Trustee calls for GFD salary increases

Harbeck says she won’t vote to approve 2021 budget unless fire and division chiefs receive overdue pay hikes
Ozaukee Press Staff

Trustee Lisa Harbeck said she will not vote to approve the Village of Grafton’s proposed 2021 budget if Fire Chief Bill Rice and Division Chief Matthew Karpinski don’t receive salary increases. 

“That’s not acceptable to me. I feel like the Public Safety Committee wasn’t listened to,” Harbeck, who is chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said during Monday’s public hearing on the budget. 

“I will be voting no for this reason. I don’t like how it happened.” 

Harbeck said there have been several Public Safety meetings since August during which the committee has recommended wage increases, but the recommendations  were never followed up at either Finance Committee or Village Board levels.    

Rice and Karpinski are seeking a total wage increase of about $9,700 between them. Rice’s annual salary is $95,570, and Karpinski earns $79,209. 

Harbeck said the wage increase is feasible because the fire department is expected to earn about $9,300 in additional revenue next year, the result of an expected trend of 100 additional calls, an increase in charges for the rescue squad and the department’s administrative assistance with the Saukville Fire Department.

During last month’s Committee of a Whole budget meeting, Rice voiced his concern that his salary is below the average of other chiefs in area departments. 

“I was told four years ago my pay grade was not right and it was going to be fixed. I was told three years ago the pay grade isn’t right and it’s going to be fixed,” Rice said. 

Village Administrator Jesse Thyes said the salary increases were not included in the 2021 budget because the department’s fund balance has a deficit.

“I was not comfortable with programming fund balance to address wage issues because that is unsustainable,” Thyes said. 

Harbeck said the fire department has increased its revenue every year in the last four years.

Harbeck also said other departments don’t make a profit, including the Grafton Family Aquatic Center and Grafton Public Library.

“To hear that this one department, the administration is saying ‘Guess what? You can’t get a raise until you can prove and show that you can make money to cover your raise,” she said.

Last month, however, the board approved increasing hourly wages for volunteer department members and adding overtime pay for the three full-time firefighters. 

Village President Jim Brunnquell said he has made a commitment to address the wage issue.

“We’ve made that commitment to the fire department, and we will take steps to address any personnel issues as they come up. We need to create a funding mechanism, and as soon as the Village Board approves that, it will be in place,” he said.

One potential funding mechanism is a proposal that the Grafton Police Department lease its vehicles with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, with some of the savings going to the fire department. The Finance Committee on Monday recommended approving that lease agreement, and the Village Board is expected to take action at its Nov. 16 meeting.

During the budget hearing, Thyes said the tax rate will be $6.22 per $1,000 of assessed property value, which is a decrease of $1.11, or 15.1%, from last year.

He said the decrease in the tax rate is primarily due to village’s revaluation, which increased the average property value by 22%. That means the owner of $250,000 house will pay $67 less in taxes than in 2020.

The village’s assessed property value is $1.3 billion. 

Thyes said the 2021 budget calls of expenditures totaling $26.36 million, a decrease of about $1.23 million, or 4.49%, from 2020.

The Village Board is scheduled to approve the budget at its 6 p.m. meeting Monday, Nov. 16.



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