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Wage law means pay hike for highway workers PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 07 April 2010 19:20

County poised to follow requirement giving crews prevailing hourly rates on jobs done for municipalities

Ozaukee County Highway Department workers could be paid more than their union salaries when they do work for townships and municipalities beginning this year.

The County Board on Wednesday was poised to allow the increased wage scale to conform with a state law requiring that it pay the prevailing wage to employees when they do work for other governmental units.

“We’re not happy about it. We think it’s a step backwards,” County Administrator Tom Meaux said. “The whole issue will have a significant impact on local government.

“Really, all it’s doing is driving up the cost to taxpayers.”

The impact won’t be on the county as much as it will be on the townships and municipalities, he said, because the county charges these governmental units the actual cost of the work, including labor and materials.

The increase in wages paid to meet the prevailing wage requirement will be passed on to these governmental units, Meaux said.

Townships will also find they have to do additional paperwork to comply with the prevailing wage requirement, said Mark Banton, the county’s construction superintendent and surveyor.

“I feel bad for the towns to have to take on this extra burden,” he said, noting many townships have small, part-time staffs. “It’s difficult now to make budgets work. This will just make it worse.”

Until this past year, he said, the prevailing wage requirement only applied to projects of $234,000 or more.

Now, state law calls for the prevailing wage to be paid on projects that cost $25,000 or more.

That’s most of the work the county does for other municipalities, Banton said, adding the county generally does at least one project each year for the townships.

The only projects not affected by the prevailing wage requirement is some maintenance work, such as chip sealing, cutting brush and ditching, he said.

In recent years, the county has been doing more and more work for other governmental bodies, Meaux said.

“We partner with local government a lot,” he said, noting the county provides a quality product at what is often a lower price. The county is also more flexible and able to respond to local concerns better than private contractors, he said.

Although the county will pass on the added cost of wages to the townships, it will also find an increased amount of paperwork is needed to track the time employees spend on various jobs, officials said.

That’s because most county employees handle several different jobs on site, and different wage rates will apply depending on the job.

For example, the 40 county highway department workers affected by the law are paid anywhere from $29.02 to $38.80 an hour, depending on such things as their tenure, where they fall on the wage scale and insurance selection, Finance Director Andy Lamb said.

“In every case other than the kid who holds the signs and the person who drives the truck, the prevailing wage is higher than the county’s wage,” he said.

The prevailing wage for employees doing some of the most common jobs — grading, operating a backhoe or concrete grinder — is $46.65, Lamb said.

The prevailing wage for those operating an oiler, crusher or screener is $47.77 an hour, he said, and for general laborers is $34.79 an hour.

 Truck drivers operating single or double-axle vehicles must be paid a prevailing wage of $35.49 an hour, while those operating larger vehicles with three or more axles must be paid at least $24.35 an hour, Lamb said.   

The prevailing wage is reviewed and updated by the state once or twice a year, he added.

Workers will have to log how much time they spend on each duty so they are paid the prevailing wage for each job, Lamb said.

Even as the county complies with the law, it will continue to work with legislators to seek an exemption for intergovernmental work, Meaux said.

“All it’s doing is costing government and the taxpayers more,” he said. 


 

 
Port aldermen agree to borrow $6 million PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 31 March 2010 18:17

Money intended to pay for city’s share of Hwy. 33 project, other road work

Port Washington aldermen on Tuesday agreed to borrow a total of $6 million to finance road projects to be undertaken in the coming years.

The Common Council agreed to borrow $4 million this year to pay for its share of the Highway 33 reconstruction, the reconstruction of Division, Chestnut and South Wisconsin streets and work on Sunset Road and Portview Drive.

The city will borrow another $2 million in 2013 to pay for improvements to Holden, Milwaukee and Van Buren streets, aldermen agreed.

Aldermen rejected a proposal to borrow the same amount over three years, saying the city should take advantage of the historically low interest rates in effect now.

“Now’s the time to lock in those long-term rates,” said Carol Wirth, the city’s financial consultant and president of Wisconsin Public Finance Professionals.

