Public Policy Forum Blog

Fire Service Consolidation Could Yield Savings in Milwaukee County’s South Shore

Today, the Forum releases its latest report on local government shared services: an examination of three potential scenarios for creating a consolidated fire department to serve the cities of Cudahy, South Milwaukee and St. Francis.  We find that each could produce positive fiscal impacts, though operational issues do arise that must be a central point of consideration.

Under each of the three scenarios, it is assumed that one of Cudahy’s two fire stations could be eliminated, so that the three cities collectively would be served by three stations – one each in Cudahy, South Milwaukee and St. Francis.  Consolidation also allows for a streamlined management structure.  Where the three scenarios differ is in their minimum staffing levels – one assumes a minimum of six firefighters/lieutenants per shift at each of the three stations, the second assumes a minimum of five, and the third assumes five at two stations and seven at the central station in Cudahy

The report  estimates that the financial impacts of a consolidated department would range from a collective added annual operating cost of $67,000 for one of the three staffing models, to annual operating savings ranging from $248,000 to $890,000 for the other two.  In addition, under each of the scenarios, we estimate that the three cities collectively would save more than $1.7 million in vehicle replacement costs over the next seven years because of the ability to shrink the size of the collective vehicle fleet.

With regard to programmatic impacts, the report finds that a consolidated South Shore fire department could improve the quality and uniformity of firefighter/EMS training, reduce  dispatch times, and enhance advanced life support services.  It also points out, however, that the minimum staffing levels contained in two of the three scenarios may reduce current firefighting capacity.  The report notes that the staffing flexibility afforded by a consolidated department may offset that concern, but that is a question that will need to be carefully considered by public safety and elected officials in any consolidation discussions.

As elected and public safety officials review the report, the hope would be that they identify an option that will both accommodate the need for budget savings and maintain – or perhaps enhance – existing levels of service.  When viewed in that context, it appears that at least one of the options we have presented is worthy of further consideration.

This report is part of an ongoing effort to explore possibilities for enhanced sharing and consolidation of municipal services in Milwaukee County.   Working with the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council and the Greater Milwaukee Committee, the Forum has formed a work group that has considered several service sharing possibilities in response to growing budget pressures faced by cities and villages. 

Among the services that have been examined are public works, property assessment and public safety dispatch.  Fire service quickly emerged as the leading candidate for service sharing, however, in part because of the considerable local resources spent on that function, and in part because of the success of a consolidated fire department in Milwaukee County’s North Shore. 

The full report can be downloaded here, and our May 2012 report on a consolidated fire department serving the other five southern Milwaukee County communities can be accessed here

Rob Henken