Unless they petition for it, voters in the Towns of Christiana, Lake Mills and Oakland won’t likely see a Cambridge-area fire and EMS station expansion referendum on the April 2021 ballot. Neither is the question likely to appear on the ballot next spring in Rockdale.
Lake Mills township, Oakland, Christiana and Rockdale officials say they expect their boards to vote at meetings in November to fund their portions of the $6.5 million station expansion project without referendums. All said the November meetings will include public comment time.
The Village of Cambridge is shaping up to be the only one of the five municipalities that share Cambridge-area fire and EMS costs, that will directly put the question to citizens.
The Cambridge Village Board voted on Sept. 29 to put its portion of the $6.5 million cost on the spring ballot. Its share is expected to be about $1.67 million, village officials said.
The others could still end up on the ballot if their residents petition for a referendum.
Earlier this year, the five communities talked of hosting five simultaneous referendums in April 2021 to fund expansion of the 35-year-old station on West Main Street in Cambridge.
But then came an opinion in late summer from the fire and EMS commission’s financial consultant, who said referendums weren’t legally necessary to proceed with the project. That led Christiana, Oakland, Rockdale and the Town of Lake Mills to make plans to fund their needed borrowing through simple board votes.
Through a longtime agreement between the five municipalities, annual costs are divvied up based on equalized values. In 2020, 25 percent of the commission’s annual budget was funded by Cambridge, 49 percent by Oakland, 20 percent by Christiana, 3.5 percent by the Town of Lake Mills and 2.5 percent by Rockdale. Those percentages are also the portion of the $6.5 million station expansion that each is responsible for.
The Lake Mills Town Board at a meeting earlier this month expressed support for skipping a referendum. It expects to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 10 to go that route. That meeting is at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall, 1111 S. Main St., Lake Mills.
The Christiana Town Board also at a meeting earlier this month expressed support for foregoing a referendum. It expects to vote to do that on Nov. 10 at 7 p.m., meeting virtually. Reach out to the Town Hall for meeting access.
Rockdale Village President Julie Nelles said the Village Board expects to pass a resolution on Nov. 16 to fund its portion of the fire station expansion cost without a referendum. That meeting is at 6 p.m. at the Rockdale Community Center, 208 Benton St.
Nelles said information on that decision, and an opportunity for community feedback, will be in property tax bills mailed out in December.
“The board felt that the traditional way of getting community input through a referendum was not ideal regarding this project,” Nelles said in an email this week. “We would like input from the entire community of Rockdale, not just the small number that typically vote in the spring election. Also, we feel that there is a lot of information regarding the project that needs to be presented before someone can decide if they are in favor or against the project.”
“Our job is to provide emergency service to our community members now and in the future. This project is about much more than an increase in taxes to fund the expansion,” Nelles continued. “It is about providing a safe work environment for our emergency service personnel so that they can do the best possible job at responding quickly and keeping our community safe now and for many years to come.”
A majority of the Oakland Town Board on Oct. 20 said it also supports bypassing a referendum.
Town residents will have an opportunity to comment at a Tuesday, Nov. 17 Town Board meeting; board action is expected that night. The meeting is at 7 p.m. at the Oakland Town Hall, N4450 County Road A.
On Oct. 20, with Supervisor Tom Jensen absent, a motion to put the question on the Nov. 17 agenda passed 3-1 with Supervisor Jimmy DeGidio dissenting.
Town Chairman Eugene Kapsner urged the board to vote in November to go forward.
Kapsner said putting the question directly to citizens at an annual voters meeting or on the April ballot opens it to failure. He said the station expansion is a critical need that can’t be risked being shot down.
“If you wait until the annual meeting you could have a group of people opposed to it…and we would have a problem,” Kapsner said.
DeGidio said, however, that in talking recently with town residents, he has heard support for putting the question to a referendum.
“I am hearing an awful lot of that,” DeGidio said. “I do hear some others say that they just want us to decide because that’s what they elected us for. But the majority of people that I am talking to say they want a choice. And they want their voice heard.”
“That’s kind of strange because I have never heard anybody in the town tell me we should have a referendum. They can’t figure out why we don’t just go ahead with it, and get it going right now,” Kapsner said.