Should the Milton and Milton Township Fire Department consolidate with the Janesville Fire Department or stand on its own?

Milton Fire Department command staff in May told its Joint Fire Commission that shared services with Janesville have come to “a fork in the road.”

At the July 15 commission meeting, Ernie Rhodes, who is chief of the Milton and Janesville fire departments, and Milton City Finance Director Dan Nelson presented two scenarios for moving forward.

Approximate costs are $2.4 million ($2.125 million tax levy) for consolidation and $2.725 million ($2.475 million tax levy) for the standalone option. Both scenarios factor in $250,000 from EMS collections.

The 2020 fire department budget for 2020 is $1,159,328.

To increase revenue, the scenarios would likely mean doing to referendum.

The earliest either scenario could be implemented is 2022 (with a 2021 referendum no later than November), Nelson said.

Rhodes said he viewed the consolidation model as a best practice model that could be used with other departments to potentially create a countywide fire department.

Cost of a new building was not factored in, Nelson said the focus is ongoing operational costs.

Scenario 1 (consolidation) includes 15 full-time firefighters/paramedics ($1.3 million), three full-time lieutenants ($376,000), existing Milton battalion chiefs and administrative assistant ($110,000), and full utilization of Janesville fire/EMS management structure ($130,000). Management structure includes fire, deputy and battalion chiefs, fire marshal and inspector. Janesville would take over financial reporting including payroll and invoice processing.

By creating a consolidation, Rhodes said, “We would add the staff positions of logistics to support the six stations and the three battalions, an EMS officer and a training officer.”

“This model is staffing an ambulance and an engine,” Rhodes added.

Pros listed include leveraging a $14 million budget, access to six fire stations, full command staff with training, stabilizing the staffing model, career advancement, economies of scale, enhanced backup fleet, increased capability to handle larger critical incidents and respond to multiple calls, better systems approach (training and response).

Cons include perceived loss of identity for Milton, limited control on resources, perception of tax dollars leaving the community and change is always difficult.

Scenario 2 (standalone department) includes 15 full-time firefighter/paramedics ($1.24 million), three full-time captains ($325,000), three full-time lieutenants ($283,000), one full-time and one part-time administrative assistant ($67,000), a fire chief and a deputy chief ($237,000), and $115,000 for accounting/payroll/HR services.

Pros include exclusive use of equipment, maintain identity, Milton would have its own command staff and full-time personnel would work exclusively in the community,

Cons include limited economies of scale, higher overall cost share, more shared duties in management roles, potential cost share for mutual aid calls.

Both scenarios include a $175,000 contribution for capital/equipment replacement and maintain the current budget for operating supplies, utilities and vehicle maintenance. ($281,000).

Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag said the city of Janesville remains a community partner.

“We’re happy to dive into this and look into this with more detail to make sure certainly it works for the city of Janesville but also for the town and the city of Milton. … We’re happy to continue the conversation if that’s what you want to do.”

Milton and Milton Township have contracted with Janesville for shared administrative services since 2017.

Currently the cost of the Milton and Milton Township Fire Department is shared 50% by the city and town. The fire department contracted to serve the towns of Harmony, Johnstown, Lima and Koshkonong.

Nelson said there are lots of ways costs could be split. He will present one methodology of cost sharing and what it will mean for all municipalities involved.

The commission will meet again 7 p.m. July 30.

A joint meeting of the city of the Milton and the Milton town board to discuss the scenarios is being planned for August.

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