PRESS EDITORIAL: Make the firehouse a joint venture

Bank on it: Port Washington is getting a second firehouse.

It’s a certainty not only because an additional fire station of some type is needed soon, but because it has the momentum and the bulletproof, Teflon-coated protection that only public safety (fire and police department) spending initiatives enjoy.

“Bank” is an appropriate word in connection with the firehouse movement. The city will have to go to the bank to borrow millions to pay for it, possibly as much as $5 million.

Advocates for building a full-service firehouse instead of a mere satellite station—a building with a dormitory, physical fitness work-out facilities, offices, training rooms and a community meeting room in addition to the garages needed to house firefighting vehicles and equipment—have been rather glib about the cost.

The estimated $92-a-year additional tax on a modest $200,000 home needed to repay the debt has been called “cheap insurance” and compared to the tab for dinner for two at a downtown Port restaurant. 

Sure, but the fact is that many city residents will pay thousands of dollars out of their household budgets for the firehouse before its debt is retired.

An alderman has suggested that, in spite of its daunting price tag, the proposed firehouse “is not a Cadillac.” Actually, that is a dated automotive metaphor. The firehouse plan may not be a Bentley or Rolls Royce, but it looks a lot like a Mercedes Benz.

Among city officials, only City Administrator Mark Grams has had the gumption to question the expense, saying it is “going to hit people hard” and pointing out that the firehouse expenditure should be considered in context with “what else the city has going on with roads and everything else it borrows for.”   

That context, however, has suddenly brightened, thanks to an out-of-the-blue offer from Ozaukee County Administrator Jason Dzwinel to combine a new city firehouse with a building to serve the county’s public safety departments on the county Justice Center property on the southwest side of Port Washington.

City and county officials will meet soon to explore the idea, but its potential benefits are obvious at first glance. 

Combining the projects would likely result in construction economies. Plus, the Justice Center site has clear advantages over the city’s preferred location on Grand Avenue near the Highway LL intersection. 

Located between two thoroughfares, Highway LL and Spring Street (Highway 32), the county site is close to the city industrial park and several of the largest subdivisions. What’s more, the county owns the land. Using the Grand Avenue site, the city would have to negotiate to buy the land from a gas station operator that plans to build there, adding expense and delay to the firehouse project.

Delay is anathema to members of a fire station task force and the Police and Fire Commission who cite the growing inadequacies of the downtown firehouse in pushing for fast action. The current firehouse was built 42 years ago, when the PWFD had 35 volunteers and five fire trucks. Today there are 59 firefighters plus a full-time chief and 17 pieces of equipment. During the life of the firehouse, Port Washington’s population has increased from 8,500 to more than 13,000, and as the city has grown, residential, commercial and industrial development has moved progressively farther away from the firehouse on Wisconsin Street.

No question, the growing obsolescence of the firehouse has been ignored for too long, and it is to Mayor Marty Becker’s credit that he has spearheaded the effort to put correcting that mistake on a fast track. It will be recalled that the previous mayor and Common Council expended great amounts of time and energy attempting to get a building for an entertainment business called the Blues Factory, for which there was no demand or public support, built on city lakefront land, while failing to address the obvious needs of the firehouse building two blocks from City Hall.

Building a satellite station in the western part of the city as a less costly alternative to a new fire department headquarters would offer some relief, but it would be a stopgap with limitations. In any case, the idea seems to have no support from officials.

So, one way or another, the city is going to get a brand new firehouse. The fast track on which that project is speeding should be re-aimed directly at the Justice Center site and a cooperative effort with Ozaukee County.


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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
(262) 284-3494


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