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Mayoral candidates discuss budgeting, communication

March 11, 2014

Both candidates for mayor, incumbent Steven Ponto and former mayor Jeff Speaker, are hoping to repeat what Brookfield accomplished in its most recent budget: the lowest levy increase in decades at .44 percent. But they bring some different ideas to the table on how to accomplish that.

Saving money

Looking to improve services while holding taxes steady, both candidates emphasized the need to look for opportunities to share services with other communities, with the Fire Department allowing several opportunities for that. Firefighters already use the Wauwatosa department's training facility and have an agreement with New Berlin that the closest department will respond to calls from either community.

Speaker suggested sharing services to a much greater degree with other departments, possibly through a consolidation similar to the North Shore Fire Department, although he thought it should not be a separate taxing entity.

"I've always felt it's been kind of foolish to have so many different dispatches, police departments and fire departments," Speaker said. "I continue to think that's the area we probably have to look. That means each government has to be willing to give up a little bit of control."

Ponto pointed out another opportunity for sharing.

"We have an incredible vehicle maintenance facility," Ponto said. "We're looking at the possibility of us maintaining the school districts' vehicles. We're very interested in cooperating with the school district, and I've really tried to foster that."

In addition to sharing services, Ponto said he thought the city could save some money in the police contract, which expires at the end of this year. Currently, he said all city employees contribute to their pensions except for those in the police department.

"We want to be very fair, but I think it is fair that everyone make the pension contribution," he said.

Speaker did not say whether he would push police to contribute to their pensions.

"With the health care costs growing, we would have to look at controlling costs," Speaker said. "Am I sold on making pension contributions? I feel that we have to look at the total package being offered. I don't know where I'm coming out on that, but I do believe it's got to be worked on with the unions."

Opening doors

Ponto said he thought the city could save more money by using newer technology for communication. For example, he has heard from other mayors that have had residents send in GPS-located photos of road problems taken with smartphones and relayed to public works departments.

"One of the things I'm thinking of is increasingly using technology in terms of an interface with residents so that we can be more accessible without involving more staff," Ponto said. "I think we are entering a period of incredible opportunities to interact and communicate with one another."

Already, Ponto said he uses many tools to communicate with residents, including email, LinkedIn and Facebook. If given another term, he said he is considering sending out a weekly email to interested residents giving his perspective on what has happened that week and what is coming up.

Speaker said he would like to meet with residents face-to-face as much as possible.

"When I was mayor, when residents called to get ahold of me, they got ahold of me. They didn't have to make an appointment," Speaker said. "A lot of times they would see me within City Hall or Pick 'n Save, and they felt comfortable enough to come up to me."

Although he said he might look at using more social media, Speaker said he prefers direct conversation. He said he is considering holding meetings in various neighborhoods to hear people's concerns directly.

"I believe the responsibility of leadership is to be out with the people, listening to their concerns," Speaker said. " I think that's the cornerstone of good government."

Hear it for yourself

Upcoming mayoral forums:

·7-8 p.m. March 13 at the City of Brookfield Safety Building, 2100 N. Calhoun Road. Hosted by the Greater Brookfield Chamber of Commerce. Submit questions in advance by emailing carol@brookfieldchamber.com with the subject line, "FORUM."

·7-9 p.m. March 19 at Swanson Elementary School, 305 N Calhoun Road. Hosted by the Concerned Calhoun Community. Questions from the audience will be accepted in the last half-hour of the forum.

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