Green Bay budget cuts may slow emergency response times, fire chief says

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Green Bay's 2019 city budget is nearly finalized with a four-percent cut to most city departments.

Ambulance

Tuesday, the finance committee went through the budget to find more places to make ends meet.

This comes as homeowners are likely to see a property tax increase next year to help balance the city's proposed 2019 budget.

Instead of raising property taxes in 2017, Mayor Jim Schmitt and the city council used $1 million in excess stadium tax money to balance the budget. In 2018, taxes were raised but not as much as they could have been, with money taken from the city's savings account to balance the budget.

Now those money sources are completely gone, and a proposed 1.1 percent property tax increase next year won't come close to making up the entire deficit. (See related story.)

To help, the city asked all department directors to cut proposed budgets by 4 percent next year, leaving department leaders discouraged about the coming budget.

Four percent may not sound like much, but it means $1.1 million cut from the police department and another $975,000 cut from the Green Bay Metro Fire Department.

"It's a bad budget year, as they say. So we're all going to have to take a little bit of a hit," Police Chief Andrew Smith said.

Smith said it means dropping from 194 officers to 180, and the squad cars the department hoped to replace will have to hold up even longer.

"There's also not going to be any capital expenditures, at least in the first part of this year, which means we won't get new police cars, we won't get a lot of the equipment that we were hoping to get," Smith said.

For the fire department, it means the loss of four staff members, leaving an entire ambulance vacant.

"How much more of an impact can you have than taking an ambulance out of service?" Fire Chief Dave Litton said.

He said it will mean longer response times. On the east side of the city, responses may take 9 or 10 minutes rather than 6.

"The effect is across the city," Litton continued. "It makes us less capable. It makes us less resilient to those big calls or events."

In the past two years, the finance committee meeting to negotiate the coming budget lasted up to nine hours, going point by point through each department within the city.

Tuesday's meeting lasted only three. Many city officials say that's because there is little money to spread across the city, but others are looking on the bright side.

"We'll make do with what we're given," Chief Sith said, "and we'll make it work here, because that's the Green Bay way."

The 2019 budget isn't set in stone. It heads to the city council next Monday for approval.



 
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