Should the Milton and Town of Milton Fire Department consolidate with the Janesville Fire Department or stand on its own?
Either way, the costs associated with consolidating or shoring up the Milton department will be in the millions of dollars, and each scenario likely will require asking taxpayers for money.
In May, Milton Fire Department command staff told the Joint Fire Commission that sharing services with Janesville had reached a “fork in the road,” and the communities had to make a choice.
Ernie Rhodes, chief of the Milton and Janesville fire departments, and Milton Finance Director Dan Nelson presented two scenarios at Wednesday’s commission meeting.
Consolidation is estimated to cost $2.4 million (with a $2.13 million tax levy). The standalone option is estimated at $2.73 million (with a $2.48 million tax levy). Both scenarios factor in $250,000 from EMS collections.
The 2020 fire department budget is $1.16 million. To increase revenue, a referendum likely would be needed.
The earliest either scenario could be implemented is 2022, assuming a 2021 referendum no later than November, Nelson said.
Rhodes said he viewed the consolidation model as a best-practices model that could be used with other departments to potentially create a countywide fire department.
The cost of a new station was not factored in. Nelson said the focus is ongoing operational costs.
The consolidation scenario calls for 15 full-time firefighters/paramedics, three full-time lieutenants, existing Milton battalion chiefs and administrative assistant and full utilization of the Janesville fire/EMS management structure.
By consolidating, Rhodes said, “We would add the staff positions of logistics to support the six stations and the three battalions, an EMS officer and a training officer.”
“This model is staffing an ambulance and an engine,” Rhodes said.
The advantages of consolidation include leveraging a $14 million budget, access to six fire stations, full command staff with training, stabilization of the staffing model and career advancement.
Disadvantages include a perceived loss of identity for Milton, limited control of resources, perception of tax dollars leaving Milton and the challenges of change.
The standalone department scenario calls for 15 full-time firefighter/paramedics, three full-time captains, three full-time lieutenants, one full-time and one part-time administrative assistant, a fire chief, deputy chief and $115,000 for accounting, payroll and human resources services.
The advantages of this scenario include the exclusive use of equipment, maintaining an identity and Milton using its own command staff.
Among the disadvantages are limited economies of scale, higher overall cost share, more shared duties in management roles and potential cost share for mutual aid calls.
Both scenarios include a $175,000 contribution for capital/equipment and maintaining the current $281,000 budget for operating supplies, utilities and vehicle maintenance.
Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag told the commission that Janesville remains a community partner.
“We’re happy to dive into this and look into this with more detail to make sure certainly it works for the city of Janesville but also for the town and the city of Milton,” he said. “… We’re happy to continue the conversation if that’s what you want to do.”
Nelson said there are lots of ways costs could be split. He plans to present one method of cost sharing and what it will mean for all municipalities involved.
The commission will meet again at 7 p.m. July 30.
A joint meeting of the city and town of Milton is planned for August.