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Wauwatosa looks for safe way to run crossing guard program

Liability adds risk to in-house option

Dec. 17, 2013

In exploring ways to cut costs in the crossing guard program, the city is considering operating the program itself

With the city paying a private contractor $16.31 per hour per guard, and the guards themselves making from $8 to $10 an hour, there would seem to be plenty of room for savings.

But working as a crossing guard is a dangerous occupation. A single injury to a crossing guard could wipe out any savings a city-operated system might provide, City Finance Director John Ruggini reminded members of the Traffic and Safety Committee last week.

"If you bring it in-house, you bring the bring the risk in-house," Ruggini said.

The city is self-insured up to $500,000 per incident for workers compensation, said City Attorney Alan Kesner.

Careful consideration

Alderman Jeff Roznowski, a member of the ad hoc crossing guard committee, said the liability issue could change the discussion.

"It's an important factor that we have to consider very, very seriously, because I think you need to balance the yearly expense savings that we're projecting with the potential liability," Roznowski said.

Roznowski said savings in a city-operated system might amount to $25,000 — nearly insignificant next to a potential out-of-pocket cost of half a million dollars in the case of an injury.

"We need to think through that further, which is what we'll be doing over the next several weeks," Roznowski said.

Roznwoski said one of the committee's assumptions in arriving at the $25,000 figure was a raise in pay for the guards to $12 an hour. Additional costs to the city would include a quarter-time position to administrate the program, possibly some legal time, and administrative time hiring guards, Roznowski said.

More to learn

Roznowski said there may be other kinds of insurance the city can explore for the program. "We just made a cursory look with our current insurer," he said. "Maybe there's other insurers, maybe there's other kinds of policies."

Roznwoski and Alderman Bobby Pantuso suggested that perhaps the Wauwatosa School District has a policy that would work better. Under such a plan, the city would reimburse the district for costs of running the program.

School Superintendent Phil Ertl said he had not heard about this.

In fact, a quick review of state laws seems to suggest it's up to the city, not the schools.

One statute in particular gives the power of establishing crossing guard programs to municipalities.

"The governing body of any city, village, town or county may by ordinance provide for the appointment of adult school crossing guards for the protection of persons who are crossing a highway in the vicinity of a school," it states.

Alderman Dennis McBride, a member of Traffic and Safety Committee, said he was "a strong skeptic of bringing it in-house."

This issue will likely come back to the Traffic and Safety Committee in the spring.

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