Cuts to firefighters, but Barrett still moves ahead with his streetcar

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett presented his 2012 city budget to the common council and it has a major cut in services to fill a hole shared revenues cut at the state level.

Up to 12 firefighter positions will be eliminated from the Milwaukee Fire Department and station brown outs will increase from two each week to four. Brown outs are not permanent closures of fire stations in Milwaukee neighborhoods; instead they are temporary and rolling in an effort to save funds.

The Milwaukee Firefighters Union is upset by the prospect of more cuts and reductions in services, saying the mayor is putting citizens at risk by reducing manpower and increasing response times to calls for help.

But Barrett’s pet project, the 2-mile trolley loop from the Intermodal Station to East Town is still a go, even though a Public Service Commission report released Monday said moving the utility lines under the proposed route will cost between $50 to $70 million.  And that cost will need to be bourne by the taxpayers of the city.

State Sen. Van Wanggard requested a study by the PSC to determine if WE Energies or AT&T customers will have to pay for the utility line movement. The report clearly said no.

Why? Because Barrett’s streetcar is not a public necessity according to the PSC.

In their letter, the PSC states, “At this time, it does not appear that the City has identified an ‘adequate health, safety or public welfare justification’ for the Streetcar Project and therefore the utility (and its ratepayers) would not be obligated to pay for it. Rather, the project appears to be proposed by the City in it ‘proprietary’ capacity and not in the exercise of its police powers and the costs should likely be borne by the City.”

What does that mean?  Until the city can prove that this 2 mile streetcar is necessary to provide relief for a health, safety or public welfare threat, property tax payers in Milwaukee would be in the hook for the costs to move the utilities lines.  Those of us who live in the ‘burbs or other areas serviced by WE Energies and AT&T would not see rate increases to cover that expenditure.

Before any streetcar supporters can say, you’re correct, the $66 million that the initial streetcar construction would cost, could not be shifted to pay for firefighters or any other city service. Those dollars were earmarked almost 20 years ago for public transportation by the federal government.

However, the $50 to $70 million cost determined by the PSC to move the utilities lines is money that could either stay in the pockets of taxpayers to improve their own homes, purchase goods or simply save. It could even go to pay for restoring fire fighters and keeping stations open, which definitely could be proven to service the ‘adequate health, safety or public welfare’ of the community.

I know Barrett really likes the streetcar. But the citizens of Milwaukee shouldn’t have to indulge his desire to have a train set to play with at the expense of fire fighting or other city services.

If you needed another reason to oppose the streetcar, here it is.

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One thought on “Cuts to firefighters, but Barrett still moves ahead with his streetcar

  1. @Patti This article is complete misleading. The fire department has been cut in just about every single Barrett budget over the years. Yes before there was a streetcar project. Why? Because the biggest expense in the City of Milwaukee is? MPD then MFD. Pensions and healthcare.

    Besides this in for this years budget. The streetcar funds you are talking about, (supposing the city decided to spend the extra 50-70 which it hasn’t) aren’t part of this budget, in fact they don’t exist.

    As far as the PSC letter, the City is not moving forward to spend an additional 50-70 million on the project, and you should know that (I believe you covered the story). In fact what was passed by the Common Council specifically limited this possibility.

    Patti you can do better than this.

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