when they do work for other governmental units.
“We’re not happy about it. We think it’s a step backwards,” County Administrator Tom Meaux said. “The whole issue will have a significant impact on local government.
“Really, all it’s doing is driving up the cost to taxpayers.”
The impact won’t be on the county as much as it will be on the townships and municipalities, he said, because the county charges these governmental units the actual cost of the work, including labor and materials.
The increase in wages paid to meet the prevailing wage requirement will be passed on to these governmental units, Meaux said.
Townships will also find they have to do additional paperwork to comply with the prevailing wage requirement, said Mark Banton, the county’s construction superintendent and surveyor.
“I feel bad for the towns to have to take on this extra burden,” he said, noting many townships have small, part-time staffs. “It’s difficult now to make budgets work. This will just make it worse.”
Until this past year, he said, the prevailing wage requirement only applied to projects of $234,000 or more.
Now, state law calls for the prevailing wage to be paid on projects that cost $25,000 or more.
That’s most of the work the county does for other municipalities, Banton said, adding the county generally does at least one project each year for the townships.
The only projects not affected by the prevailing wage requirement is some maintenance work, such as chip sealing, cutting brush and ditching, he said.
In recent years, the county has been doing more and more work for other governmental bodies, Meaux said.
“We partner with local government a lot,” he said, noting the county provides a quality product at what is often a lower price. The county is also more flexible and able to respond to local concerns better than private contractors, he said.
Although the county will pass on the added cost of wages to the townships, it will also find an increased amount of paperwork is needed to track the time employees spend on various jobs, officials said.
That’s because most county employees handle several different jobs on site, and different wage rates will apply depending on the job.
For example, the 40 county highway department workers affected by the law are paid anywhere from $29.02 to $38.80 an hour, depending on such things as their tenure, where they fall on the wage scale and insurance selection, Finance Director Andy Lamb said.
“In every case other than the kid who holds the signs and the person who drives the truck, the prevailing wage is higher than the county’s wage,” he said.
The prevailing wage for employees doing some of the most common jobs — grading, operating a backhoe or concrete grinder — is $46.65, Lamb said.
The prevailing wage for those operating an oiler, crusher or screener is $47.77 an hour, he said, and for general laborers is $34.79 an hour.
Truck drivers operating single or double-axle vehicles must be paid a prevailing wage of $35.49 an hour, while those operating larger vehicles with three or more axles must be paid at least $24.35 an hour, Lamb said.
The prevailing wage is reviewed and updated by the state once or twice a year, he added.
Workers will have to log how much time they spend on each duty so they are paid the prevailing wage for each job, Lamb said.
Even as the county complies with the law, it will continue to work with legislators to seek an exemption for intergovernmental work, Meaux said.
“All it’s doing is costing government and the taxpayers more,” he said.