The leader of at least one town that contracts with the Milton Fire Department was shocked Thursday night by proposed increases in costs for fire protection and emergency medical services.
The four towns that contract with the Milton Fire Department would see increases ranging from 115% to nearly 209% for 2021. The increases are based on the Milton Joint Fire Commission approving a new cost sharing model based on equalized value. The model approved Thursday factors in what percentage of each the town is covered by the Milton Fire Department, which is jointly operated by the city and town of Milton.
The proposed 2021 budget for the department increases wages for members being paid $10 to $15 an hour. The Joint Fire Commission hopes the money for the increase will come from increases to the contract towns.
None of the contracted towns is covered entirely by the Milton Fire Department. About 80% of Harmony is covered, 74% of Johnstown, 40% of Lima and 5% of Koshkonong.
Contributions in the proposed 2021 budget reflect a $24,989 (6.38%) increase for the city of Milton, a $55,118 (14.08%) decrease for the town of Milton, a $152,238 (208.77%) increase for the town of Harmony, a $25,481 (169.59%) increase for the town of Lima, an $11,642 (142.36%) increase for the town of Koshkonong and a $31,884 (115.20%) increase for the town of Johnstown.
Bryan Meyer, who’s been on the fire commission for 15 or more years, said previously the thought was “let’s do what we can to help our neighbors.” The increases might have been 2% or 3%.
Today he said, “Costs are overbearing. We can’t find any other way.”
Commission Chairman Jon Jennings acknowledged the increase should have previously been spread out over a number of years.
City Finance Director Dan Nelson pointed out that equalized value is used by school districts, counties and technical colleges as a basis to share costs.
Town of Harmony Chairman Jeff Klenz described the increase as “quite shocking.”
Nelson said the proposed budget does not include capital expenditures such as a fire engine.
Klenz said that scared him as a taxpayer.
Harmony Town Board member Jerry Larson told Klenz the next town agenda should include exploring other options for fire and EMS.
Addressing the need for the increase, Chief Ernie Rhodes said, “Part of the problem is the volunteer or paid-on-call population we relied on for years across America is drying up.”
To respond to an emergency, he said, “We have to have people.”
Proposed 2021 wages include one full-time paramedic at $15.75 per hour, one paid-on-call paramedic at $18 an hour, two paid-on-call firefighters at $15 an hour and one weekend paid-on-call firefighter at $15 an hour. Members who are paid to be on premise do not get additional compensation if they go on a call. Members who are paid on call are awarded points per call and $3,500 per month is divided among members based on points. Six lieutenants receive a stipend at $1,250 per month ($208 per person per month).
The proposed staffing schedule represents a $182,276 increase. Wages and benefits are about 75% of the budgeted expenditures.
Next steps include the towns deciding if they want to continue contracting with the Milton Fire Department and the city and town of Milton approving the budget recommended by the fire commission.