Milwaukee Firefighters Union President David Seager said in an MJS article today it was “a serious waste of taxpayer money” to study privatization (of Milwaukee Fire Department), an idea he called “ludicrous,” “myopic” and “absurd.”
Yet in an April 16 MJS op-ed Seagar supports expansion of privatization of public education. There he says “The school choice expansion gives our families strong reasons to continue to live and work and play in the city they love. Moreover, it “affords” them the opportunity to educate their children while remaining in the city.”
To see his full op-ed go to: http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/119949709.html)
Following is today’s MJS article that quotes Seager:
Alderman calls for overhaul of Milwaukee Fire Department
By Larry Sandler of the Journal Sentinel April 28, 2011
A Milwaukee alderman called Thursday for studying a major overhaul of the city’s Fire Department, including the prospects for hiring private companies to deliver emergency medical service and fire service, or consolidating operations with the suburbs and county.
“We’re living with a 1970s solution for how we provide fire protection,” Ald. Terry Witkowski said at a City Hall news conference, referring to the time when emergency medical service was transferred from the Police Department to the Fire Department. He said the city should find a way to provide “the same level of service, the same degree of safety, but at lower cost.”
The idea quickly drew opposition from the Milwaukee Professional Firefighters Association, which has repeatedly battled attempts to trim firefighter staffing.
Union President David Seager said it was “a serious waste of taxpayer money” to study privatization, an idea he called “ludicrous,” “myopic” and “absurd.” Seager said private ambulances could not respond to medical emergencies as quickly, efficiently or professionally as Fire Department units do.
Asked if he had discussed the study with the firefighters union or Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing, Witkowski said the quickest way to kill one of his own ideas would be to “go to the enemy first.”
Witkowski and Aldermen Robert Puente and Ashanti Hamilton, who joined him at the news conference, later said they did not consider the union to be their enemy, but that their responsibility to manage the city in taxpayers’ interests differed from the union’s duty to represent its members’ interests.
Rohlfing did not return a call seeking comment.
Emergency medical service has grown to 80% of the Fire Department’s calls. Witkowski questioned whether the city’s four ambulance companies could provide the same service at lower cost.
And if 80% of the department’s work is cut, Witkowski said, it was worth asking whether the city still needs 36 firehouses, staffed by 232 firefighters on each 24-hour shift, to handle an average of about 500 fire-related calls, including 36 major blazes, each year. He wants council researchers to study hiring a private company to operate the fire service or merging operations with neighboring suburbs or the county.
Mayor Tom Barrett also has advocated studying consolidation of local fire departments, among other services.
Witkowski said his move was prompted by Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011-’13 state budget, which would cut state aid to local governments and limit property tax increases.
Walker has said local governments could compensate for the cuts by raising employee benefit contributions, as provided in his budget-repair legislation. But as Witkowski noted, that measure excludes union-represented police and firefighters, who account for some two-thirds of the city’s costs. Court challenges have put the law on hold, and the city attorney’s office has questioned whether it can legally apply to the city pension fund.
Witkowski said the city has been cutting and reorganizing other agencies for 20 years, while the police and fire departments have largely escaped cuts until recent years, when firefighter staffing has been reduced.
Hamilton said studying changes in the Fire Department doesn’t mean they will be implemented, “but for us not to take a look at it . . . would be irresponsible.”
In another consolidation move, a Common Council committee voted Thursday to explore sharing prescription drug coverage with other local governments.
If the full council agrees Tuesday with its Finance & Personnel Committee, the city would seek proposals for pharmaceutical coverage not only for its own employees, but also for those of Milwaukee County, Milwaukee Public Schools, Milwaukee Area Technical College and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. The vendors’ proposals would compare the cost of covering each government separately with covering all five as a group.