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Joint fire department considers funding

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Stacy Vogel
February 3, 2008
— Since the Milton Joint Fire Department formed 40 years ago, the city and town of Milton have split the costs 50-50.

Seems fair enough, but Gail Slepekis, town board supervisor and a member of the Milton Joint Fire Commission, isn’t so sure.


The city of Milton has grown much faster than the town in the last four decades. The city now holds 88 percent more people and 41 percent more equalized property value than the town, according to state estimates.


This year, city residents will pay $35.23 per person for fire services, while township residents will pay $66.33.


“That hardly seems … fair,” Slepekis said. “I just think this cost needs to be spread around more evenly than that.”


But even population and property value are too simplistic to use as “fair” measures of fire costs because the city and town use the department in different ways, Milton City Administrator Todd Schmidt said.


That’s why Schmidt and the fire commission, made of three representatives each from the town and city, are considering seeking professional assistance.


“It’s difficult to come up with an absolutely perfect, fair way to shared cost,” said Bryan Meyer, Milton town chairman and a member of the fire commission.


The commission is thinking about hiring a consultant to examine, among other issues, how the department should split costs between the city of Milton, the town of Milton and surrounding towns that use the department’s services.


Currently, the towns of Lima, Johnstown, Koshko-


nong and Harmony contract with the department for fire service, but some have complained the towns don’t contribute as much to the department as they use.


Fire department expenses became a major issue with the city and town of Milton in last fall’s budgeting cycle.


Chief Loren Lippincott requested a 46 percent increase for fire and EMS spending in 2008.


The commission eventually authorized a 21 percent increase, driving up costs to the city and town by $91,000 each.


Officials blame increasing costs on the department’s aging building and equipment. The department also has to work harder than ever before to recruit, train and retain firefighters; for example, it offered a 3.5 percent wage increase to members this year.


Department officials only expect expenses to increase in coming years, leaving the city and town looking for alternative methods of funding.


A private consultant could examine the 50-50 split, contracts with the surrounding towns and opportunities for other sources of revenue, Meyer said.


He or she would expand on the work of a citizen task force that released a report last spring documenting the need for more manpower and equipment.


Schmidt is currently researching the commission’s options for a consultant and estimates a study could run between $15,000 and $20,000. The commission still has to decide where the money would come from if it approves such a study this year.


The commission hopes to complete a study by the end of summer, Meyer said.


“My personal feeling is, that we will find that … the burden of having the services between the town and the city are close to 50-50,” he said. “But we should find out and know that.”


Considerations

Here are some things a consultant could take into consideration when deciding if the 50-50 split between the city and town of Milton for fire expenses is fair, according to local officials:


Population. The city of Milton holds 5,660 residents, while the town holds 3,006, according to Wisconsin Department of Administration estimates.


Equalized value. The city holds $355 million in equalized property value, compared to the town’s $251 million, according to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. But even these values must be examined carefully, City Administrator Todd Schmidt said.


For example, a greater share of the city’s property value is commercial and industrial properties, which have lower risks of fire, he said.


Area. The township comprises a larger area than the city, so the department has to travel farther to and from fires there.


Also, fires in the township are more likely to be grass fires or barn fires, which can take longer to put out, said Bryan Meyer, town chairman.


Emergency Medical Services. The city uses more EMS because there are more elderly residents concentrated in senior living centers and apartments there, Meyer said.



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