The optimist in us believes Milton will have a breakthrough and finally move forward on building a new fire station.
The city and town of Milton and the fire department they share have been wrestling with this project for years, and while there’s widespread agreement on the need for a new station, there’s disagreement over the details. We hope a newly-formed committee tasked with studying this issue takes a long-term view, particularly regarding Milton’s relationship with the Janesville Fire Department.
The Milton and Janesville fire departments say they don’t plan to merge, but sharing a station is the logical next step after the communities entered a shared-services agreement last year. It put Janesville Fire Chief Randy Banker in charge of the Milton Fire Department.
Being mainly a volunteer department, Milton faces several challenges, making a go-it-alone approach no longer viable. We’ve editorialized previously about other Rock County volunteer departments struggling to fill vacancies, and we have advised them to consider consolidations as a way to reduce costs. Regionalization is public safety’s future, though many rural departments have been slow to act.
Some towns will resist joining larger entities, and town of Milton officials might fear Janesville is encroaching on their territory. But a prideful defense of municipal boundaries would limit the region’s ability to adapt and address staffing shortages.
Every joint operation involves sacrifices and trade-offs. In particular, this new subcommittee should seriously consider locating a shared station on Janesville’s north end, where the two communities are experiencing most of their population growth. Response times should be a major part of any calculation to siting a new station, and building one on Janesville’s north end would likely serve the largest number of people at the lowest possible cost. Of course, residents on Milton’s north side probably would prefer a new station near them.
But if a new station were to be built in northern Milton, the Janesville Fire Department would have less incentive to contribute financially to the station’s construction or play a role in its operation. As soon as possible, the committee should come to a consensus on the scope of Janesville’s role in a new station, largely to avoid any misunderstandings that could delay—once again—progress on a new station.
Like it or not, fire protection services are destined to become more regional, and the Janesville Fire Department can help secure and sustain fire protection for the Milton area. For this reason, Janesville deserves a say in any decision or recommendation made about a new station. Milton will benefit by planning for a future in which the two communities work together even more closely than they do today.