Three of 5 area referendums to expand the Cambridge fire and EMS station have failed, casting the proposed $6.5 million project in doubt.
The April 6 referendums were in the villages of Rockdale and Cambridge and the towns of Oakland, Christiana and Lake Mills.
Two of the failed referendums, in the village of Cambridge and town of Oakland, were advisory. But the third, in the town of Christiana, was binding.
If the project went forward, about 25 percent of the $6.5 million cost, or about $1.67 million, would be Cambridge’s responsibility. Another 49 percent, or $3.18 million, would be funded by Oakland. About 20 percent, or about $1.3 million would come from Christiana; 3.5 percent, or about $227,500 from the Town of Lake Mills; and 2.5 percent, or about $162,500, from Rockdale.
In Cambridge, the village board can still vote to proceed. The board was set to potentially vote at its regular meeting Tuesday, April 13.
In the town of Lake Mills, meanwhile, town residents themselves will have another chance to vote on funding their portion of the project at an annual electors meeting on Tuesday, April 20. While the town’s referendum was advisory, votes cast by citizens at its elector’ meetings are binding.
The town board will also vote after the electors’ meetings on how to proceed, but it may or may not matter by then.
“The town board would have to follow a ‘no’ vote from the electors. If the electors would ‘vote’ yes, then more than likely the town board would follow that recommendation,” said Lake Mills Town Board member Dave Schroeder in a recent email.
The electors’ meeting for the Town of Lake Mills is at 7 p.m. on April 20, at the Town Hall, 1111 S. Main St., Lake Mills. It will have a virtual option.
No Oakland voteOakland has announced, meanwhile, that in the wake of its failed advisory referendum, additional votes on the station expansion will neither appear on its April 20 annual electors meetings agenda, nor on the agenda of a town board meeting scheduled immediately afterward.
Oakland’s annual electors’ meeting is still set for 7 p.m. on April 20 at the Town Garage, N4450 County Road A, Cambridge. There will be no virtual option.
“The results of the April 6 referendum sent a message to the respective boards of the five municipalities that make up the Cambridge Fire and EMS District,” Oakland’s April 12 release said. In addition to failing in Cambridge and Christiana, “of the 895 votes cast in the referendum in Oakland, 502 voted ‘No’ and 393 ‘Yes,’ a roughly 56% to 44% margin,” the release said.
As a result, “the Oakland Town Board feels it is not necessary to hold a vote to approve the building of the fire station at this time,” the release said.
The April 6 referendum results were:
Town of Lake Mills
Yes 346 (52 %)
No 269 (40 %)
Undervotes 50 (7.5 %)
Village of Rockdale
Yes 36 (54.5 %)
No 30 (45.5 %)
Town of Oakland
Yes 393 (42.7%)
No 502 (54.6 %)
Over votes 24 (2.6%)
Town of Christiana
Yes 203 (47.8%)
No 222 (52.2 %)
Village of Cambridge
Yes 267 (47.3 %)
No 297 (52.6 %)
Levy limit referendum
A second question on the Cambridge ballot, to exceed the village’s state levy cap by $95,000 a year in perpetuity to fund emergency service and other expenses, tied. In the event of a tie, such a referendum fails, Village Administrator Lisa Moen confirmed. This was a binding referendum.
The results were:
Yes 279 (50 %)
No 279 (50%)
Cambridge Area EMS Director Bob Salov called the results “very disappointing.”
“I don’t know where that leaves us,” Oakland Town Chairman Eugene Kapsner said.
Cambridge Fire Chief Terry Johnson also expressed dismay, saying the needs and safety issues at the current station aren’t going to go away.
“Now it’s going to be kicked down the road and it’s just going to be more expensive,” he said, adding that “we’re extremely disappointed in the results.”
And Cambridge Fire Department First Assistant Chief Tim Scott said what happens now “is a really good question that I honestly don’t have an answer for.”
Scott said he’s concerned, going forward, about dropping morale among the fire department’s volunteer membership.
“I think this doesn’t leave us in the same place we were yesterday. I imagine it’s going to be a long, painful process from here on out,” he said.
Rockdale Village President Julie Nelles said in an email that she was “pleased that the referendum passed in Rockdale. However, Rockdale alone cannot get this project moving forward.”
“In learning that the referendum was not passed in all five communities, I look to the citizens that voted ‘no’ and to the group the was formed to campaign for a ‘no’ vote to step up and work with our Fire & EMS to come up with a plan to provide a safe building and working environment,” Nelles wrote. “While the majority has succeeded in voting down the plan that was set forth, the fact remains that if we want to have top notch emergency services we need to make improvements to our facility. My hope is that the Citizens for a Responsible Cambridge Fire & EMS Station will work just as hard to present a new project as they did to kill the one that the Fire & EMS personnel drafted for this referendum.”
Officials in Christiana and Cambridge didn’t respond to requests for comment. Neither did Citizens for a Responsible Cambridge Fire & EMS Station, that had spoken out about the current station expansion proposal, respond.