A fire department model that includes the city of Milton joining the Edgerton Fire Protection District hasn’t been discussed with the city of Milton, according to City Administrator Al Hulick.
Milton City Council will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 15, at Milton City Hall to listen to a presentation by Edgerton Fire Chief Randall Pickering.
Several members of Milton city administration via Zoom attended a multiple-town meeting of Milton, Harmony, Johnstown and Lima held Wednesday at Harmony Town Hall.
One of three options presented by Pickering then included the city of Milton joining the Edgerton Fire Protection District.
Thursday’s meeting will allow the city and chief to ask questions of one another and potentially the city could consider the Edgerton model as a third option.
Hulick said the question continues to be: “What level of service to the citizens expect?”
That’s a question the towns also are trying to answer.
They have in their hands a draft of a membership petition created by Attorney Michael Oellerich and Milton Town chairman Bryan Meyer that asks the Edgerton Fire Protection District Board to allow the town(s) to join the district.
Regardless of how many municipalities choose to petition for membership, Pickering noted the board would like to see them come forward as a group. The towns also would need an intergovernmental agreement that outlines how a new satellite fire station would be funded.
Pickering addressed the towns: “This will undoubtedly be one of – if not the biggest – decision you make as an elected official for your citizens probably in your government service career.”
He said he and Deputy Chief Jason Russ have been acting as informed advisors and noted the Edgerton fire district doesn’t have a sign out front saying it’s looking for towns or cities to join the district.
Edgerton district protects 100 square miles and $1.2 billion in assets. Its members include the city of Edgerton and the towns of Fulton, Porter, Albion and Sumner.
Pickering talked about three options for the towns gathered on Wednesday:
1) Complete consolidation with Janesville Fire Department (presented in December 2020).
2) An Edgerton model that serves the entire existing Milton fire department response area (six municipalities including the city of Milton) from two stations (“Milton East” in the town of Milton and “Milton West” in the city of Milton) and possibly a Newville station.
3) An Edgerton model that serves four towns in the Milton fire department response area (five municipalities) from one station in the town of Milton.
Included in the models is the Jefferson County Town of Koshkonong, which Pickering said is looking for coverage for about 27 houses.
The service provided by Edgerton would be paramedic level. Staffing would be a combination of full-time, paid on premise, paid on call and interns. According to Pickering, a minimum of three career firefighters would be at each station at all times. In the combination staffing model, he said all members are certified and trained to the same standards and costs are lower than the costs for a career fire department.
Janesville has career firefighters and the department is owned and operated by the city of Janesville.
The Edgerton fire district is not owned by the city of Edgerton. It’s an independent district with a board of commissioners. (One commissioner and alternate per municipality, except Edgerton, which has two.)
“We are very participative in the way we manage our district,” Pickering said.
The third biggest difference Pickering pointed out is the depth of response.
In Janesville, he said if one station is busy, another station takes the call.
Using paid-on-call firefighters gives Edgerton the ability to backfill a station, he said.
“You have to have enough paid-on-call volunteers that are willing come in,” he said. “If you can make that model work, it is a better depth of response because every incident is getting a truck out of the same station, instead of coming from someplace else (depending on the number of incidents).”
Fourth difference is geographic dispersion of resources, he said, noting Option 2 could have four stations (counting Edgerton and Newville) and a better chance of being within a 4- or 5-minute response window across a larger geographic area.
If the towns are interested in being part of the Edgerton district and the district approves their membership, the current municipalities in the district would have a separate budget from the four, or however many, joining municipalities for at least the first several years.
Pickering said that’s because the Edgerton fire district revenue is 50% tax levy, 50% revenue from services delivered, while the Milton and Milton Township Fire Department is 80% levy, 20% revenue from services.
Projected costs are based on equalized value and how much of the municipality is covered by the department.
Combining operating expenses and facility needs (including a new station and a replacement ambulance), Pickering said in the EFPD model with five municipalities, the projected Year 1 increase would be about $1.071 million.
Pickering said the numbers could come down, if they had to and added that he was trying to provide numbers that would be all-inclusive.
Meyer said the Janesville estimate with a projected Year 1 increase of $1.066 million doesn’t include a new facility or new equipment.
And, in the Janesville model, Harmony town Chairman Jeff Klenz said, “We have no say.”
Costs were broken down by town. Comparisons are made using the 2021 levy and Year 1 of the new model (potentially 2023). Increases for Option 3 with five municipalities and one new fire station are estimated at $447,369 (133%) for the town of Milton, $430,495 (191%) for Harmony, $127,939 (214.8%) for Johnstown, $98,549 (243.3%) for Lima and $26,352 (133%) for Koshkonong.
Bringing in the city of Milton in Option 2 and building two stations, the increases are lower. The increase for the city of Milton is listed at $499,644 (119.9%).