Community meetings are being planned for this summer and fall on the proposed expansion of the Cambridge fire and EMS station.
They’ll include presentations and opportunities for public input at regular meetings of area village and town boards in August, followed by an open house-style community meeting in mid-to-late September.
Additional community open houses might happen in October, followed by a vote of the Cambridge Community Fire and EMS commission to ask municipal boards in the Villages of Cambridge and Rockdale and Towns of Oakland, Lake Mills and Christiana, to each set a referendum to fund their portion of the expected total $6.25 million expansion cost.
The five municipal boards would each vote in November on whether to set an April 2021 referendum to fund their portion of the cost.
The five municipalities together fund Cambridge fire and EMS services through a periodically updated intergovernmental agreement that’s been in place since the 1950s.
The fire and EMS commission has no taxing authority, relying on participating communities to each fund a portion of its annual budget based on their equalized values.
That annual cost-sharing is subject to change every year as local property values rise and fall. In recent years it has been roughly 25 percent for Cambridge, 48 percent for Oakland, 21 percent for Christiana, 3.5 percent for the Town of Lake Mills and 2.5 percent for Rockdale.
Each municipality’s portion of the station expansion cost would also be divvied up based on equalized value.
The location of any fall community meetings, including whether they would be held indoors or outside, depends on the COVID-19 pandemic’s trajectory in coming months, committee members said. They could not now be held at the fire and EMS station on West Main Street in Cambridge, which remains locked down due to the pandemic.
Committee members said they hope to be able to hold at lease one fall meeting at the station, in order to offer tours of the existing facility.
The pandemic’s trajectory is also likely to determine whether the presentations at the municipal meetings in August are pre-recorded by representatives of Kaukauna design-build firm Keller, Inc., or are done live. If pre-recorded, the presentations could be posted online.
Meeting in-person for the first time since March at the Christiana Town Hall, the Fire and EMS Commission’s Building Expansion Committee on May 28 set that timeline leading to next spring’s possible referendums.
The plan also includes mailings to area residents and letters to municipalities, to go out in July.
No cost reduction
The committee also on May 28 directed Keller Inc. to not reduce the cost of the project as has been recently discussed.
In April, at the committee’s request, Keller Inc., brought a list of about $500,000 in possible cuts that would have brought the total project in at about $5.75 million. Oakland Town Chairman Eugene Kapsner said at the time this would met his goal to keep the total cost under $6 million.
Committee members said on May 28, however, that recent discussions with fire and EMS department members ended in general consensus to go with the project as proposed, at about $6.25 million.
The $6.25 million project would roughly triple the size of the current, 35-year-old station, from 9,800 to 25,700 square feet, spreading out on to an adjacent site that now holds a Pizza Pit restaurant and a small house. In cooperation with the other four municipalities, the Town of Christiana bought the Pizza Pit property in 2019.
And that total cost could go up further if a recent idea to add solar to the expanded station progresses. Kapsner said preliminary discussions with a local solar firm put the potential additional cost of that at $150,000 to $200,000.
Cost per homeowner
The committee on May 28 also said it would finalize the total project cost by the end of June, and by the end of June would release a firm impact per $100,000 of a local homeowner’s property value.
In recent months, a range of impacts per $100,000 have been discussed at committee meetings and shared publicly.
The final impact per $100,000, to be announced in June, will likely be different in each of the five municipalities.
Committee members said that in coming communications to the public, all five impacts per $100,000 of assessed property value will be listed, one for each municipality.
Kapsner said the November votes to set the referendums may come after local municipal boards finalize their 2021 budgets. But because construction wouldn’t begin until 2022, the bulk of the cost wouldn’t have to be funded in 2021, he said.
Keller, Inc. construction manager Devin Flanigan said if the referendums pass in April 2021, architectural and engineering work would go on through that summer and early fall, with bids likely let in October and construction beginning in the spring of 2022.
Kapsner said municipalities could cover architectural and engineering costs in 2021 through short-term loans, similar to a process Oakland used to fund the 2017 reconstruction of Ripley Road.
Flanigan said Keller, Inc. wouldn’t bill more than the already-paid $1,500 initial fee until after the referendums.
Cambridge Village President Mark McNally said he’s already encountered significant opposition in Cambridge to the station expansion, as many local residents find themselves unemployed and businesses struggle due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
McNally said he doesn’t agree that this is the right time to pursue a station expansion, but pledged to cooperate to get information out to Cambridge voters, so they are prepared to make an informed decision.
“That is all we are asking for, to get this information out to people,” Fire Chief Terry Johnson said.
McNally said he’s concerned that if voters shoot down the referendums, as Cambridge School District voters shot down an April 2020 referendum for a performing arts center, it could be years before another opportunity arises to bring it back up with a chance at success.
In those ensuing years, he said, fire and EMS facility needs would remain unaddressed.
“Folks are worried about whether they can make their mortgage payment, can they hold onto their homes?” McNally said. “Are you sure you want to run with this right now? Is this the right time?”
Kapsner said the referendums don’t have to be set until November, and don’t have to be set at all if the economy hasn’t begin to recover to by then.
By November, “you’ll have a pretty good feel for what the temperature is out there,” Kapsner said. If by then, “we feel that the referendums are not going to pass in the spring, we would be foolish to run them,” he agreed.
McNally also questioned what would happen if one or more of the referendums fails.
Kapsner said one option would be to reconfigure the fire and EMS commission to only include the municipalities whose referendums have passed, and to arrange with municipalities where they don’t pass for future contracted fire and EMS protection.