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WATERFORD — The Waterford Town Board voted Monday to cancel its fire and emergency medical services contract with the Village of Waterford amid a complete communications breakdown between both communities’ leadership.

The cancellation — an escalation of a long-brewing intergovernmental conflict — means the roughly 1,000 homes in the southern part of the town currently covered by the Waterford Fire Department will fall under protection of the Tichigan and Rochester fire companies; the Tichigan Volunteer Fire Co. has long been responsible for the northern part of the town, including the unincoporated communities of Tichigan and Caldwell. Monday’s actions could also represent the beginning of an even larger falling-out between the town and village as talks swirl around the police contract and a potential boundary agreement.

“Underlying all of this is what you already know: the attempt to annex,” said Town Chairman Tom Hincz. The village has agreements with several town property owners to purchase and annex their land.

But the Town Board’s desire to protect town land from annexation could lead to safety concerns for the town residents currently covered by the village’s Fire Department, said Village Administrator Zeke Jackson and Village President Don Houston.

“If you think waiting 24 minutes to 30 minutes for an ambulance is a great thing, then no, it’s not a concern,” Jackson said, referring to the fact that the village’s Fire Department is staffed around-the-clock, whereas the Rochester and Tichigan fire companies are not.

Rochester’s station is manned by two staff members 8 a.m.-4p.m. Monday through Friday. Rochester Fire Chief Jack Biermann promised “there will be first responders on the scene within minutes” for the new coverage area in the town.

“They’re not going to wait half an hour for somebody to show up,” Biermann said. “That’s not going to happen. We wouldn’t allow it. That’s not acceptable.”

There is no contract between Rochester and the town, but Biermann said a response agreement may be ratified in the future.

Houston asserted the staffing discrepancy between the village Fire Department and the fire companies will result in a noticeable change for town residents currently covered by the village.

“That’s a little difference, isn’t it? Tell me it’s not going to change,” he said. “There’s no way it’s not going to change.”

When asked if he felt the quality of coverage would decline because the fire companies are not manned 24/7, Hincz did not directly answer the question.

“The village has been using our Police Department 24/7,” Hincz said. When asked again about the Fire Department, he said, “No. That’s not a concern.”

When pressed further, Hincz said, “We have never had an issue that I know of.”

Other town officials including Town Clerk Tina Mayer and Town Supervisor Teri Jendusa Nicolai deferred all comment to Hincz.

Waterford Fire Chief Rick Mueller and Tichigan Fire Chief Dave Wagner did not respond to requests for comment.

Canceled meetings

The situation reached its boiling point last Friday afternoon, when the town abruptly canceled a joint board meeting with the village scheduled for Monday. On the agenda were discussions on the police and fire/EMS contracts and a boundary agreement between the municipalities.

The Village Board and Jackson appeared at the Town Board’s own meeting Monday evening. Town supervisors promptly entered closed session, forcing village trustees and staff out. Village officials held the “joint” meeting in the parking lot of Town Hall, livestreaming the 2-minute event on Facebook as they moved to table all discussion on the agenda.

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Hincz told The Journal Times on Friday shortly after the town canceled the joint meeting that the decision to cancel was made because the town did not want to conduct contract discussions in open session.

“I’m not going to negotiate the way they want to negotiate,” Hincz said.

Jackson disputed that the village demanded an open session, saying he did not care how the boards met, but he emphasized the village would prefer an open meeting. In an email sent to Town Attorney Mike Dubis and the Town Board Monday afternoon and provided to The Journal Times, Jackson wrote, “If the only way that we can get the Boards together is to have a closed session, then let’s get that on the calendar. If my presence creates any challenges, I can arrange not to be there.”

A similar meeting was canceled in July because Waterford Police Chief Matthew Johnson was out of town, Houston said.

“We’ve now had two canceled meetings, and we really feel like they just don’t have a desire to talk to us,” Jackson said Tuesday. “Before we draw a final conclusion that our neighbors really wish that we weren’t neighbors, we’re going to give them another opportunity to come to the table and talk.”

However, Jackson also issued a thinly veiled threat that the village will sever the police contract if the boards cannot agree to meet in the wake of the fire contract cancellation.

“If we can’t meet, any way that we cooperate, we are going to end that cooperation,” Jackson said.

The town paid about $6,000 per year for the fire contract, while the village pays $540,000 annually for the police contract, Jackson said.

The village began contracting with the town Police Department in 2008. Prior to contracting with the town, the village also contracted for patrols from the Racine County Sheriff’s Office.

The prospects of things ending amicably look grim. Hincz said Tuesday that the two boards have nothing to meet on, saying Monday’s canceled meeting “certainly wasn’t (to discuss) a land boundary agreement,” despite it being on the agenda. He accused the village of having “ambitions to dissolve the town.”

“What are we going to discuss?” Hincz said. “Have two town boards sitting there and looking at each other? It made no sense.”

Jackson informed The Journal Times shortly before 5 p.m. Wednesday that the town and village brokered a deal for the boards to meet in open session at 6 p.m. Sept. 4.

Incorporation petition

The town in July began circulating a petition to incorporate as the Village of Tichigan. It quickly surpassed the requisite number of signatures to file, and Houston and Jackson vowed to fight the effort.

Both sides previously said they were open to a boundary agreement.

Hincz refused to say if the town had filed the petition, only giving the reason that it is a legal matter. Mayer did not respond to a call or email inquiring about the petition’s status.

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