The Janesville City Council on Monday approved a functional merger with the Milton Fire Department, a move officials believe will streamline services between the two departments.
The merger was approved 6-1 with Paul Williams voting in opposition. He expressed a desire to make some wording changes to the addendum and memorandum of understanding that make the merger possible.
City Attorney Wald Klimczyk said Williams’ proposed changes would add clarity to the documents but were not necessary to continue functions as intended.
Williams moved to add his proposed changes, but no second was officially made.
Council member Paul Benson said he wanted to second the motion but he could not turn on his microphone in time to do so.
Council member Jim Farrell moved to take the merger off the council’s consent agenda, allowing for questions, discussion and a roll call vote.
Farrell asked Fire Chief Ernie Rhodes whether the merger would cost Janesville taxpayers money to help the Milton Fire Department, which has struggled with adequate staffing in recent years.
Rhodes said the merger would not affect the tax burden for Janesville residents.
Janesville, through a shared services agreement and automatic vehicle local services, already sends first responders and equipment to Milton and vice versa, Rhodes said.
Rhodes estimated Milton first responders responded to Janesville emergency incidents 113 times in 2020, and Janesville officials responded to Milton about 160 times in the same year.
Milton, which has relied on a paid-on-call or paid-on-premise staffing model for some time, is working to move to a fully staffed station.
Janesville will not be underwriting services to Milton. Milton will pay its fair amount for equipment and staffing, as has happened in the past, Rhodes said.
The merger will help Rhodes, who is the chief for both departments already, by creating a consistent set of standards and training between the two departments.
The Milton Courier reported the merger will allow the department to do the following:
- Merge command staff.
- Establish a fire apparatus pool.
- Standardize response guidelines.
- Create consistent administrative policies.
- Identify equipment for group purchasing.
- Create a training division.
- Create full- and part-time positions.
Farrell asked about previous conversations between the department to share a new fire station on the north side of Janesville.
Rhodes said the Milton Fire Department, which has needed a new station for years, has chosen to pursue building a new station about 1 mile closer to Janesville than where its current station is located.
If Janesville was to build a sixth station, Rhodes would recommend doing so in a location in Janesville, such as the south side, where it would be more needed.
Automatic vehicle location services and the new Milton station would service the growing northeastern sections of Janesville adequately, Rhodes said.
The fire departments have been operating under a shared services agreement since 2017, meaning both departments have access to each other’s resources.