The city of Milton and four other municipalities announced Monday they intend to formally pursue joining the Edgerton Fire Protection District.
Milton, as well as the towns of Milton, Harmony, Johnstown and Lima, will join Edgerton’s existing district, which already includes that city and the surrounding townships of Albion, Fulton, Porter and Sumner.
“It is the best option for our communities,” said Milton Mayor Anissa Welch at a press conference at the Milton/Milton Township Fire Station.
This is the result of “extensive research and discussions,” which led to the unanimous decision to petition Edgerton for an intergovernmental agreement, she said.
Within the agreement, the five municipalities developed a funding model for two new fire stations to serve both the east and west sides of Milton.
Joined by representatives of the four other members of the joint fire commission, the partnership will take a “regional approach” to best meet the needs of residents in the cities and towns, Welch said.
“We thank all the elected officials, and the staff in all the jurisdictions, for their hard work over the last 18 months,” she said.
Since the start of the new year, Milton has effectively been without a fire district, as its partnership with Janesville expired Dec. 31 and the city opted to not renew its contract with Janesville’s fire district. While services will go uninterrupted during this transitional phase under state statute assuring mutual aid in emergencies, Milton is in the process of joining the Edgerton fire district with the towns.
The decision was a result of increasing demand for services as well as limited staffing and the increasing cost of remaining with Janesville. In 2020, substantial increases to fire protection service costs, having little input in equipment and construction decisions, and concerns over staffing made the relationship with Janesville unsustainable, officials said.
And because Janesville’s fire district covered only 20% of the town of Harmony, Town President Jeff Klenz said it was time to change.
“We started to pay more attention to this issue, get more involved with Milton fire commission meetings and looked into starting our own fire department,” he said.
Bryan Meyer, town of Milton chairman and Joint Fire Commission member, said the five municipalities considered several options including merging, consolidating and sharing services before settling on joining Edgerton’s fire district.
The city of Milton Common Council picked a consulting firm to help it draft and promote a referendum question concerning future fire and emergency medical services operations.
The inclusion of the city and town of Milton and the three other townships would create expand the Edgerton fire district from 100 square miles to 220 square miles and create the need for an additional 28 full-time jobs.
The new arrangement should result in quicker response times by fire and EMS personnel.
“We believe the two stations’ [response time] will be quite a bit better. That’s what helped us make our decision,” Klenz said.
The next step in the process is for Milton and the townships to officially present their petition to join the Edgerton Fire Protection District Board on Wednesday. The board will then take the next few months to make a decision.
It remains unclear what the total cost services will be, though Meyer said the group’s data collection is expected to determine the figures.
“We don’t have final numbers yet, but we have a process in mind and how to collect and divide the data that will be available in the near future,” he said.
Milton’s fire protection agreement with the city of Janesville is set to expire Friday—effectively leaving Milton without an affiliated fire district for up to a year.
In the meantime, Milton is finalizing a contract with Mueller Communications to prepare a referendum to put before voters asking them to help pay for the new emergency services arrangement.
Milton City Manager Al Hulick said city officials will meet with the consultants on Jan. 20 to work out the scope of their services. The Milton Common Council will discuss a contract with the firm atan upcoming meeting.
“Our hope is to have it on the Feb. 1 agenda,” Hulick said.
The referendum is expected to be on the ballot toward the end of the year and, if approved by voters, services would begin in early 2023.
Three motions pertaining to COVID-19 protocols in the Milton School District passed at a Milton School Board meeting Monday night.
The first motion to implement new isolation and quarantine protocols, effective Tuesday, passed on a 5-2 vote. In a memo to the school board, Superintendent Rich Dahman spoke on the federal Centers for Disease Controal and Prevention’s updated COVID-19 guidance for isolation that changed the isolation period from 10 to five days. After discussion with the Rock County Public Health Department, the district worked to come up with a motion that incorporates the new recommendation, Dahman’s memo said. Board members Leslie Hubert and Jennifer Johns voted no.
Under the second motion that passed 6-1, the district will continue all other safety protocols that are currently in place, including universal masking at all district facilities and events. Hubert was the lone no vote on that motion.
The third was to adopt new safety protocol metrics as presented to the board at the meeting. This motion was the focus of most discussion during the meeting. Many board members, including Hubert, Johns and Joe Martin, disagreed with one of the three metrics that must be met to review safety protocols regarding COVID-19.
Janesville, Milton school districts could change COVID-19 isolation times sometime within the next week
The Janesville and Milton school districts have so far held off on making any wholesale changes to their COVID-19 isolation policies for teachers and students, but it appears both districts could reduce their current 10-day isolation requirement for infected individuals to a provisional five-day quarantine within a week or so.
The first metric is active positive COVID-19 cases among school district residents. The data will be reviewed every Thursday, and if the number of active positive COVID-19 cases drops below 125 or 175 for two consecutive weeks, the district will review the protocols in place.
As of Thursday, Jan. 6, there are 206.74 positive cases per 10,000 residents.
The second metric is regarding the active positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff in Milton schools. When or if the number of active positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff drops below 50 or rises above 100 for two consecutive weeks, the district will review its safety protocols.
The last safety protocol metric involves tracking COVID-19 vaccination rates among school-aged residents. When and if COVID-19 vaccination rates meet certain thresholds, the district will review safety protocols that are in place for the whole district.
This metric was one that Hubert, Johns and Martin did not agree with.
