Janesville59.3°

Fire study to continue task force’s work

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Stacy Vogel
May 25, 2008
— Sometimes you know just enough to know how much you don’t know.

That’s what happened with the task force of police and fire officials and residents who last year evaluated the needs of the Milton Joint Fire Department, Chief Loren Lippincott said.


The 10-member task force offered short-term suggestions to address financial, equipment and staffing problems, but members of the task force weren’t comfortable looking long-term, he said.


“As the task force, they didn’t feel that comfortable in thinking that far out just simply because they didn’t have the expertise,” he said.


Instead, the group recommended the fire commission hire a consultant to develop a strategic plan for the department.


The commission took up the task force on its suggestion Wednesday, approving a $21,500 study from Virchow Krause to look at funding, staffing, leadership, equipment and resources.


The city and town of Milton will split the cost.


The future of the fire department has been a hot issue in Milton since the task force released its report last May. The task force identified problems facing the department such as:


-- A shortage of volunteers.


-- Trouble retaining volunteers.


-- Aging equipment and station.


-- Financial shortages and a possibly outdated funding structure.


Much of the talk at the report’s release centered around Lippincott’s suggestion to convert the department into a professional department with 12 full-time staff members by 2011.


The task force didn’t endorse Lippincott’s suggestion, but it did make a few of its own. Some suggestions—such as increasing the contractual fees with the towns of Harmony, Johnstown, Lima and Koshkonong and a wage increase for firefighters—were adopted in the 2008 budget.


Other suggestions, such as creation of a vehicle replacement fund, were considered but not adopted.


But the department needs advice from a professional consultant familiar with many fire departments, commission member David Adams said.


“It’s good to have an outside firm like this with expertise in the area do a study like this,” he said. “It’ll show us things that folks that are close to it might not see.”


Lippincott hopes the study gives the department direction on whether it should build a new station and whether it should transition to a professional department.


It will examine the department’s funding, which includes contractual fees from surrounding towns, user fees and a 50-50 split of new costs between the town and city of Milton. Some Milton town supervisors have questioned the 50-50 split, saying it’s not fair that the town, with a smaller population and less property value, pays the same amount as the city.


“From the description in the proposal, (the study) is going to look at everything from the organizational structure to the fire commission itself and whether the six-member fire commission is the way to go,” Adams said. “It’s going to look at funding and just about every aspect of the organization.”


The consultants might consider ideas the fire commission has never even thought of, such as sharing equipment and staff with other local departments, Lippincott said.


“I don’t think there’s any one municipality that isn’t immune from our problems these days,” he said. “I think that’s something we may need to look at is a more regional approach.”



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