County poised to OK $1.2M in grants for paramedics

Committee backs expenditure but questions plans to sustain positions
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

The Ozaukee County Board on Wednesday was expected to act on a recommendation to spend $1.225 million to hire paramedics for fire departments throughout the county.

The Executive Committee on Monday recommended that the county provide the villages of Fredonia and Belgium a total of $225,000, the villages of Grafton and Saukville $300,000, City of Cedarburg $200,000, City of Mequon and Village of Thiensville $300,000 and City of Port Washington $200,000.

The county has allocated $5 million over the next three years from its American Rescue Plan Act funding for the program, which is aimed at getting more paramedics in fire stations throughout the county and ensuring a rapid response when residents call for help.

Fire departments throughout the county had reported difficulties recruiting and retaining emergency medical personnel, calling the situation a crisis.

Departments had to apply for the county funding, to a maximum $200,000 annually but with financial incentives for those who consolidated services.

By the middle of 2023, departments must show the county that they can sustain the new positions once the funding runs out.

But Supr. Marty Wolf, a member of the committee, questioned the sustainability aspect of the program. He noted that Port Washington officials want to use county funding to hire two people but, when the money runs out, will cut one.

Cedarburg, he added, said it would go to referendum to increase the tax base and support the new position while several other communities said they would seek county funding beyond the grant program.

“To me, sustainability is not county money,” Wolf said.

Nor is it fair for some communities to get county funding and not others, he said.

“I don’t see how it’s equitable for some to fund this on their own and others (to depend on the county),” Wolf said. “I have a problem with that.”

County Administrator Jason Dzwinel said that the county had two goals with the program right now — to get paramedics for the department and to see what sort of county funding may be needed in the future.

“If there’s a county role going forward, we’d like to know what the expectations are. We were clear about that,” Dzwinel said. And if county funds are needed, he said, the county will have to decide if it can provide them.

“That’s new to me,” Wolf said.

Dzwinel added that communities have a year to come up with a definitive sustainability plan

“In our analysis, we’re pretty comfortable with these amounts,” Dzwinel said. “This gets resources into the system. Let’s start this program for 12 months and let the communities dive in and establish sustainability.”

That’s especially important, he said, because numerous communities are in talks regarding cooperative and consolidated services.

“Sometimes these joint agreements aren’t the easiest to negotiate,” Dzwinel said.

That seemed to satisfy Wolf, who said, “I love this because we get programs going and give them time to figure it out.”

Dzwinel also noted that not every community got the amount of money they wanted, something Bill Rice, fire chief for Grafton and Saukville, cited as well.

Both Saukville and Grafton want to add three paramedics, Rice said, but going forward Grafton can only sustain two of those positions and Saukville one.

“For now we’re getting what we can sustain in Grafton,” he said. “We’re now waiting to see where consolidation (talks) go.”

But Supr. Paul Melotik, a committee member, stressed that while he agrees with the program, sustainability is still important.

“If a year from now, if sustainability isn’t there, I think we have to look at this really hard,” he said. “I think  in a year we need all these people to come into compliance.”

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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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Port Washington, WI 53074
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