Currently, long-term interest rates are about 3.7%, she said, a rate that in the past was typical for short-term loans.

The city’s interest rates could be even less, she said, because Moody’s is in the process of reviewing the bond ratings it has issued. The firm has said municipalities are likely to receive higher ratings because the risk of default is lower for government entities than private entities, she said.

“Hopefully that boils down to better news,” she said. “These are kind of exciting times.”

Ald. Tom Hudson, chairman of the Finance and License Committee, said the city decided against borrowing the full $6 million at once because of fears the Highway 33 project could be delayed by the state.

“If something takes priority, like the Zoo Interchange, we could be sitting with all this (borrowed) money and couldn’t spend it,” he said, noting the bonds that would be issued must be spent for the specific use the city lists.

The financing plan would allow the city to keep a stable debt service levy for the next 14 years, Hudson added.

Even after the $6 million borrowing, he said, the city will not be close to its borrowing limit.

“We’re in great shape that way,” he said, noting the city will be at 51% of its debt capacity.

The borrowings, however, do not include funds for the initial development of the coal dock or work on a senior center — projects that are expected to cost more than $1 million — or for a proposed downtown tax incremental financing district.

The city is unsure how much will be needed for these projects, officials said, noting some of the costs could be paid by grants.

Because the coal dock and senior center may be improvements to leased land, these notes will not be tax-exempt and must be borrowed separately, City Administrator Mark Grams said.

Those issued for the roadwork will be tax exempt, he said.

 
Port officials plan Grand Ave. facelift PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 24 March 2010 19:35

Commission reviews merchants’ proposal calling for addition of trees, benches and other changes to attract shoppers

Port Washington officials are planning to give East Grand Avenue in downtown a facelift this year, making the street as attractive an entrance to the shopping district as Franklin Street.

The facelift — one of many projects expected to be funded through a downtown tax incremental financing district and reviewed by the Plan Commission last week — was proposed by the Port Washington Main Street Program, and has long been sought by merchants whose shops line Grand Avenue.

“When you’re on Franklin Street, you feel like you’re in a really festive atmosphere,” Main Street Executive Director Sara Grover said. “Then you turn onto Grand Avenue and it changes completely. It’s especially noticeable during events.

“These changes will make it look more like a shopping district, with amenities that will cause people to pause and linger in the area.”

The project will add some of the same amenities as are found on Franklin Street — including trees, benches and bike racks. Instead of the decorative planters found on Franklin Street, brackets intended to hold hanging baskets will be fastened to light poles.
 
“We don’t have the space for large planters there,” Grover said. “I think it will give it a really nice punch.”

While the project will include sidewalk reconstruction between the Re/Max United office and the Pebble House that will make the walkway more level, the sidewalks along Grand Avenue won’t be rebuilt with pavers, officials said.

The work is expected to be kicked off this spring when the city plants 40 trees along not only along Grand Avenue east of Milwaukee Street but also on East Main and South Wisconsin streets, Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said.

Unlike the Franklin Street trees, he said, these will not be lit with twinkle lights.

Grover said shop owners instead will be asked to light any landscaping they might have.

The city is sympathetic to the merchants’ request, Vanden Noven said.

“We have a lot of successful businesses on Grand Avenue now and they want to feel included in the downtown district,” he said. “They feel they’re not getting as much attention as they deserve, and that people are not going down the street.”

Ultimately, the project will also include landscaping on East Grand Avenue between the Harborview Holiday Inn parking lot and the street, Vanden Noven said. However, he said, this work will not be done until at least 2011.

All of the Grand Avenue amenities may not may be put in place this year, Vanden Noven added. “It all depends on the TIF funding,” he said.

The financing district was originally proposed by the city last year, but officials delayed work to create it because of concerns about declining property assessments in the area.

Tax incremental financing districts use the taxes paid on the increasing value of properties within their boundaries to pay for public improvements, such as the Grand Avenue streetscaping, that benefit the area.

Among the projects expected to be funded through Port’s proposed downtown TIF district are improvements to area parking lots and alleys, signs directing people to city attractions, the conversion of Harborview Lane to a pedestrian way, some improvements to the coal dock property and a performance-based incentive program to lure developers to downtown.

