What would the Milton and Milton Township Fire Department consolidating with the Janesville Fire Department look like?
In a joint meeting, members of the city council and town board asked that consolidation be further defined in terms of cost and what an agreement with the City of Janesville would look like. Both made similar motions that were approved unanimously.
Melissa Brooke Joos from Collins & Henderson, LLP Law Firm in Beloit represents the fire commission and spoke briefly: “Essentially everything is contractual. You can contract however you both, or all three or all four parties decide.”
Mayor Anissa Welch will represent the city and Chairman Bryan Meyer will represent the town in discussions with Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag.
Consolidation is estimated to cost $2.4 million (with a $2.1 million tax levy).
The consolidation calls for 15 full-time firefighters/paramedics, three full-time lieutenants, the three current part-time Milton battalion chiefs and the current full-time administrative assistant and full utilization of the Janesville fire/EMS management structure.
At the start of the meeting Ernie Rhodes, who is chief of both the Milton and Janesville departments, reminded, “This is not a crisis.”
Rather, he said, “There are warning signs that we need to make decisions for the future.”
People willing to assist with paid-on-call staffing in the area and nationwide is decreasing while call volume has increased to three-plus calls per day, and he said sometimes there are six or seven calls a day, he said.
The Joint Fire Commission directed a subcommittee consisting of Meyer and city council member Theresa Rusch and fire department command staff to come up with two scenarios, which were presented in July. Scenario 1 was consolidation with Janesville. Scenario 2 was a standalone fire department.
City council member Bill Wilson said safety of people and property is paramount.
Wilson said the reference to moving to a “full-time professional department” isn’t meant to demean the professionalism of those who are not full-time firefighters.
“We’ve had great coverage,” he said.
Second to safety is cost, he said. In the standalone option, he said he hadn’t heard a compelling argument for added value that would cover the higher cost.
The standalone option is higher, estimated at $2.7 million (with a $2.5 million tax levy).
“If the models are similar or equal in terms of safety,” he said, “then the question comes down to dollars and cents.”
City council member Larry Laehn agreed and said consolidation could provide shared training, equipment and opportunities to save money.
Commenting on the history of the department, town board member Beth Drew said, “We have a pride.”
Drew said she was not suggesting that would be lost through consolidation.
“But,” she said, “I’m wondering what that will look like for us. We will lose our voice. We will no longer have a vote. To me, I’m concerned that then, it’s the Milton and Milton Township Fire Department. I don’t want us to lose that identity.”
She said she was not against consolidation but thought, as Rusch did, that it would be good to have an attorney look at how they might have a voice.
Drew also said she wanted to take care of the department members and asked if current part-time members might be included in a scenario.
City council member Lynda Clark said sometimes traditions have to change for the good of all.
“I’m concerned about going to a standalone station again,” she said. “Throughout the years, we have done so many things to bring people into our department. I don’t know what more we can do to attract people. I feel like the people that work for us deserve to have a good work place, benefits, a pay that is something you can support a family on. We have not done that.”
Clark expressed support for consolidation.
The last jointly held meeting of the city and town took place in 2017 to discuss an intergovernmental agreement that expanded shared services between the Milton and Milton Township Fire Department and the Janesville Fire Department.