Village asks for key change in county EMS grants

Fredonia officials say fire department collaboration hinges on using money to buy equipment but some supervisors are opposed
Ozaukee Press staff

Some Ozaukee County supervisors on Tuesday balked at permitting the Fredonia Fire Department to spend federal grant money to purchase equipment with funds earmarked for hiring personnel to man the nascent northern Ozaukee County fire department collaboration but voted in favor of the move anyway to allow the full County Board to debate the issue.

County Administrator Jason Dzwinel said approving the request would be “precedent setting” and open the door for other fire departments to use up to $5 million in American Recovery Program Act, or ARPA, funds on vehicles and other equipment.

The towns and villages of Belgium and Fredonia, and the Fredonia, Belgium and Waubeka fire departments have reached an intergovernmental agreement to improve response times and help alleviate a shrinking pool of on-call volunteers across the county.

On Tuesday, Fredonia Fire Chief Brian Weyker and Fredonia Village Administrator Christophe Jenkins told members of the county Public Safety Committee that their $129,000 request to purchase a vehicle, defibrillator and other materials is necessary to keep the process moving forward.

“We feel very confident about our operation, but we can’t operate this without some capital investment, including purchasing an ambulance,” Jenkins told supervisors.

“I question opening up the ARPA funds” to equipment purchases, Supr. Rick Nelson said.

“You’re basically changing the scope set by the (County) Board,” Dzwinel said, calling it a “programmatic expansion. This is opening it up to non-personnel matters.”

Last year, the county earmarked $5 million to help the county’s nine fire departments hire emergency medical personnel and facilitate cooperation, if not consolidation, between the departments.

But the resolution governing the plan prohibits the money from being used on equipment except for a provision that allows $100,000 in “capital awards” to be granted when three or more municipalities consolidate services.

Technically, the cooperative agreement does not involve four “municipalities” since the Belgium and Waubeka fire departments are private corporations, even though they are supported by the municipalities.

“This has to be clarified,” Weyker said.

Dzwinel indicated that would not be difficult to rectify.

“Due to the precedent-setting nature of this request,” Dzwinel suggested that money allocated to the Fredonia request come from the $5 million and not be a new allocation.

Dzwinel also noted that there is competition for ARPA funds from other county projects and local nonprofits, some of which he said have higher priority than the EMS programs.

“If this is the top priority for the village (of Fredonia), I might suggest a spending adjustment on their part,” he said.

Jenkins said the village’s ARPA allocation has already been committed to its wastewater treatment facility and other matters.

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 has already received a grant from the county that pays about $250,000 per year for people to staff 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.

Dzwinel said that “not one dime” of that money has been spent since no new staff members have been hired as the communities and fire departments are just completing their agreement.

Grafton Fire Chief Bill Rice, who is a consolidation advocate, said the county should grant Fredonia’s request to keep their process moving.

“It’s important to look at this as a huge county problem,” he said. “We need to help the north as much as we can while some people are making this (consolidation) more difficult.”

Supr. Timothy Maguire agreed.

“(The request) is such a major change but we couldn’t foresee all the problems” when the original resolution was passed. “Communities working together is what’s going to make this successful,” Maguire said.

The Mequon and Thiensville fire departments have already consolidated operations, and the Grafton and Saukville departments share a chief in Rice and some staff members but have not formally consolidated.

Cedarburg, however, has made it clear it does not intend to, and last week the Port Washington Police and Fire Commission members said enhancing their current services is probably the best way to proceed, rather than consolidation, although they suggested talks with the Grafton and Saukville departments should continue.

Committee member Supr. Joshua Haas also urged the committee to recommend the request.

“If the north isn’t helped, it’s going to put more pressure on the rest of the county,” requiring departments to the south to respond to calls in the Fredonia and Belgium areas, he said.

In the end, the committee voted 2-1 to recommend approval to the County Board, with Haas and McGuire voting in favor of the recommendation and Nelson voting against it.

“This way we can at least get it before the board,” Nelson said.


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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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Port Washington, WI 53074
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