Communities agree to study EMS consolidation

Port, Grafton, Saukville, Cedarburg also plan to apply for county grants to pay for paramedics
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

The cities of Port Washington and Cedarburg and villages of Grafton and Saukville are to consider two measures next week that would help ease the paramedic crisis in the county.

They are expected to approve applications for grants from Ozaukee County to pay for  full-time paramedics, and also consider a memorandum of understanding that would obligate them to study consolidation of their departments.

The moves come just weeks after Mequon and Thiensville agreed to merge their fire departments beginning Jan. 1.

And on Tuesday, the villages and towns of Fredonia and Belgium agreed to apply for a county grant to fund a consolidated 24/7 paramedic service based in Fredonia through 2024.

The actions are prompted in large part by the looming June 30 deadline for the county grants, which would pay departments as much as $200,000 annually to pay for paramedics, with an additional $100,000 available if they consolidate services.

If three or more communities consolidate, they are also eligible for another $100,000 to make building improvements.

The grants are intended to pay for three full-time paramedic/firefighters for 30 months, after which communities would be responsible to pick up the cost of the program.

That sustainability obligation — communities must give the county a sustainability plan by May 1, 2023 — has caused many communities to pause before applying for the grants.

Port Fire Chief Mark Mitchell said Monday that he and City Administrator Tony Brown are looking at how many paramedics to seek funding for, given the requirement by the county that communities continue to fund the positions after the county grant program ends.

“I wouldn’t want us to be in a position where we’re hiring people and saying it’s for 30 months and after that we’ll see,” Brown said. “What we’re requesting (in grant money) is going to be equal to what we feel, conservatively speaking, the city can afford in the future.”

Officials haven’t yet determined if that means seeking funds for one, two or three paramedics, he said.

“We’re trying to be conscious of what we can reasonably afford and how we can enhance service,” Brown added.

Grafton Fire Chief Bill Rice said  Tuesday that Grafton, too, is engaging in that exercise although he’s hopeful the village will apply for funds for three positions.

Even being able to finance one new paramedic would be “a big deal for us,” Rice told the Public Safety Committee Tuesday. “It’s a big step forward.”

Sustainability, he added, “is going to be a challenge” for any community.

“I’ve been told it would be very difficult for the village to continue these positions after three years without a referendum (to increase the tax levy to cover the cost),” Rice said. State levy limits would make it virtually impossible to absorb the cost into municipal budgets otherwise.

Rice said a working group of officials, administrators and fire chiefs from Port, Grafton, Saukville and Cedarburg has met twice and is asking the communities to sign a memorandum of understanding that they would study consolidation.

That, he said, is likely to fulfill the county’s requirement for sustainability, even though it does not commit the communities to consolidate.

And, Rice added, communities appear willing to enter these discussions, noting the working group has met twice so far.

“There seemed to be early buy in,” he said.

The fire chiefs from each community will meet this week to begin discussing what a consolidated department might look like, he added.

The memorandum of understanding serves two purposes, Rice said.

“To say to the county we’re doing this, we’re serious and we want to be considered” and, he added, to “really be open with the communities and let people know we’re serious about it.”

Every community has different concerns that need to be addressed and different visions of what a consolidated service should include and look like, Rice said.

“People have to look at different plans and see what works best for their community and make sure they are being fair and equitable,” he said.

“So far it’s been productive and positive. Now we need to work on the details, and that’s going to be much more difficult.”

Brown said, “I think everyone’s clear. No one’s going into the working group with preconceived notions of the outcome. We’re saying, let’s not put up barriers. Let’s talk about items of individual concern and see if there’s a way to work through those.”

The county applications cover the full 30 months of the grant program. But if communities apply for the grants individually and later agree to consolidate, they could likely amend their applications or submit a new application, Brown said.

The Common Council is expected to discuss both the grant application and the memorandum of understanding when it meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 21, Brown said.

Rice noted that all the affected communities are expected to consider the matter during the week of June 20.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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