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The city of Milton and four other municipalities announced Monday they intend to formally pursue joining the Edgerton Fire Protection District.

Milton, as well as the towns of Milton, Harmony, Johnstown and Lima, will join Edgerton’s existing district, which already includes that city and the surrounding townships of Albion, Fulton, Porter and Sumner.

“It is the best option for our communities,” said Milton Mayor Anissa Welch at a press conference at the Milton/Milton Township Fire Station.

“Extensive research and discussions” led to a unanimous decision to petition Edgerton for an intergovernmental agreement, she said.

Within the agreement, the five municipalities developed a funding model for two new fire stations to serve both the east and west sides of Milton.

Joined by representatives of the four other members of the joint fire commission, the partnership will take a “regional approach” to best meet the needs of residents in the cities and towns, Welch said.

“We thank all the elected officials, and the staff in all the jurisdictions, for their hard work over the last 18 months,” she said.

Since the start of the new year, Milton has effectively been without a fire district, as its partnership with Janesville expired Dec. 31 and the city opted to not renew its contract with Janesville’s fire district. While services will go uninterrupted during this transitional phase under state statute assuring mutual aid in emergencies, Milton is in the process of joining the Edgerton fire district with the towns.

The decision was a result of increasing demand for services as well as limited staffing and the increasing cost of remaining with Janesville. In 2020, substantial increases to fire protection service costs, having little input in equipment and construction decisions, and concerns over staffing made the relationship with Janesville unsustainable, officials said.

And because Janesville’s fire district covered only 20% of the town of Harmony, Town President Jeff Klenz said it was time to change.

“We started to pay more attention to this issue, get more involved with Milton fire commission meetings and looked into starting our own fire department,” he said.

Bryan Meyer, town of Milton chairman and Joint Fire Commission member, said the five municipalities considered several options including merging, consolidating and sharing services before settling on joining Edgerton’s fire district.

The inclusion of the city and town of Milton and the three other townships would create expand the Edgerton fire district from 100 square miles to 220 square miles and create the need for an additional 28 full-time jobs.

The new arrangement should result in quicker response times by fire and EMS personnel.

“We believe the two stations’ [response time] will be quite a bit better. That’s what helped us make our decision,” Klenz said.

The next step in the process is for Milton and the townships to officially present their petition to join the Edgerton Fire Protection District Board on Wednesday. The board will then take the next few months to make a decision.

It remains unclear what the total cost services will be, though Meyer said the group’s data collection is expected to determine the figures.

“We don’t have final numbers yet, but we have a process in mind and how to collect and divide the data that will be available in the near future,” he said.

In the meantime, Milton is finalizing a contract with Mueller Communications to prepare a referendum to put before voters asking them to help pay for the new emergency services arrangement.

Milton City Manager Al Hulick said city officials will meet with the consultants on Jan. 20 to work out the scope of their services. The Milton Common Council will discuss a contract with the firm atan upcoming meeting.

“Our hope is to have it on the Feb. 1 agenda,” Hulick said.

The referendum is expected to be on the ballot toward the end of the year and, if approved by voters, services would begin in early 2023.

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