Six fire stations are to close under Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s 2018 budget plan.
The Milwaukee Fire Department announced the planned closures Tuesday following Barrett’s budget address at City Hall.
The stations targeted to close are at 100 W. Virginia St., 1313 W. Reservoir Ave., 1693 N. Franklin Place, 300 S. 84th St., 424 N. 30th St. and 2400 S. 8th St.
The Fire Department will continue to use three of those stations, but for other purposes. The Virginia St. station will be used for construction and maintenance; the Reservoir location will serve as the department’s wellness center; and the station at the corner of Brady Street and Franklin Place will become the Community Relations and Education Office.
“I’m certainly not standing here trying to tell you that it doesn’t hurt to take a fire station out of a neighborhood or community, because it does,” Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing told reporters Tuesday afternoon.
The closures likely will add five to 25 seconds to response times, which would remain under the national average, he said. The department’s current average time for an engine to arrive on scene is 2 minutes and 50 seconds, he added.
Earlier in the day, Barrett was frank about the cuts in his address to the Common Council.
“The budget I am presenting today is not the budget I was hoping to introduce,” he said. “But there’s a big difference between hope and reality.”
The City of Milwaukee would lose 33 police officer positions and 75 firefighter jobs under Barrett’s budget plan. But he said the cuts will not result in layoffs.
The proposed budget also includes a 3.7% property tax levy increase.
Mayor Tom Barrett said “no city budget has presented more challenges or more frustration than this one” as he presented his proposed 2018 budget to the Common Council.
“Our men and women in uniform have earned our respect. They have earned our admiration. That makes these decisions so much more difficult,” Barrett said. “In my time as mayor, no city budget has presented more challenges or more frustration than this one.”
Barrett again pushed for a half-cent local sales tax. He has repeatedly said it could raise some $35 million per year for the city’s police and fire departments.
The Democratic mayor repeatedly called on Republican Gov. Scott Walker and state lawmakers to give the city the authority to pursue the tax, which would allow the proposal to go before voters as a referendum next year on the April ballot.
Barrett again said Milwaukee is not getting its fair share of state funding, saying that the money generated by the city far exceeds the amount of state aid it receives.
“The beneficiary of our economic growth is the state’s coffers,” Barrett said.
But it’s unlikely Milwaukee will get that authority from the GOP-controlled Legislature.
“With tax cuts and record investment in K-12 education, Gov. Walker proved you don’t need to raise taxes to grow the economy and adequately fund your priorities,” Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said.
Barrett’s budget drew immediate criticism from Republicans, streetcar opponents and the heads of local public safety unions.
“It is very concerning to even consider that we would slash one officer from the rank and file,” said Mike Crivello, president of the Milwaukee Police Association.
Crivello didn’t oppose the sales tax outright, saying: “It should be discussed.” But he said the voters should know exactly how the money would be spent.
“The mayor is not placing enough emphasis on public safety,” Ald. Tony Zielinski said.
He said it was “financially irresponsible” to add potential additional expenses, like possible operating expenses related to the Milwaukee Streetcar.
“I’m calling on the mayor to commit to at least no future expansion of the streetcar,” Zielinski said.
And state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) said Barrett’s budget priorities “lack all common sense.”
“When criminal behavior is on the rise and the carjacking epidemic continues to spread, he intends to cut police positions. The absurdity of this proposal is dumbfounding. In simple terms, Mayor Barrett will gamble with your safety in order to play politics,” Vukmir said in a statement. “Inexcusable.”
She added, “Oh, but don’t worry Milwaukee, funding for Barrett’s hobbyhorse trolley project stays intact.”
Barrett’s spending plan includes up to $315,000 in the parking fund budget for the city portion of the streetcar operations grant, but there is no impact to the tax levy, city officials said.
Patrick Curley, Barrett’s chief of staff, said he doesn’t recall Vukmir objecting when voters in other communities in Wisconsin voted to approve local sales taxes.
“Apparently she doesn’t hold voters in the City of Milwaukee in the same regard,” Curley said.