July 2, 2008

Airport Police Shift Proposed; Cost-Cutting Plan Replaces Deputies, Outsources Services


Law enforcement at Mitchell International Airport now provided by 51 Milwaukee County sheriff's deputies could shift to a mix of city police and a private security firm, under a proposal unveiled Tuesday.

The move was suggested along with potential outsourcing of airport fire and emergency services, as part of the airport's 2009 budget request. The airport would solicit bids on all three services next year, said George Torres, the county's director of Transportation and Public Works, in a presentation to County Executive Scott Walker.

Bidding out law enforcement for the airport would trim costs, Torres said. Because the airport operates without any tax levy, the savings would not directly impact the county's finances but could cut airport expenses and fees charged to airlines.

Seeking competitive bids for airport security could cut an estimated $750,000 from the $7.3 million cost of providing the service, said Airport Director C. Barry Bateman. The overall airport budget request for next year is $75.1 million.

The savings would come from reducing the number of airport deputies or police officers from 51 to 36 and adding seven private security workers, Bateman said.

Other local law enforcement agencies -- such as the Milwaukee or Oak Creek police departments -- could submit bids along with the Sheriff's Department for the 36 sworn officers.

Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. said he had not been briefed on the plan. He said he didn't want to get into a bidding war with the city over airport law enforcement.

"I'm not bidding for that," Clarke said. "What the heck is this?"

The move could wind up costing taxpayers more money because the deputies now assigned to airport duty have their salaries and benefits paid by the airport, Clarke said. If his airport deputies were transferred to other duty, their costs would have to be picked up by county taxpayers, he said.

Walker didn't comment on the airport plan during a budget briefing, but he has advocated privatization of county services.

Torres did not list potential savings from outsourcing fire fighting and emergency services. The airport has 20 firefighters, who are county employees.

The airport outsourcing is just one of several examples being recommended by various county departments in response to a Walker budget directive. Walker will formally unveil his 2009 county budget in September.

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