MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- Municipal-based paramedic programs are responding to a hard economic reality.
In the wake of Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele's intent to cut a $3 million subsidy in his 2012 budget, local officials are regrouping this week in an attempt to restore the funds they say are vital to providing emergency medical services to residents of Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners and Oak Creek.
Situation and response County Supervisor Mark Borkowski, who chairs the Emergency Medical Services Council and led a Wednesday meeting of mayors and emergency service professionals this week, said he wants the group to immediately develop "action steps" to present to Abele.
"This is a nationally ranked system that works," Borkowski said. "It's one of the few things we do cooperatively. These men and women who are part of our first response system are doing a service and we need to support their work as they respond to accidents, homes and businesses." Borkowski noted that he fears that the county's financial woes leading to this subsidy cut "may be the first step in dismantling the entire paramedic system." Borkowski said while the county provides the infrastructure support of education and training, communication, records maintenance, quality assurance and medical oversight, municipalities need the subsidy to properly operate their services.
They render those services within their own boundaries and often to neighboring suburbs.
An outdated subsidy? In his announcement of the subsidy cut as part of repairing a $55 million county shortfall, Abele said the county will maintain the current $4.3 million to fund the needed infrastructure.
"The funding in question is an out-of-date-subsidy that was originally paid because the county collected and turned over payments for EMS services to the communities," Abele said in a prepared statement. "Now, the municipalities bill, collect and keep the payments directly without the involvement of the county according to each municipality's policies." Municipal officials expressed concern about losing their share of the subsidy.
Franklin Mayor Tom Taylor, who chairs the Intergovernmental Cooperation Committee, said he has for years advocated an even larger subsidy.
"We really need $6 million," he said.
Taylor and Borkowski noted that the subsidy previously has been on the chopping block.
"It happened twice when then County Executive Scott Walker was in office," Borkowski said. "Both times, the subsidy was restored." Vital signs Local communities have varied paramedic situations.
Franklin and Oak Creek have their own paramedic programs. Greendale is developing one. Hales Corners has upgraded its capabilities.
Hales Corners Village Manager Mike Weber said the subsidy cut would hurt communities like his that rely on the services from other municipalities. "I don't know what we would do if the subsidy is not there," Weber said. "If our providers are affected, we could be affected. Currently, we don't have the ability to raise the tax levy, so if we needed to provide these services, we would need to consider cutting other services." Hales Corners has upgraded its ability to provide intravenous therapy with its own personnel.
"The issue for us is that we have a number of part-time and on-call members," said Hales Corners Fire Chief Michael Jankowski. "We have a lot of young guys who get their experience and move on to larger departments that can provide full-time work." Greendale is in the process of providing paramedic for up to eight staff by next spring.
"We tried to anticipate this need about a year or so ago," said Greendale Fire Chief Tim Saidler. "You look into the crystal ball a little bit." Recovery ahead? Taylor and Borkowski said that losing the $3 million subsidy would mean communities could lose "hundreds of thousand of dollars," a serious deficit considering the size of their budgets.
"We are early in the process," Borkowski said. "We will need to be creative to restore this funding."