Officials said the district could help promote downtown revitalization as potential developers see the community is willing to invest in the area.

“One thing our (financial) consultant is leery of is there are a lot of front-end costs proposed,” Planner Randy Tetzlaff told the Plan Commission last week. “There are a lot of things that need to be done.”

Commission member Earl Kelley noted that most of the proposed improvements will not directly affect developments downtown.

“Are we going to do the work first, then just sit back and wait for things to happen, or are we going to wait until we have somebody ready to do something downtown before we do the work?” he asked.

That decision is up to the Common Council, which has indicated that work needs to be done to “jump start” potential downtown redevelopment, Tetzlaff said.

 
City considers adding paramedic services PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 17 March 2010 18:22

Commission agrees to study feasibility of having Port become second county community to offer specialized care

The City of Port Washington could become the second Ozaukee County community to offer paramedic services.

The Police and Fire Commission on Monday agreed to study expanding the city’s ambulance service to include paramedic services  as soon as next year.

A paramedic program, currently offered only by the Village of Thiensville, could be largely self-supporting while increasing the service provided by the Port department to area residents, city officials said.

“It’s certainly an idea worth exploring,” commission member Gina Taucher said.

“It would bring us to the next level,” Commission Chairman Rick Nelson said in an interview Tuesday. “Right now, it makes a lot of sense for us to consider it.

“I think it’s perfect for the city. It’s awfully nice we’ve been able to call in Thiensville’s paramedic unit, but it would be great to have paramedics here, too. We would be able to handle the northern suburbs a lot easier than Thiensville.”

Fire Chief Mark Mitchell, who called Monday’s meeting a “very initial discussion,” said the time has come for the city to consider upgrading its emergency services to include paramedics.

“I think this is something the community would benefit from,” Mitchell said. “The paramedic program has proven itself since the 1970s. There is a demand for it.”

Last year, Mitchell said, the Port Washington ambulance called for aid from the Thiensville paramedics five times. Medical protocols dictate when the Thiensville paramedics are called to an emergency scene or to meet an ambulance en route to the hospital.

But the skills of a paramedic would have come in handy at other times as well, including times when a patient’s condition changes while on the way to the hospital, Mitchell said.

The Port Washington ambulance, like virtually all its counterparts in Ozaukee County, is certified as emergency medical technician-intermediate, one step below a paramedic unit.

Both EMTs and paramedics provide significant care for patients, but paramedics are able to conduct more advanced procedures and administer many more medications, including those for pain and cardiac care, Mitchell said.

Cardiac care is probably the area in which paramedics make the biggest difference, he said.

“We all know time is of the essence in these cases,” he said. “Right now, we’re basically limited to securing an airway, doing CPR and defibrillation if it’s indicated.”

Paramedics, who spend hours of training for cardiac cases, can also use medications to treat these patients, and that makes a big difference in their care, Mitchell said.

He predicted the cost of beginning a paramedic program in Port would be relatively minimal. The biggest cost in starting a program is generally the heart monitor/defibrillator, which Port already has, although  it would require a software upgrade for specific heart-pacing treatments.

Some of the medications that would be used may be expensive, but that cost would be reimbursed as the drugs are used, he said.

Staffing is often cited as a concern for departments, but Mitchell said, Port already has three EMTs who are certified paramedics and two others who are nearing the end of their training.

Even though these members have paramedic certification, they cannot operate as paramedics in Port because the ambulance service isn’t a paramedic program, he noted.

There are also a number of paramedics are looking for part-time employment to supplement their regular work on other ambulance services or who haven’t found a job in the field, Mitchell said, and Port could tap them to staff its program.

“We’ve got them knocking on our door, people looking for part-time employment. The availability of these people is incredible,” he said.

“I think we’re in a position where we could bring our level of service up and offer this.”

Staffing problems, a perennial concern for volunteer ambulance services, might actually be eased with a paramedic program, Mitchell added, because of the number of part-time people available.

Although the Thiensville department contracts with individuals to pay for their paramedic training in return for service, Mitchell said he does not think this would be necessary in Port — at least not initially.

