Port pursuing safety complex at city yard site

Aldermen studying police, fire facility on Moore Rd. but news is a suprise to commission focused on west-side firehouse
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

The City of Port Washington is no longer looking to build a second fire station but instead to construct a joint police and fire station, Mayor Ted Neitzke said Tuesday.

And among the locations being considered for the safety complex is the current city yard on Moore Road.

Aldermen Dan Benning and Paul Neumyer are leading a study of the concept  of creating a joint facility, and they are expected to have a recommendation ready for the Common Council to act on by next spring so a safety complex could be constructed by the summer of 2025.

The concept of building a safety complex that would combine the police and fire departments was publicly unveiled at a strategic work session of the council Tuesday before the regular Common Council meeting.

The news surprised Police and Fire Commission Chairman Jim Biever, who said Wednesday morning he knew nothing of the city’s change in direction.

“I wasn’t aware of it,” he said. “The Police and Fire Commission isn’t aware of it that I know.”

The commission has been working to get approval for a satellite fire station on the city’s west side for years, noting the existing facility does not have adequate space for equipment and staff members.

Under former Mayor Marty Becker, a taskforce studied the issue and the commission went so far as interviewing architectural firms, but when the pandemic hit efforts stalled.

The concept of a safety complex is one of several “bold ideas” the Common Council wants to pursue as part of the city’s strategic planning process, Neitzke said, noting many city facilities are in need of updates and improvements.

The police station was built and the firehouse expanded at about the same time decades ago, Neitzke said, and both were built to handle the needs of that time with no provision for future needs.

“It sounds crazy to say we’ll be a community of 20,000 people someday. It isn’t,” he said. “And right now we don’t have the infrastructure to support that growth.”

The vision now, Neitzke said, is to create a modern, state of the art facility that will allow for efficiencies that aren’t possible with separate facilities or with multiple fire stations.

“Maintaining and operating two fire stations is off the table for me,” he said.

A new safety complex should be located in the center of the city, near the population center, he said — and the city yard is directly in the center. The location, combined with the fact the land is city owned, makes it a “near perfect site,” Neitzke added.

“A big chunk of that property is yard waste,” he said of the street department land.

The property would allow for police, fire and ambulances to have quicker response times and multiple routes, Neitzke said.

If the city were to move ahead with that site, he added, officials would also have to look at the impact on the street department.

On Monday, Port Washington Town Chairman Mike Didier said Neitzke recently contacted him to see if the town was interested in a shared yard waste site, adding that the mayor stressed it would have to be located in the town.

Board members noted that the town doesn’t have any land that would be adequate for the drop-off site, but said they would think about whether there are lands that the town could lease for a facility.

The idea of a drop-off area for yard waste, officials said, is something that town residents have been asking for.

Finding an alternate location for the city yard is essential to any plan to create a safety complex on the land, Neitzke said.

“It’s a non-starter if you don’t have a place for yard waste,” he said.

Neitzke said that while the city yard is one potential site being considered by the city, it won’t be the only one, though he did not identify any other locations.

Creating a safety complex holds numerous advantages for the city, Neitzke said, noting the police and fire departments could have joint training facilities and other shared functions.

And to help offset the cost, he said, the city could sell the existing police and fire stations. He said he doesn’t know how much the sale of these facilities could bring, noting the city is currently having all its properties appraised, but said it is likely to be significant.

And the benefit of selling the two properties could go beyond the financial aspect, Neitzke said, given the fact they are in downtown Port and could become a mix of residential and commercial properties.

And while the county fire departments are looking at opportunities to merge and consolidate ambulance and paramedic operations, Neitzke said it’s still important for Port to improve its fire station.

“We still have to have a local home for all our equipment and people,” he said, adding that a new station will also help the city retain and attract staff members.

Aldermen at Tuesday’s work session indicated some support for the project as well as a few concerns.

Ald. Mike Gasper said he worries that when two departments share one facility they grow at different rates, meaning one department could quickly outgrow the building.

Ald. Jonathan Pleitner said he likes the idea of improved efficiencies and a shared facility, as well as the relationships a combined station could nurture, but said he is concerned about the potential location,

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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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