Fire Chiefs, County Officials Fight Over Fees

Chiefs object to software license fees for dispatch center

KELLY SMITH,Lake Country Reporter (Hartland, WI), Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin)

City of Delafield – An angry Delafield alderman has demanded an apology from Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas for the conduct of one his department directors during a debate between county officials and local fire chiefs over the fees the county plans to charge the local departments for computer software licenses.

Alderman Gerald Mac-Dougall said last week that Richard Tuma, Waukesha County director of emergency preparedness, laughed at the local fire chiefs and told them he did not work for them when the chiefs objected to the fees.

MacDougall, who also serves on the governing board of the Lake Country Fire and Rescue, said the incident occurred during a meeting between fire chiefs and county officials on June 13.

“He may laugh at our firefighters and tell them he doesn’t work for them, but he does work for us, and the firefighters are ours,” Mac-Dougall said in a prepared statement to the Delafield Common Council.

“At least his boss should be working for us. The organizational chart shows Mr. Tuma reporting to Dan Vrakas, and I know I voted for Dan. So I hold him responsible for Mr. Tuma’s behavior, and I expect an apology to be made for the way our firefighters were treated,” MacDougall concluded.

In an interview with Lake Country Publications, Tuma denied that he was laughing at the fire chiefs during the meeting. At one point in the meeting, he said, he told the chiefs he did not work for the Waukesha County Fire Association because the association represents departments that are not members of the Waukesha County Central Communications system.

“I was smiling at another individual in the room because we had a similar discussion about the same topic earlier,” he added.

County Administrator Norm Cummings, who attended the meeting, said he did not recall Tuma laughing at the fire chiefs or suggesting he did not work for them.

“If he would have done something like that, I would have talked to him about it. That is not how we do business.

But I didn’t hear anything like that,” Cummings told Lake Country Publications.

However, Jack Edwards of Lake Country Fire and Rescue and Corky Curtis of Sussex confirmed MacDougall’s account of the meeting.

Town of Lisbon Fire Chief Doug Brahm, who is president of the county fire chief’s association, said he is drafting a letter to Vrakas and members of the Waukesha County Board objecting to the fees and suggesting that paying for the software licenses should be the county’s responsibility, not the local fire departments.

The licensing fees are for software that will improve communications between the county’s communication center and the individual fire departments, according to officials. The amount of fees will vary for each department.

Brahm pointed out that some smaller departments in Lake Country have limited budgets and rely on all volunteer firefighters and might not be able to afford even a small annual fee to license software.

Brahm emphasized that he hoped future discussions on the issue would focus on the fees rather than the personalities involved. Cummings said the fees being assessed to the local fire departments are justified because they represent a portion of the costs county government has to pay for the new program software. He said county taxpayers should not be required to bear all of the cost because the software is optional equipment not used by all of the departments.

In addition, he said, the fire chiefs should have known there would be fees associated with the software because a similar program has been used for years by local police departments. He said that municipalities share in the cost for the police software with the county.

He said the fees will not be imposed until 2013.

Edwards responded that some of the larger departments like Lake Country Fire and Rescue and the Pewaukee Fire Department have made sizable investments over the past several years to purchase equipment that would enable the department to implement the new program. He said some departments might have made different plans and different purchases if they had known in advance they would be charged a licensing fee.

“I know some people may not think that $5,600 is a lot of money for Lake Country Fire and Rescue. But that is $5,600 every year, and we are not sure where the fees will go from here. It is one more expense that we have to pay for,” he added.

MacDougall said the Lake Country Fire Board may decide not to the pay the fees. He also suggested that Lake Country Fire and Rescue and other departments might consider withdrawing from the county dispatch program. Cummings said county officials were not able to tell the local departments how much they would have to pay in fees because negotiations with the company providing the software had only recently been completed. Cummings added that county taxpayers are already paying for the multimillion dollar dispatch center and for more than half the cost of the computer software license fees.

A spokesman for Vrakas said the county executive valued the partnership between the county and Lake Country Fire and Rescue. However, both the county and the municipality have budget constraints and Vrakas thinks the municipality should share the licensing costs with the county since the municipalities have the option of whether or not to use the software.

“I know some people may not think that $5,600 is a lot of money for Lake Country Fire and Rescue. But that is $5,600 every year, and we are not sure where the fees will go from here.” Jack Edwards, on county software fee.

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