WIND POINT — A new landfill, conjoined fire departments and tackling rising recycling costs were all ideas presented in a new study, released Friday by the Wisconsin Policy Forum.
The “Building Bridges” study encourages the City of Racine and villages of Caledonia, Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant to conglomerate the services they each provide, rather than remain separate from one other.
The study provided a series of suggestions that may improve the quality of life and save spending for residents and governments of Greater Racine’s municipalities.
A policy change across Racine-area police departments is already paying dividends, and the Wisconsin Policy Forum took note.
Police departments customarily sent the arresting officer to preliminary hearings at the Racine County Courthouse, which means that each of those officers would either have to miss time actually policing the community, or would have to be paid overtime to be present at court.
Now, the departments frequently send a designated officer to be present at the preliminary hearing, an officer who wasn’t necessarily involved in the original arrest but who can still provide “summary testimony” of a criminal complaint.
This is allowed because the law states that departments are required to have an officer present for preliminary hearings of criminal cases, but it doesn’t need to be the the officer responsible for each specific case.
The Policy Forum said that this change is “saving local departments overtime dollars and keeping officers on assignment.”
Caledonia’s police and fire chief have both said their departments are slightly understaffed.
The South Shore Fire Department (which covers the villages of Mount Pleasant, Sturtevant and Elmwood Park) is looking to build up its infrastructure, as the Village of Mount Pleasant has granted the department nearly $1.1 million to pay for a new emergency medical services station near the corner of Emmertsen Road and Spring Street.
According to the study, Caledonia spends the least per capita ($175) of the three fire departments servicing the Racine area. The Racine Fire Department spends $215 per capita and South Shore spends $234.
Each of the three departments have agreements to respond to each other’s calls if one department gets overloaded; all three use the same radio frequency and joint dispatch center, which the WPF says is a good thing.
But the study says this concept should be taken even further. The Policy Forum suggested that the nearest emergency unit should automatically respond for each rescue call, regardless of whose jurisdiction a call originated in.
“This could serve either as a first step toward full consolidation or as a permanent state of affairs,” the researchers wrote. “Consolidation would not come without hard work and compromise, however. Issues such as differences in union contracts, fringe benefits, work rules, work schedules and staffing frameworks would need to be reconciled.”
The study noted that consolidation has been considered by the fire departments themselves.
According to the study, “the fire chiefs at all three departments are at or nearing retirement age. While none of them has indicated formal plans to retire, one told us that he would be willing to retire if it buttressed consolidation efforts.” The study did not indicated which chief said would consider retirement if it could bring the departments closer together.
No waste in waste
The City of Racine budgeted $5.086 million on solid waste collection and recycling services, or $65.57 per citizen, according to the Policy Forum. Mount Pleasant, Caledonia and Sturtevant average $51.19 per citizen.
Recycling costs have far outpaced the rate of inflation in each of the four municipalities. Since 2015, Sturtevant’s total recycling/compost collection has increased by 10.5 percent, Caledonia’s by 13.5 percent, Mount Pleasant’s by 18.4 percent and Racine’s by 27.8 percent.
Despite the proximity of the four communities, there aren’t any shared collection services. Sturtevant, being the smallest of the four municipalities, would benefit most from collaboration, according to the study.
A new landfill also is in the works, and the Policy Forum offered this piece of advice for organizers: “Joint planning for a new landfill to serve the region could allow for shared costs and collaborative efforts to reduce waste streams.”
Consolidation may not be the solution for every problem, the Policy Forum admitted.
For Sturtevant, Caledonia and Mount Pleasant, the study suggested sharing road maintenance equipment, and possibly even staff, to prevent waste on unnecessary purchases when borrowing resources could save money.
But it suggested that the City of Racine remain independent in those matters, because “Racine’s extensive needs may preclude the ability to share equipment during busy times of the year.”
“I really, truly would like to see exploration … of new ways to collaborate and for communities to find the ways that make the most sense with the fast pace of change in growth in the area,” said Ashley Staeck, a program officer for The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread. “I think there’s a definite common interest in exploring opportunities for ways for them to come together to benefit.”
Clarification: The story has been updated from an earlier version. The study was released by the Wisconsin Policy Forum.