Joint meeting

Waterford town and village officials hold a joint meeting Wednesday at the Village Hall in the wake of recent communications breakdown between the adjoining municipalities. Village trustees and town supervisors expressed a willingness to work through the two municipalities' differences.

WATERFORD — Relations between Town and Village of Waterford officials took a more cordial tone Wednesday night as leaders from both communities met in open session to discuss intergovernmental coordination just over a week after the Town Board voted to cancel its fire protection contract with the village.

The two-hour joint meeting — which saw the Village Hall chambers overflow into public viewing areas outside and in the library next door where proceedings were livestreamed — ended with the Village Board voting to extend the fire/emergency medical services contract through 2020 should the Town Board reverse its cancellation, and with the Town Board deciding to discuss the possibility a new fire contract at its meeting set for 5:30 p.m. Monday.

Though some discussion Wednesday still had a degree of animosity lurking beneath the surface and not much progress was made on any of the agenda items — the fire/EMS contract, the police contract, a potential boundary agreement and a potential revenue agreement — village trustees and town supervisors alike expressed a desire to repair the two municipalities’ relationship and work together.

“Our first job is public safety, end of story,” Village Trustee Andrew Ewert said in the most impassioned plea of the night. “This bickering back and forth is ridiculous. I want my daughters taken care of. I want my grandmother taken care of. I want Tom (Hincz, Waterford’s town chairman) taken care of, Zeke (Jackson, Waterford’s village administrator) taken care of. We are all members here. Why are we fighting about borders? … Take care of the citizens.”

The current fire contract, which is set to expire at the end of this year following the Town Board’s cancellation vote, has the village’s Fire Department covering about 1,000 homes in the southern part of the town. The Tichigan Fire Company provides fire and rescue service to the northern part of the town, including the Tichigan and Caldwell areas.

Hincz, who rarely spoke during Wednesday’s meeting, told The Journal Times last week that the Town Board voted to end the contract in retaliation to the village’s plans to annex some town properties. In response to the vote and the Town Board’s apparent unwillingness to meet prior to Wednesday, Jackson threatened to put an end to “any way that we cooperate.”

Setting aside egos

“Shame on us all,” Village Trustee Troy McReynolds said during Wednesday’s meeting. “I was once told by a great former boss of mine, feed your family or feed your ego. Our family is our constituents. Let’s start feeding our family instead of all the personal attacks, the misinformation that gets thrown out. Let’s start acting like professional elected people and start taking care of our constituents.”

Town supervisors also expressed regret with how the past few weeks of negotiations have been handled. The two boards were scheduled to meet jointly last Monday. The town abruptly canceled the joint meeting in the middle of the afternoon the Friday prior, and when the Village Board showed up anyway, the Town Board went into closed session in its regularly scheduled meeting and decided to cancel the contract.

“It was a mistake for the town to cancel the village attendance at last Monday’s meeting,” longtime Town Supervisor Dale Gauerke said. “I was not happy when that occurred. This discussion should have happened before we made our decision, in my opinion.”

‘Pins and needles’

While officials admitted faults Wednesday, there is still no guarantee the fire contract will be restored, the contract which has the town providing police protection to the village, or a boundary agreement made to control annexation of town land by the village.

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Tensions simmered, but stopped short of boiling over at times during the meeting, especially during the first half. Town Supervisor Teri Jendusa-Nicolai said it was unfair that the village invited Fire Chief Rick Mueller and his assistant chiefs to give a presentation on the Waterford Fire Department. The same invitation was not extended to the Tichigan Volunteer Fire Company, she said.

Hincz also took aim at Jackson’s involvement in the meeting.

“I was also told, as a point of order — and you can call me out of order if you like — that this was amongst the board members and trustees of the village and the board members of the town,” he said. “And Mr. Jackson is again trying to run this meeting, and I don’t appreciate it.”

Ewert shot back, saying, “I think most of the board here will agree that we hired Mr. Jackson to do exactly what he’s doing here.”

But even with relations becoming less strained as the night went on, talks could feasibly drag on for months before any real progress is made. Several officials also expressed interest in exploring creating a potential fire district incorporating the Waterford Fire Department and Tichigan and Rochester fire companies — a suggestion proposed by Village President Don Houston.

In the meantime, the village plans to consult with the Racine County Sheriff’s Office to get a proposal to fill in the police coverage gap should the police contract with the town fall through.

“We’re really kind of on pins and needles until they (the Town Board) make whatever decision they’re going to make,” Jackson said.

Until more decisions are made, Jendusa-Nicolai said this meeting was a step in the right direction.

“It’s showing the public we are getting together,” she said. “We are willing to work together to move forward.”

“Our first job is public safety, end of story. This bickering back and forth is ridiculous.” Waterford Village Trustee Andrew Ewert

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