TOWN OF MILTON
The Harmony town chairman is raising concerns about skyrocketing fire protection costs for the town as the Milton and Janesville fire departments discuss a proposed consolidation.
About 80% of the town of Harmony is covered by the Milton Fire Department, which is operated by the city and town of Milton.
For 2021, Harmony saw its fire contract increase from about $72,000 to $225,000.
“The Harmony Town Board is interested in anything we can do to help our taxpayers with that burden,” Town Chairman Jeff Klenz said Friday after he reached out to town of Milton officials and they met in closed session.
“Obviously, we have to have fire protection, but we realize it’s increasing at an unbelievable rate. We’ve got to figure out the best thing we can do for our people in Harmony Township,” Klenz said.
Officials from Janesville and the city and town of Milton are discussing consolidating the Janesville and Milton fire departments to ensure the area, including surrounding towns, has full-time fire and EMS protection.
The two departments already operate under a “functional merger.” Janesville Fire Chief Ernie Rhodes is chief for both departments.
A draft consolidation agreement envisions the consolidated fire department taking over fire protection starting Jan. 1, 2022.
Earlier this month, however, Milton Town Chairman Bryan Meyer told Milton and Janesville officials the town wanted to talk to Edgerton about fire services.
Meyer said he’s not ruling out an agreement with Janesville. He wants to be sure there isn’t another alternative that would make more sense for taxpayers.
“I’m definitely going to entertain alternatives if there’s interest,” Meyer said Friday.
The town of Milton does not have a draft agreement in hand from Edgerton, he said.
“We haven’t had any meaningful conversation with them,” Meyer said. “We very well may have discussions with them. We don’t even know if it will lead to a concept or proposal.”
The draft consolidation agreement was sent to Meyer and Milton Mayor Anissa Welch but as of last week had not been sent to the Joint Fire Commission.
Meyer said Janesville has been willing to make modifications to the draft agreement, and he believes a second draft will look different from the first.
“It’s been very difficult to even talk about other alternatives because of the sensitive nature of negotiations that are going on,” said Jon Jennings, a Milton Town Board member and chairman of the Joint Fire Commission.
“We’re doing our best to ensure that we’re doing due diligence to the communities we serve and that they have the best protection—that’s the bottom line. Who’s providing the service is not as important as the kind of service that can be provided.”
The commission is scheduled to meet in person at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Milton Town Hall, 23 First St.
Meyer said he does not anticipate the draft agreement will be ready for the commission. Still, Jennings said he anticipates passionate discussion.