Wausau committee approves increase in fire and police personnel
Wausau’s finance committee on Tuesday approved funding requests for new positions in the fire and police departments and gave a nod to other agenda items, including an amendment of the budget to cover the deficit of a street project.
The Finance Committee approved three entry-level firefighter/paramedic positions beginning July 1 after Fire Department Chief Robert Barteck requested immediate approval of the positions to be funded by American Rescue Plan funds Act (ARPA) for two and a half years. According to Barteck, the estimated total cost of funding the three firefighters/paramedics for the remainder of 2022-2024 is $771,000. City documents show the fire department has a shortfall of $501,000. The average annual expense for each firefighter is approximately $100,000 per year.
“These positions are critical to the survival of the fire department,” Barteck told the finance committee, in the absence of two members. The chief added that the community depended on them for emergencies and that the fire department was in desperate need of personnel for which he had made repeated requests.
Barteck pointed out that Wausau has not increased the fire department’s workforce since 1970. “Over the past 52 years, the volume of calls for service has tripled and the number of community safety responsibilities has increased dramatically. “, Barteck noted in his funding document. request.
The Wausau Fire Department has been approved to add 12 firefighters/paramedics and has applied for FEMA’s SAFER grant for nine of the positions. If the grant application is not approved, Barteck said he would revert to the finance committee to seek funding from 2023.
The finance committee also approved the Wausau Police Department’s request to approve funding for an unsworn community outreach specialist, two weeks after the city’s human resources committee gave its approval to the position. will serve as a liaison for the city’s homeless population.
The cost of the position, from July 1 of this year until 2026, is $450,000, with ARPA funds providing $140,000. Wausau will pay the balance.
The Community Outreach Specialist will address issues related to homelessness in the city and work with homeless people to help them connect with resources and shelter. According to presentations by Police Chief Benjamin Bliven at other committee meetings, the department has been inundated with calls from businesses and downtown residents about issues with the area’s homeless people. In his memo to the Finance Committee, Bliven said the position would satisfy a recommendation from the Wausau Policing Task Force that called for such a professional.
Michael Martens, vice chairman of the committee, called the investment a good use of ARPA funds and said the city would eventually absorb the position by 2024, when ARPA funds are expected to dry up. Member Sarah Watson said a partial funding approach for the position is a step in the right direction. Carol Lukens, another member, said she liked the unsworn, non-punitive nature of the position.
The finance committee also approved a budget change to address a shortfall in the Torney Avenue project. According to the city’s chief financial officer, the shortfall is estimated at $150,000 to $175,000 “due to rising construction costs and soaring fuel and oil prices.”
The committee also approved the continuation of its contract with the Weights and Measures Inspection Services of Wisconsin.
Another proposal the committee has given its approval to is the interlocal agreement between the City of Wausau and Marathon County for the 2021 Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program award. The Marathon County Police Department and Sheriff’s Department jointly apply annually to the federal government for a JAG grant. Before receiving funding, the governing bodies of Marathon County and the City of Wausau must approve grant acceptance, a WPD memo says. This year’s JAG grant is $13,848 and the two law enforcement agencies “agreed to re-spend the funds on digital forensic computer software used in cellphone processing.” “.
Next month, the Finance Committee will rank and evaluate five projects to consider for ARPA funding. Three are from the Department of Community Development, while three others are from the Department of Public Works and Utilities.