Northern Ozaukee emergency service taking shape

Villages, towns sort through details of cooperative EMS aimed at addressing response times, paramedic shortage
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

The final draft of the intermunicipal agreement to provide emergency medical services to northern Ozaukee County got tweaked when it reached the Belgium Village Board on Monday.

The agreement, developed by the towns and villages of Belgium and Fredonia, and the Fredonia, Belgium and Waubeka fire departments, addresses a critical need for emergency medical service amid lengthening response times and a shrinking pool of on-call volunteers across the county.

Fire departments a few years ago began to discuss mergers, driven by a report on the county’s nine fire departments by the Wisconsin Policy Forum, and the departments in northern Ozaukee County agreed to share resources.

Instead of forming a new EMS district, which would have involved a complex, lengthy and expensive process of dissolving all emergency medical services in northern Ozaukee County and starting over from scratch, the entities decided to contract through the Village of Fredonia for services.

The newly formed group received a grant from Ozaukee County that pays about $250,000 per year for the emergency medical service through 2025 with the caveat that a funding plan on how to sustain those services starting in 2026 be submitted to the county this May.

The devil in those details is where a couple of entities requested changes to the intermunicipal agreement. The Town of Fredonia asked that the funding formula not be based solely on population through the census every 10 years as originally proposed, but a combination of population, call volume from the previous year and the equalized value of property improvements.

That language was added to a nearly 10-page document, and the Village of Belgium asked for a couple of more clauses at its board meeting on Monday.

“As I’m understanding this agreement, you as a board have no oversight of the budget. The budget is approved by the village of Fredonia’s board,” Belgium Village Treasurer Vickie Boehnlein said.

That means Belgium — and the two towns — would be obligated to pay for their portion of whatever the Fredonia Village Board approves for EMS each year. If Belgium is up against its allowable tax levy, “then you have to cut from somewhere else because we cannot just raise taxes for that,” Boehnlein said.

“You are signing away any oversight of this to the Fredonia Village Board, which is something for you to decide if you want to do that or not.”

Fredonia Fire Chief Brian Weyker said he would bring the budget to Belgium in August or September to allow time to adjust for the following year, but Boehnlein said Belgium can’t change the numbers.

“We will know what we owe but we won’t have any recourse,” she said. “They can do what they want with it. That’s what this agreement says.”

Boehnlein suggested capping the percentage increase of EMS costs each year, similar to contracts the village has for other services, such as garbage collection, which has a 2% increase annually built in for its 10-year contract. If Fredonia wants a higher percentage increase, the majority of the four municipalities should have to agree with it, she said.

Trustee Roseann Geib agreed.

“You have seven board members in the Village of Fredonia that we trust to do the right thing, but in two years that could be seven different members that we don’t know. I feel like putting something in place is safe. I feel we owe the Village of Belgium that,” she said.

Belgium’s current funding for fire and EMS requires a majority vote from the town and village to approve the annual budget of the Belgium Fire Department, a private entity.

The Village Board, along with Weyker, Fredonia Village President Don Dohrwardt and Village Administrator Christophe Jenkins, agreed to a 5% increase each year.

“You’re looking at this covering our salaries,” Weyker said. “The ambulance is kind of self-sustaining. It’s the salaries that kill us.”

The other cost is a defibrillator, and Weyker said he is asking the county’s Public Safety Committee to buy one, which would be good for 10 years.

Boehnlein also suggested having a five-year EMS capital plan.

“I think that would be reasonable. You can’t just come in and raise it next year, ‘Oh we want a new truck,’” she said.

“That would be a good thing to do,” Dohrwardt said.

Boehnlein also asked that the document include the timing of the funding. Nothing says the county grant covers EMS costs through 2025.

Village officials approved those changes and said they want to see a draft of the amended agreement before signing off on it.

Jenkins said he would add the language that night, and Belgium already had a special meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday to approve the document.

The Village of Fredonia and both towns will have to approve the agreement again. The Town of Belgium had approved the document without debate last week.

Dohrwardt warned of the consequences of not reaching an EMS agreement.

“What are we going to do if we don’t join this?” he asked.

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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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