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Walworth town, village consider shared services

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Kayla Bunge
October 11, 2009

The town and village of Walworth hope to have a paid-on-premises fire and rescue service in place by the end of the year, officials said.


The municipalities for more than a month have been discussing a way to work together and better serve residents.


The villages of Fontana and Walworth had been discussing consolidation of services, including emergency services, as well as a paid-on-premises fire and rescue operation, but officials suspended those talks this summer after nearly two years of work brought them no closer to agreement.


The town of Walworth has picked up where the village of Fontana left off.


“If there’s going to be any consolidation, it should be between the town and the village,” said Walworth Town Board Supervisor Larry Austin. “We should be looking at ways we can work together.”


“It makes sense for (the village) to try to work on something in the Walworth area because that’s what (the village) has covered for so long,” said Walworth Village Board member Patrick Hubertz. “We’re very similar. … We’re trying to come up with reconfigured versions of the agreements we’ve had in place for the last 10 years or so.”


The town started discussing ways to improve its fire and rescue coverage this summer, when it notified the village that it would not renew its contract for next year, Austin said.


The town currently pays the village for emergency services—a monthly fee of $5,800 plus $400 per call for fire coverage and an annual fee of $17,500 for rescue coverage—a cost of about $90,000 a year, he said. The town also contributes an engine and a tanker, he said.


It’s not that the town was unhappy with its service from the village, it’s just that the town wants to evaluate its options, Austin said.


“We just want to make sure we have best service possible for the best price possible,” he said.


The town has been considering two options for fire and rescue coverage:


-- Dividing the township into quadrants and paying the villages of Williams Bay, Fontana and Walworth and the town of Delavan to cover the area closest to their departments.


-- Creating a paid-on-premises service with the village of Walworth.


The idea to split coverage among several departments gained approval from the neighboring municipalities, and it still remains an option, but the paid-on-premises effort quickly has gained momentum, Austin said.


Chris Severt, emergency services director in Walworth, said there aren’t enough volunteer firefighters or EMTs to efficiently respond to fire and rescue calls during peak hours.


There are 33 firefighters and 13 emergency medical technicians in the village. They responded to 233 calls in the village, 141 calls in the township and 57 mutual-aid calls in 2008. The majority of the calls came between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.


Under a paid-on-premises operation, a full-time staff member would supplement volunteer firefighters and EMTs, who would continue to respond to calls in the village and township.


The full-time emergency responder would staff the fire station in Walworth on weekdays during daytime hours to respond to calls. Another emergency responder also would be available for calls during peak times.


“We would have two people during the day all the time almost ready to immediately roll on calls,” Austin said. “We would be guaranteed coverage during daytime hours.”


The town and village are reworking a contract with Metro Paramedic Services of Elmhurst, Ill., originally drawn up for the villages of Fontana and Walworth when they were considering a paid-on-premises service.


The town and village also are discussing how to divide costs, Austin said.


“We’re trying to make it so … everybody pays their fair share,” he said.


Town and village officials hope to have the paid-on-premises operation up and running by Jan. 1.


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The villages of Fontana and Walworth for almost two years had discussed consolidating services in an effort to save money, but those talks stopped about a month ago.


Walworth Village President Todd Watters asked that the villages suspend their talks, which most recently centered on creating a paid-on-premises fire and rescue service for both villages.


“I have realized … we are no closer to a combination of emergency services or even agreement on the need for staffing solutions than we were two years ago,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Ad Hoc Joint Services Committee, which had been exploring consolidation.


Watters said he based his opinion on feedback from village board members and emergency services personnel, who had been a part of the discussions from the start.


“We were still trying to gain consensus and any sort of traction on some very fundamental concepts that I presumed had been taken care of many, many months before,” he said.


With regard to emergency services, the committee had been talking about short-term and long-term solutions to concerns about the dwindling pool and reduced availability of volunteer responders. The short-term solution was to create a paid-on-premises fire and rescue service. The long-term solutions included consolidation of fire and rescue services.


Walworth officials felt their village’s staffing needs were great, and they since have started talking with town of Walworth officials about solutions. Fontana officials felt their village’s needs were not so great.


Fontana Village President Arvid “Pete” Peterson, who serves on the committee, said he understands why Walworth put the talks on hold.


“It was obvious there were other issues that needed to be dealt with, and it was probably the right thing for them to do to get their ducks in a row,” he said.


Fontana Village Board member Micki O’Connell said she is “disappointed” the talks have been put on hold.


“I think it’s something that should be continued … because I think that’s (sharing services) the wave of the future,” she said. “It makes sense to save money. It makes sense to work together.”


O’Connell said she is uncertain whether the committee had made progress in its almost two years of discussion.


“Open conversation is always good. Exchange of ideas is always good,” she said. “Did we make much progress? I don’t know.”


Watters said the committee easily will be able to pick up where it left off. Walworth and Fontana long have worked together on big projects, he said.


“This isn’t a severing of the ties by any stretch,” he said.



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