Brookfield leaders may use 2011 surplus for siren upgrade

BROOKFIELD -- The federal government is forcing cities to upgrade their tornado sirens by the end of the year. City leaders in Brookfield are worried about the cost, and thought about getting rid of the sirens entirely, until citizens expressed concern.

Spending a beautiful afternoon Tuesday in a Brookfield park, Melissa Bichanich wasn't worried about the weather. However, she knows families in the South are still cleaning up after a series of tornadoes ravaged their cities. "My heart goes out to those people, and it's pure devastation. It just comes to show how dangerous it can be, and how we need those signals. We need that time," Bichanich said.

Bichanich says Brookfield needs the tornado sirens, and she's not alone.

Brookfield's finance director says the city would need to spend $100,000 to upgrade its 11 sirens.

Dale Moeller, whose Milwaukee company, American Signal Corp., makes tornado sirens, says he understands why city leaders debated whether it was worth it. "When the federal government puts down a mandate to change systems and upgrade systems without providing any type of additional funding for smaller communities to be able to do that, it makes it tough," Moeller said.

The federal mandate requires city systems to switch frequencies from a wide-band system to a narrow-band one. Those frequencies are how emergency sirens are activated. But Moeller says if a city can afford the upgrade, the city should do it. "For wide-area notification, trying to get as much notification out as possible in the soonest amount of time, sirens are the fastest way to do that," Moeller said.

Brookfield can afford the upgrade - the money would come from a 2011 surplus.

Bichanich says she hopes the Brookfield Common Council makes it happen. "I think there's not money or a pricetag on the safety of our family," Bichanich said.

FOX6's media partners at the Brookfield Patch reported that Brookfield aldermen voted unanimously Tuesday to possibly use the surplus for the siren upgrades, and says the city will continue to review the issue.

If approved, Brookfield Mayor Steve Ponto says the Common Council would vote again later this spring to spend the money on the siren upgrade.