Lake Geneva’s Quest of Money Never Sleeps

Like the horror movie where the walking dead keep springing back to life, the issue of purchasing a new aerial fire truck “not to exceed $875K” once again came back to Lake Geneva’s city council on 3.14.2011 after being turned down on 2.14.2011, this time it passed on a 4 to 4 vote with the mayor breaking the tie.

In room packed with Police and Fire fighters in uniform Alderman Tom Hartz changed his vote to the affirmative to enable the purchase to pass. Voting for the new truck also were Aldermen: Todd Krause, Bill Mott, Kehoe with Mayor Jim Connor breaking the tie. Voting against the purchase were Aldermen Mary Joe Fesenmaier, Krohn, Frank Marsala, and Tolar.

Krause made the motion, seconded by Kehoe to borrow the funds.

Krause: “We should go for bond and purchase this item.”Having had firsthand experience in a recent fire department demo of the difference between going up on a “stick” ladder (which is the old truck) in comparison to the new truck which will be a “bucket” truck where you are harnessed in. “If you go up on that piece of apparatuses you will have an impact of the value of safety that truck offers. … The safety of a bucket truck vs. a ladder truck.”

Kehoe: “It’s time we look at the safety of our constituents, our children; you just have to be there when the event happens to realize what a fire truck does. I’m voting yes.”

“We have some responsibility for some surrounding communities’ safety also.”

Hartz: “The problem I have is credibility, the number (cost of truck) started at $1.2M and the mayor found some ads on the internet that were cheaper and suddenly we start sharpening the pencils a little bit. …  It has been very difficult for us to get accurate price information on this. It jumped from $1.2M down to $800K now it is $875K. It is important for the council to have accurate number, and real numbers… I would like the Police and Fire Department to spec out the equipment so we know what we are funding…. My concern on this is fire personal safety; I also have to weigh the cost to the taxpayer and weight what will happen to the State (Wisconsin) budget, that our revenues will be reduced and cut, what financial strain that will put on city government.”

“If every three years we borrow (for equipment)…. That is unsustainable. We need to put funds aside to do it in a sustainable way that does not bankrupt the city. To borrow $3-4M every three years is not sustainable.”

Mayor Conner: “We need to look long term and establish some sinking funds and I feel we have ignored this too long, and are too far behind the curve. We need to go ahead with this one and need to establish some sinking funds.

“One problem I see is the price of this truck with its 2007 engine is going to go no were but up, the maintenance cost will increase with the newer engines and this truck will cost a lot more when it needs to be replaced. And I don’t see we are going to have $1M in a sinking fund in that time period.”

Marcela: “ A real difficult decision…our economy right now is unstable, we are going to be losing revenues, we struggled last year on the budget….We know we are going to have sinking revenues…. I would rather see us lower our debit than add to it by $1M.

Tolar: We should put this to a referendum

Krohn: How much with interest will it cost?

Administer Jordan: Did not know. Thinks rate will be 3-3.5%, Lake Geneva has been borrowing for equipment for 30-40 years.

Fire Chief Brent Connelly:  “My biggest concern is our customer that is the people of Lake Geneva come first, and the firefighter safety comes right along with that. . . The piece of apparatus is getting old it needs to be replaced…the men who do this do not do this full time, they deserve the best equipment, the safest equipment.”

“When we started this at the beginning of the budget period I had a talk with Administer Jordan. We hadn’t intended to put it on but because there was a possibility we were going to borrow and that it would be sometime, more than three-four years that we borrow again, by then that piece of equipment could very well be in poor condition, than where are we going to find the funds. That is why we put it on the capital projects budget this year.”

Before the vote outgoing Police and Fire Commissioner Scott Storms bullied his way to the microphone and started talking without council permission.

Scott Storms: “This truck was scheduled next year, what happened was the city decided to borrow and the only way to purchase the truck was through borrowing. Sinking funds was removed by previous councils …what this has become is a political debate over borrowing, that is not my problem, that’s the community’s problem.”….We just don’t take care of here (Lake Geneva) we take care of an area.”

Mr. Storms is correct; a sinking fund of $300K for this aerial truck replacement was raided in 2010 under Mayor Chesen and Finance Committee Chair Todd Krause for the purchase of a new ambulance. Lake Geneva Fire Department now has three ambulances.

A recent Janesville Gazette article noted Whitewater’s Fire Department serves six townships in addition to the city and takes 1600 calls a year with a budget of $155K. Lake Geneva’s Fire Department handles about 1,000 calls each year. Lake Geneva’s had expenditures of $750K in 2009 and took in $345K in revenue. Lake Geneva has a union volunteer 40 member fire department.