If Port were to approve a paramedic program, Mitchell said, one paramedic and one EMT would likely be required on each ambulance run.

Although the Police and Fire Commission is expected to appoint a committee to study the potential for a paramedic program when it meets in April — a study that would likely include specific recommendations on how a program would operate — Mitchell said he envisions paramedics as paid, on-call volunteers, just as firefighters and EMTs are now.

Although the department’s policy has been to require EMTs to live in the city, nonresident paramedics could be hired with the understanding that they remain in the city while on call, Mitchell said. An area of the fire station could be modified to allow nonresident members a place to stay while on call.

A paramedic program must be approved by the state Department of Health, which requires round-the-clock coverage. When the Thiensville program began five years ago, it phased in this coverage, starting with six hours a day and working up to a full-time program over two years.

But Mitchell said with the current and anticipated staffing, the city may be able to provide round-the-clock coverage from the start.

“We might want to ease into it,” he said. “Or we may be able to start it up full-time. It just depends on availability.”

Although the department would pay the paramedics more than EMTs, that cost — as well as other costs for the program — would probably be recouped through increased fees for ambulance services, he added.

Next month, the commission will meet with LifeQuest, the private firm that handles billing and recommends fees for the city’s ambulance service, and discuss the possible economic impact of a paramedic program.

The paramedic study committee expected to be appointed in April would likely take a couple months to complete its study. Mitchell said a recommendation could come from the group as soon as June.

 
City to turn off half of Spring St. lights PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 10 March 2010 19:29

Citing residents’ complaints that road is too bright, Port officials agree to flip switch on 16 street poles

About half the streetlights on South Spring Street will be turned off temporarily later this year as Port Washington officials ponder whether to remove these lights from the area and relocate them to the coal dock.

“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback that it seems to be too bright there,” Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said.

He predicted that turning off the 16 lights would make that stretch of Spring Street from Portview Drive to Sunset Road a little dimmer than the stretch of road between Oakland Avenue and Portview Drive.

Right now, he said, the southern portion of the road is virtually twice as bright as the northern segment.

Last year, Vanden Noven proposed moving 16 streetlights from South Spring Street to the coal dock, where the city will need to install lights along the entrance drive and around a parking lot.

The city would have to pay to move the lights from Spring Street to the coal dock,  Vanden Noven said, adding he doesn’t know how much that would cost.

Since the city will pay to maintain the lights whether they are used on Spring Street or at the coal dock, the ongoing costs would be a wash, Vanden Noven said.

Reusing the streetlights is a viable — and green — way to light the coal dock, officials said.

“The coal dock has to be lit, so we’re not increasing our overall energy use. We’re just lighting more area at the same cost,” Ald. Mike Ehrlich, a member of the board, said.

The streetlights are owned by We Energies, and the utility said it would cost $640 to turn off the 16 lights, Vanden Noven noted.

If the city decides to turn them back on again after the trial, it would cost another $640, he added.

“When I think of all the years and all the changes in lights we’ve made, and the amount of negative feedback we’ve gotten — the lights are too bright or too dim — it would be worthwhile to run a test,” Board Chairman Tom Veale said.

“If we get a lot of ‘My gosh, I can’t find my way home,’ we light them again. If we get ‘Thank God it doesn’t look like a landing strip anymore,’ we’ll leave it.

“Personally, I think it’s great — we’ll save money, save some energy and lessen the landing-strip look.”

Even while the lights are turned off for the month-long trial, Vanden Noven said, the city will continue to pay roughly $20 a month to maintain and light them. That’s because the city has a contract requiring the payment.

Board members said it only makes sense to test the lighting by disabling half the Spring Street lights before taking final action. 

“We’ve had a lot of complaints about how bright it is, so it makes sense to show everyone what it will look like on Spring Street (if the lights are removed),” Ehrlich said.

The test is likely to be scheduled late this summer or early fall, when at least part of the entrance drive to the coal dock may be constructed, Vanden Noven said.

The Common Council will be asked to approve the test before it occurs.

 
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