RACINE — So, which municipality is going to take the next step?
The Wisconsin Policy Forum and Center for Government Research presented a report on Wednesday to elected officials from east of Interstate 94 that included different options to provide more efficient services in the area of fire and EMS, and parks and recreation.
Officials from the City of Racine, and villages of Mount Pleasant, Caledonia and Sturtevant are all in agreement that some changes should be made, but finding a consensus on what needs to change is a difficult question to answer.
In the area of fire and EMS, some of the suggestions include having the nearest unit respond to emergencies, consolidating training opportunities and merging two or three departments. Many of the suggestions included in the report have been proposed in the past.
In the area of parks and recreation, some of the suggestions include having a consolidated website for activities and forming a joint council to oversee administering recruitment and background checks for coaches and referees, and overseeing park resources.
“These are big policy decisions that shouldn’t just be made by a few people in a room, this is really a community dialogue that we need to have,” Racine Mayor Cory Mason said.
Although the report did not have any financial data attached to any of the different options, the Wisconsin Policy Forum plans to complete a report that includes the potential costs of each of the options.
What to do about fire, EMS?
Caledonia Village President Jim Dobbs said he would like the fire chiefs from each of the departments to weigh in on the different options.
“I understand that they have talked about this over the years,” Dobbs said. “The chiefs can probably make something that makes sense for better services and or possibly cost savings.”
Dobbs said some of the suggestions included in the report have been proposed in the past but “politicians got in the way and didn’t want to do it.”
Caledonia Fire Chief Richard Roeder said it is very possible for the departments to implement a closest unit response policy.
“All of these are good ideas, it’s just a matter of sitting down and having our political parties telling us which direction they want us to go,” Roeder said. “The three fire chiefs have bosses, and our bosses have bosses and that’s the village boards and city council … they’re going to be looking out for what’s best for their constituents.”
South Shore Fire Chief Robert Stedman said he does not think the next step is for “the fire chiefs to get together.”
“The next steps are for some levels of service to be determined and then costs assigned to them,” Stedman said. “And then the politicians need to decide if this is something we’re interested in. It’s not up to the fire chiefs to do that.”
Stedman said switching to a policy with the closest vehicle responding to emergencies “could be done rather quickly.”
“I’ve been saying that for six years. The closest vehicle (policy) could be done with very little cost and could be done within a matter of weeks,” Stedman said. “And I think that’s the most important priority. If we can’t work together on closest vehicle, then we’re not going to be able to do some kind of consolidation with other departments.”
Racine Fire Chief Steve Hansen was out of the office late last week and unavailable for comment.
Mason said there is a question of “who pays and who benefits?” from some of the proposed changes that needs to be answered.
“I think there’s an appetite to look at some of the other strategies that exist on how you address resilience and equity in the region,” Mason said. “I don’t think the merger of service in it of itself will suddenly achieve resiliency as a community. But if we can have success in that area and begin to work together, it might lead to future success in other areas.”
Mount Pleasant Village President Dave DeGroot agrees that some action needs to be taken, but the question is what is the best for everyone?
“We have to think about how we want to digest (the report) in our own community and there’s still going to be some back and forth, and further discussion,” DeGroot said. “It comes down to how do you best serve your constituents?”
To weigh in on the options that have been presented regarding possible shared services, area residents are invited to take an online survey. That can be found at surveymonkey.com/r/RKLQC32.
“These are big policy decisions that shouldn’t just be made by a few people in a room, this is really a community dialogue that we need to have.”
Racine Mayor Cory Mason