EDITORIAL: Don’t rule out cost-saving option for firehouse

“You’ll be taxing the taxpayers right out of their houses.”

If that comment, made by Port Washington City Administrator Mark Grams at last week’s Common Council meeting, sounded a bit shrill, it was because he was trying to get the attention of the elected officials who are about to put taxpayers in millions of dollars of debt for a new firehouse.

Council members and Mayor Marty Becker are giving plenty of attention to the firehouse, but it is focused more on a favored location than on cost. No detailed cost estimates have been made, but the working number is $5 million, with a tax impact estimated at just under $100 a year on a modest $200,000 home for the 20-year life of the loan.

The City of Port Washington needs a second fire station because the existing one is not big enough to efficiently accommodate the current firefighting and emergency service force and its equipment, and because its downtown location is too distant from development on the west and south sides of the city.

The Police and Fire Commission and fire station task force have recommended that the new facility be a full-service firehouse rather than the bare-bones alternative of a satellite station with a small complement of apparatus and an ambulance.

Dealing with the obsolescence of the 42-year-old downtown firehouse is overdue, and the council is right to make fast action a priority. But cost control should be a parallel priority. The fact that some officials are discouraging consideration of a promising cost-saving location option suggests that is not the case.

That option is the proposal by Ozaukee County to partner with the city in the construction of a building that would be shared by the city fire department and the county’s public safety departments. It would be built on the grounds of the Justice Center on the city’s southwest side. Besides construction economies, the plan has the advantage of including a community meeting facility to be used by both the county and the city. A community room is on the list of fire station necessities submitted by the task force.

Council members expressed interest in the county offer, but that cooled when Fire Chief Mark Mitchell and the mayor said the county site wasn’t big enough to accommodate the fire station they have in mind.

The chief and the mayor and others are pushing for a site along Highway 33. The land is owned by the city and has ample space, but its use is complicated by the awkward fact that the Village of Saukville controls sewer service to that location. Regardless of how this is resolved, that would add expense to the project.

The Justice Center site does not have that problem, and there are a number of other reasons why the shared city-county fire and safety building should be seriously considered, including:

Rejection of the Justice Center site as too small by the mayor and fire chief is not the last word. An analysis by Ozaukee County Administrator Jason Dzwinel and Policy and Budget Analyst Jason Wittek concluded that the 3.5-acre site is adequate for a fire station of the size proposed by the city and the county storage facility.

Even if the county site isn’t exactly what the fire station task force had envisioned, nothing says that its site preference and the wish list it complied—which features, besides garages for firefighting vehicles and equipment, a dormitory, physical fitness work-out facilities, offices, training rooms and the community room—have to be rubber stamped by the council. The building has not yet been designed. When it is, it can certainly be customized for the chosen site.

The Justice Center location, with its proximity to large subdivisions and the industrial park, is at least as suitable for fire protection services as the Highway 33 site.

It is possible that some fire department and city officials are not enthused about the county proposal for reasons other than the claimed insufficiency of space at the Justice Center location. It is understandable that they might want the new fire station to be solely a city edifice—exclusively the home of the Port Washington Fire Department—rather than a government facility shared with the county.

Port Washington’s community pride and the pride of its excellent volunteer fire department are worthy values, but they should not come at the expense of taxpayers beyond the investment needed to provide adequate fire protection and emergency services.

That is why the Common Council should authorize requests for two proposals, one for a city-only firehouse on the Highway 33 site and the other for a shared city-county facility at the Justice Center site.

Let the resulting numbers lead the city to the right choice.



Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

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.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login