As of Friday, Jan. 7, 33.9% of children age 5 to 11, were vaccinated. To review district protocols, the percentage of fully vaccinated kids of those ages would have to be at least 50%. In students age 12 to 14, 58.2% are vaccinated as of Jan. 7; the percentage would have to reach 70% in order to trigger a review. Lastly, the vaccination rate among 15- to 18-year-old students was 77.2%. The level to reach a districtwide review in this age group is 90%.
Dahman reiterated that only one of the metrics would need to be met in order to be reviewed.
“You went from the possibility of recommending mask choice to now you’re putting metrics on us to now you’re putting metrics on us with the ability to even discuss the issue,” Hubert said. “This is an ongoing issue. You’ve said it multiple times yourself. So why are we limilted the number of times that we can discuss this or the number of opportunities that we have discussed this?”
The meeting was a full house, and 10 residents spoke during public comment.
The majority of speakers talked about being for a mask choice policy and how the current school board has ultimately disappointed them with their leadership.
One speaker spoke about the frustration when one district school, Northside Intermediate, recently shut down and how she had to have her teenage daughter stay home that day to watch her younger sibling and supervise the younger child’s virtual schoolwork.
Another speaker accused Dahman of creating a vaccine mandate and referenced the safety protocol metric that tracks COVID-19 vaccination status.
Only one of the 10 who spoke Monday night voiced support for universal masking and said it is not the time “to remove a crucial layer of our mitigations.”
One speaker, Mike Miller, specifically mentioned Dahman during his remarks. Miller criticized the school board for allowing the superintendent to be the deciding factor in many decisions and criticized his previous work as superintendent in other districts.
School board President Michael Hoffman told Miller during his time that he “was just on the edge of disrespect.”
Dorothy Lombard Chambers
John A. Eccles Jr.
Kim L. Elfers-Ryder
Anthony G. “Tony” Grant
Brayden Eric Holmquist
Gerald K. Lueck
John P. Purdy
Karen (Anderson) Wiedman
When the ink dries on a change that most of the Janesville city council agreed to Monday, a local gas station will be allowed to sell beer and liquor by the-can—just like the 27 other liquor stores in Janesville that are allowed to do so.
The council on a 5-2 vote Monday ditched a restriction on single-container sales of alcohol that the city’s Alcohol License Advisory Committee and an earlier city council wrote into a class A retail liquor license for east-side gas station J&R Express Mart in late 2020.
The move came after J&R last week asked the advisory committee to overturn the restriction, but the liquor board deadlocked on a 3-3 vote on the issue and failed to give the council a decisive recommendation on whether to change the rule.
Paul Williams, a city council member who also is the chairman of the committee, dug in against the change even as his colleague and another member of the city’s liquor board, city council Vice President Paul Benson, recommended the council toss out the restriction.
Williams and council member Michael Jackson cast the lone votes against the change, with both saying they believe the city should maintain its right to set individual restrictions on liquor license holders in the interest of public safety.
J&R is located at 650 Midland Road, just off Interstate 90/39 on the city’s east side.
Jackson, a former minister and operator of a private ambulance service, and Williams, a former tow truck operator, have both opposed expansion of liquor sales in the past. On Monday they said they believe that sales of beer or liquor by the can make it more likely that people will drink and drive and get in drunken-driving crashes.
A Janesville gas station that’s sold alcohol just off Interstate 90/39 for more than a year is asking the city to peel a restriction from its liquor license that bars the station from selling beer by the can.
Jackson pointed out that J&R is located just a few hundred feet from an Interstate on ramp and just across East Racine Street from a busy entryway to SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville.
Yet of all the 28 retail stores that are licensed to sell beer and liquor in Janesville, including gas stations, liquor stores, box stores and grocery markets, only one retailer—J&R—has been restricted from selling single-serve containers of alcohol.
City attorney Wald Klymczyk said the city has the right to slap local restrictions on individual retail liquor licenses.
Benson and council President Douglas Marklein both said they think the city should revisit the issue of single-serve alcohol sales and vote on whether to allow or bar such sales at all locations rather than enforce a special restriction that affects just one retailer but not others.
Benson pointed out, as J&R staff argued to the liquor board last week, that J&R has had a “clean” record on liquor sales, with no recorded compliance violations in the 15 months J&R has held a license.
Benson also pointed out that at least a half-dozen other retail stores that sell liquor and beer, including the Aldi supermarket and the Mobil TA gas station along Humes Road, are near Interstate ramps and are visible to drivers who are exiting and entering I-90/39.
“Whether or not we think single-serve (alcohol) is a good idea, I think that we have to agree that we should apply our ordinances equally and fairly,” Benson said. “Without a very strong, rational basis, I think we can’t single out one business and apply rules to them separately.”
City Manager Mark Freitag said city staff reviewed the proximity of several retailers licensed to sell alcohol and found that seven stores were as close or nearly as close to an Interstate ramp as J&R.
Williams said he considers J&R a different breed of gas station from a larger gas station station such as the Mobil TA, which he said has a larger staff plus one licensed employee who oversees that store’s liquor store during all hours of operation.
Williams pointed out that J&R’s staffing is so spartan that at times, employees put a sign on the counter telling customers that if they want to get inside the store’s locked beer cooler, they must be accompanied by a manager.
Williams said he checked into J&R’s compliance track record and learned that in the 15 months the store has been allowed to sell alcohol, authorities had not tapped the store for a single compliance check. Williams indicated he was told that there weren’t necessarily enough resources for police to run compliance checks of the station.