Town rethinks charging for fire services after hearing from angry homeowners

Ozaukee Press staff

When there’s a fire at a home in the Town of Port Washington, homeowners are often frustrated and angry when they later receive a bill for the water and manpower used to fight fires on their property.

But that may soon change. The Town Board is pondering whether to pick up much of that cost, noting that the charge is particularly irksome to residents who have gone through the trauma of a fire.

“They (residents) really don’t like that, and I get it,” Town Chairman Mike Didier said. “I feel for them. Everyone thinks, ‘That’s what I pay taxes for.’”

And when these homeowners tell friends and family about the bills they receive, “They say, you’re nuts,” Didier added.

The Town of Port, he noted, is the only township in Ozaukee County that charges its residents for the cost of the water used to extinguish the fire and the wages paid to Port firefighters.

The amount charged covers the fire department’s cost of water and manpower to fight a blaze, Didier said.

Fire departments that respond for mutual aid don’t charge for labor, he noted.

For large fires, such as the November blaze that destroyed a barn at the Kultgen farm on River Lane Road and killed half his herd of beef cows, the bill was about $2,500.

The bill for the fire that destroyed the Iron Hog at the corner of Dixie Road and Highway LL last February was about $5,200, Didier noted.

“Five grand is a massive fire,” he said. “Twenty-five hundred is a big response.”

Homeowner’s insurance typically covers fire department charges, he noted, but usually not the full amount. Many policies, he said, only cover about $500.

“With the big fires, they’re usually under insured for the fire department charges,” Didier said.

The town pays the City of Port for fire protection, he noted. In 2022, the town paid the city $112,800, and that amount is increasing to $137,400.

The cost is determined using a formula that takes into account not only the cost of operating the fire department but also the equalized valuation of the town compared to the city, he said.

In addition, the town gives the city its fire insurance premium payment from the State of Wisconsin, which last year was $8,000, Didier said. Those funds can only be used for fire education and prevention.

City of Port residents do not receive a bill for these costs, Fire Chief Mark Mitchell said.

“It’s just part of their taxes,” he said.

Board members seemed amenable to picking up the cost of fighting fires, with Didier suggesting the town should only cover the amount not paid by insurance.

Didier estimated the fire bills last year totaled about $11,000, noting there were three major fires —  more than in a typical year.

The Town Board is expected to discuss the matter further when it meets Monday, March 6.


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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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