Monona city officials continue to gather information from other communities regarding staffing and other issues regarding fire department and EMS personnel, as they strive to put together a plan to address their own needs for the foreseeable future.
The second meeting of an ad hoc committee to address those needs met June 9.
Karl Franz, village administrator in Shorewood Hills, discussed the shuttering of its department and contract with the Madison Fire Department for those services, while Mike Wolf, clerk, treasurer and administrator in the town of Blooming Grove, reviewed the talks with Madison that will see the town’s fire and EMS services close effective June 30.
Monona Fire Chief Scott Sullivan said his department has been steadily losing volunteers for several years, and the city must soon decide what course of action to take to continue to meet the emergency needs of residents and businesses.
Budget issues are most important when considering adding more full-time staff, paid on call responders and paid on premise personnel. Buildings, space within the buildings, vehicles and equipment also need to be considered. Response times for volunteers to answer calls is another issue, and whatever is decided, Mayor Bob Miller said it will happen sooner rather than later.
Miller said city officials already know the city will face a tough budget for 2016, partly due to less state aid.
“We know we have a negative impact to our budget if we go with the (state’s) Joint Finance Committee (version) right now,” he said. “So much has yet to be decided.”
Transportation aid is based on a rolling five-year expenditure average, and the years and costs of the Monona Drive reconstruction project are winding down according to the formula used to determine aid.
Franz said that in the case of Shorewood Hills, officials did not seek to reduce village fire and EMS expenses when it contracted with Madison. Rather, he said they approached the Madison department with the idea that it could easily absorb Shorewood Hills’ calls without much added expense, while the village was willing to pay the city nearly what it was already budgeting for those services.
The amount of the payment is adjusted based on annual increases in population and the equalized value of each community.
Shorewood Hills is also part of the Madison Metropolitan School District, so little change was seen in education and prevention programs at the schools. However, Monona is not part of the Madison schools, and a different dynamic would come into play for those programs.
As for the town of Blooming Grove, Wolf said town officials decided to contract with Madison due to the high costs of running its own services because of the town’s dwindling population and the fact that a border agreement between the two communities will see all of the town disappear and all properties absorbed into the city in 2027.
Blooming Grove Fire Chief Glenn Linzmeier said the costs for services with Madison are fixed for the next 12 years.
“There is an end point for the municipality,” he said. “Our costs are basically fixed. Everything is fixed through the end of the township.”
Sullivan is still gathering information on more accurate costs of fire and EMS services per capita. Problems arise because some EMS services cross fire department boundaries, so trying to break down the actual costs in each municipality can be difficult. Also, EMS departments provide different levels of care, so those costs aren’t exact comparisons.
The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance reports the average cost of fire and EMS services is between $140 and $150. The Monona cost per capita in 2014 was $67.56, Sullivan said. Wolf noted that the town of Blooming Grove cost per capita was about $240, again because the costs are split among 1,800 residents as opposed to the 7,553 in Monona.
Monona has moved to a paid on call system for responders, and Sullivan said he has definitely seen an increase in the number of people who show up for calls.
“We still need to get more volunteers,” he said. “We’re getting more people to respond to calls, but we still have a minimum of people at some calls. It’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
One way to shore up the number of volunteers is to approach those now with the Blooming Grove Fire Department. Linzemeir said that may work for some but not for all. He said some of the town’s volunteers may see this is a time to step away from being a volunteer firefighter, while others may not want to get involved in the politics of another city trying to determine its future with fire and EMS services.
There is also the issue of widening the distance from which volunteers can respond, which could result in longer response times.
Miller said he wants to plot a course for the city’s emergency services so any new costs can be incorporated into the 2016 budget.