Officials want to tap county sales tax for EMS

A referendum to raise taxes seen as another possible source of long-term funding of emergency services
Ozaukee Press staff

Fire chiefs and elected officials from the northern portion of Ozaukee County are formulating a strategy to pay for paramedics in the villages and towns of Fredonia and Belgium beyond 2024, when American Rescue Plan Act money the county earmarked as a stop-gap measure runs out.

One potential funding source is tapping into the increase in Ozaukee County sales tax revenue.

Another is a referendum to raise taxes  for emergency medical services that would be put to voters.

Funding from the state isn’t out of the question, either.

The group, including officials and fire chiefs from the towns and villages of Fredonia and Belgium and Waubeka Fire Chief Jason Caswell, talked with Joe Ruth, an attorney for the Wisconsin Towns Association, via Zoom at the Belgium Town Hall on Tuesday, who said “there is a good chance we can get some kind of emergency services funding help from the state in the next legislative session.”

Ozaukee County is not alone in running short on staffing for emergency medical services and firefighters, Ruth said.

“This is not an Ozaukee County issue. This is statewide,” he said.

State law allows for a special fee to be imposed outside the tax levy for fire service, but not for ambulance or EMS, Ruth said.

“That would take a legislative change,” he said.

A countywide ambulance service, however, is exempt from levy limits and may tax as much as needed to pay for it.

The problems with that, Ruth said, is county borders are arbitrarily drawn and local politics can come into play. In Portage County, he said, Stevens Point has a response time of a few minutes while the southwest portion of the county waits 37 minutes.

A joint department or district — what Fredonia, Belgium and Waubeka are forming to create efficient 24/7 service — may adopt an ordinance — every municipality has to do it — that allows a 2% increase plus inflation to the levy for fire service and EMS, but Ruth said the language of that statute is not clear. He hopes to help better define it.

EMS has become so expensive, Ruth said, that private providers and hospital systems are backing out of contracts or not renewing them.

The new Belgium/Fredonia/Waubeka EMS district wants to receive one-third of the yearly increase in county sales tax money and dedicate it to EMS or for fixing roads.

“The county does very little if anything to earn that tax money. They don’t distribute it; they keep it and do all their little pet projects with that money,” Fredonia Village President Don Dohrwardt said.

“The county administrator all but said that’s not going to happen. He’s going to have to get rolled on this one. All the towns and all the villages have supervisors on that board. If we give them enough education, they will vote this in.”

Ruth said even if the money was used for road maintenance, that same amount could be taken out of municipalities’ road budgets and put toward EMS.

“It could still provide the same level of flexibility,” he said.

The new district also plans to hold a referendum next year to help pay for its service.

Ruth said the successful referendums he has seen “spent just an inordinate amount of time explaining, having conversations with community members not only about how much money they want, what specifically the plan is to use that money for, getting public involvement and making the public feel a part of that process.”

Belgium Town Chairman Tom Winker said he wants to avoid the fate of an area near Ashland that didn’t have EMS service for several months last year due to lack of staffing. Ruth said they have since solved the problem.

“The people who live here I think expect and demand a quality ambulance and EMS provider,” Winker said.

The group will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27.



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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.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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