Nov. 23, 2019 10:40a
(WPR)---Eastern Racine County residents could benefit from consolidation of its fire and emergency medical services (EMS), according to a new report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum and the Center for Governmental Research. The report was commissioned by The Johnson Foundation.
For the last two years, the groups have been looking for ways Racine, Caledonia, Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant, could become more efficient.
Since that process began, it was announced that Foxconn, a multi-million-dollar technology manufacturing facility, would be built in Mount Pleasant. How the Foxconn development will grow the region’s population and economy remains unclear, but the project could increase demand for services.
"With the looming development of Foxconn, expensive impending capital needs and continuous pressures on municipal budgets, this is an atmosphere ripe for a change," the report says.
"No matter how you look at it, there is a very major development happening in the southwest portion of the greater Racine region that is going to produce more workers and more businesses and more residents, and so that is also going to result in more municipal service demands," said Rob Henken, president of Wisconsin Policy Forum.
The Wisconsin Policy Forum studied the Racine, South Shore and Caledonia fire departments. The report found the volumes of calls are increasing in all three departments; the majority of the fire stations are aging and need replacement; all three chiefs are nearing retirement age; and response times are slow in certain areas due to municipal boundaries.
There have been discussion of consolidation of the three departments at least four times over the last 30 years. In 2012 the South Shore Fire Department was created from the merger of the Sturtevant and Mount Pleasant departments, according to the report.
The Wisconsin Policy Forum report laid out several options including keeping the stations and services as they are, merging Caledonia and South Shore, and having Racine provide fire protection in Caledonia.
On Wednesday, The Johnson Foundation and the Wisconsin Policy Forum presented its findings to the public in Racine.
Mount Pleasant Village President Dave DeGroot said all the recommendations will need to be taken back to the individual municipalities. And might not go anywhere.
"I would like to think because we are able to get out of our own silos, we are able to create greater peace within our own communities," DeGroot said.
Jason Eckman, a trustee on the Sturtevant Village Board, said he sees an opportunity to reduce capital spending and operational expenses.
"When I look at Racine County, east of the interstate, I see it changing visibly on a daily basis," Eckman said Thursday. "Those changes create new challenges for us. We either reduce services. Or we become more efficient."
Consolidating fire and EMS isn't a new idea. Earlier this year, mayors from southern Milwaukee County discussed consolidating police and fire services to save money as levy limits continue to put a strain on local municipalities. Levy limits are the maximum amount of property tax money a local municipality can collect each year.
The state began imposing levy limits on municipalities in 2005, as a way to slow the increase of local property taxes.
In 1995, the municipalities north of Milwaukee consolidated its fire departments and dispatch services. Today, the North Shore Fire/Rescue covers the city of Glendale and the villages of Bayside, Brown Deer, Fox Point, River Hills, Shorewood and Whitefish Bay. The seven municipalities have a population of approximately 65,000 and cover 25 square miles.
Henken said those seven communities would have collectively been spending $2.8 million more than they are spending for the Northshore Fire Department if they had each individually moved forward with providing their own communities with the same level of service.
But, Henken warned, it’s hard to talk about cost savings without also talking about the level of service consolidation can provide.
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