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Village of Waunakee

Facing added EMS costs, Waunakee Village Board to explore new directions

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Jump car

When volunteer EMTs are unavailable, Waunakee paramedics respond in this jump car. EMS Director Scott Russell said staffing has become an issue.

Just a couple of years since a 5-year plan was adopted for the Waunakee Area EMS, Waunakee’s growth is causing the village board to begin planning for another service expansion.

EMS Director Scott Russell attended the village board’s Sept. 7 meeting asking members to consider a number of options, all with a range of cost increases for Waunakee, Westport, town and village of Dane, Vienna and Springfield residents within the WWDDVS EMS District.

In a memo to the board, Russell noted that, “With the geographical size of our district and the transport times to the hospital, a call volume around 1,000 to 1,250 is about all that one staffed ambulance can handle before we see a sharp increase in the amount of calls that we cannot respond to due to being on other responses.”

The memo notes that in mid-2021, with a total of 1,747 calls, Waunakee EMS could not respond to 147 calls and relied on neighboring districts to respond.

When emergency responders from Middleton, Lodi or other areas are called to the Waunakee district, the response times increase, and are longest for those in the center of Waunakee.

The options Russell presented ranged from adding an ambulance, adding three full time employees and more volunteers, or adding six full-time employees. The most expensive of the options – adding six full-time paramedics – would add more than $300,000 to Waunakee’s budget.

But village board members said with sharply rising costs to other municipalities as they plan their 2022 budgets, more study is needed.

Village President Chris Zellner noted that Waunakee is paying about 70 percent of cost share among the municipalities in the district. When the Waunakee EMS was established in 1979, it was a volunteer service, Zellner said. Since that time, the population has grown, particularly in Waunakee, although Waunakee has only one vote in the district.

Trustee Bill Ranum serves as Waunakee’s representative on the district board and will look for direction on what Waunakee should do.

Zellner said the communities are embarking on their 2022 budgets, noting Waunakee may have “room that they may not have.” Ambulance service is a need in the community, and Waunakee can look at different options, including a privatized EMS, he said.

“It could be some different form of how we’re partnering with other communities. Maybe we’re going to partner with Westport or maybe we’re going to partner with one of the others and we’re going to have the EMS and others, we can buy them out… but we need to look at what our options are,” Zellner said.

Waunakee residents expect excellent service, and Zellner said he is not happy to hear that they are most at-risk because of their location in the heart of the village.

Trustee Gary Herzberg said he shared those concerns, and asked if Waunakee should have more representation on the district board.

Trustee Nila Frye thanked the EMS for the service over the years, noting that the structure with volunteers worked for a long time.

“I would like to look at all avenues that are possible to see the affordability down the road and what we can do to continue the great services, but also keep it affordable,” Frye said. She later added, “There are many things affecting the budget and many budget needs, and our tax money is only going to go so far.”

Trustee Sam Kaufmann said Waunakee should discuss the options with other municipalities to see what they can pay for additional full-time staff.

Trustee Erin Moran asked about a regional service. Russell said discussions are underway with Middleton and Cross Plains about possibly consolidating the service.

“That’s something that happens regardless with the decision process that I’m hoping will continue to go forward. I think in the long run… the consolidation is going to be the best way to avoid costs in the future,” Russell said, noting other communities are having the same issues.

Village trustees agreed they should take more time to study the solutions.

Renee Meinholz, finance director, said it will give Waunakee and the other municipalities time to see how they can absorb the added costs in their budgets.

“We all have budget limitations,” Meinholz said. “We [Waunakee] just have more cushion than other places have; we hold that for an emergency, and this might be considered that, but some places are right at their limit and might struggle.”

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