Fire chief lobbied others to join fight with town

Leader of Newburg department wanted other chiefs to commit to withholding emergency services from Town of Saukville during contract dispute that was later settled
Ozaukee Press staff

The Town of Saukville and Newburg Fire Department have settled a contract dispute, at least for now, but a letter that came to light last week reveals that the Newburg fire chief lobbied other departments to leave the town without essential emergency services if it did not agree to a new deal.

In the Dec. 13 letter, Newburg Fire Chief Mark Chesak asked the other chiefs whose departments provide fire protection to the Town of Saukville to sign a pledge not to respond to “any emergency” if the town did not agree to a new contract by the end of the year when the current contract ends.

The chiefs — from Waubeka, Fredonia and the Village of Saukville — all refused to sign the pledge.

“Morally I cannot leave some of my community neighbors, extended family and friends unprotected while these negotiations play out,” Fredonia Fire Chief Brian Weyker wrote to Chesak in an email. 

“Secondly, although I am a chief for the Fredonia Fire Department, I don’t believe I could direct/persuade my membership to not respond without some severe backlash based on those same principles. I took on this job to protect lives and property of the people in our community and do not want to lose sight of that during situations like this.”

Arguing that the Town of Saukville was being overcharged by the Newburg Fire Department, supervisors last week agreed to a one-year $183,391 contract with no increase over 2018, intending to hammer out a new contract at a future date. They had proposed cutting their contract with the Newburg department by more than a third.

Nearly a week prior to that meeting, Chesak wrote to Fredonia Fire Chief Brian Weyker, Saukville Chief Gilly Schultz and Waubeka Chief Jason Caswell to arrive early so they could sign the letter there and present it to the Town Board.

“I was a little bit surprised” by Chesak’s request, Waubeka Fire Chief Jason Caswell said. “It’s a moot point now. But we would have responded and done our job one way or another and tried to figure out the political end later.”

Saukville Fire Chief Gilly Schultz said he would not have agreed to Chesak’s request without approval of the Saukville Village Board.

“I was a little bit surprised, but I knew what Newburg was trying to do. They wanted a contract signed,” Schultz said. 

In a letter to Fredonia Village Clerk Sandi Tretow, Village Attorney Jonathan Woodward said since the contract with the town would have ended at midnight on Dec. 31, there would have been no contractual liability to the fire department if it did not respond. There may have been some liability, however, if the department did not respond to a mutual aid request, which is a separate agreement from the service contract.

In another letter, the village’s insurance carrier  advised Weyker to continue providing services after the New Year, saying there would be no additional liability even after the contract expired.

Nathaniel Melby, chief of the Town of Campbell Fire Department near La Crosse and president of the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association, said in a voic mail the town would have been liable for not having a valid fire protection contract if it had let its contract with Newburg lapse.

Chesak could not be reached for comment.

Saukville Town Chairman Don Hamm said he did not know about Chesak’s letter until a reporter called to ask for comment. 

“He’s (Chesak) between a rock and a hard place,” Hamm said. “This process should have been done earlier and I thought we came to a pretty good resolution. I’m not offended by it because his back was against the wall. I’m looking at this as a negotiation and an ongoing discussion.”

Hamm said he will reach out to Chesak and the other chiefs after mid-February to begin talking about arriving at a fire contract formula for the town.

It was important to the fire chiefs who attended last week’s meeting that the proposed meeting not be public. That means only one of the three town supervisors could attend. Two or more supervisors in attendance would constitute a quorum of the board and require that it be publicly noticed and be open to the public.

The Newburg Fire Department provides emergency services to the Town of Trenton, Village of Newburg and Town of Saukville.

Based on equalized value, the Town of Saukville pays more than twice what the Town of Trenton pays — 88 cents vs. 38 cents per $1,000 of equalized value in 2018. Newburg residents paid 52 cents per $1,000 in 2018.

Chesak said Trenton and the Town of Saukville have roiughly the same number of fire calls each year but Trenton has more high-value homes, hence the disparity when comparing costs according to equalized value.

While the contract has been with the Newburg department, the Saukville, Fredonia and Waubeka deprtrments also provide services and are paid through that contract.

The Village of Newburg and Trenton each have recently signed new three-year contracts with the Newburg department.

Even with the zero increase contract in effect for 2019, Schultz said the situtation will continue to have an effect on the other departments and communities.

“I’m still worried about the contract,” Schultz said. “Our expenses go up and with a zero increase we have to figure out how that’s going to work.”



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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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