Votes upcoming on Brodhead fire district
BRODHEAD After a year of negotiation, elected officials will vote in the coming weeks on a proposal to merge the Brodhead Fire Department and the Brodhead Rural Fire Association into a fire district.
City officials, rural fire association members, firefighters and lawyers have hashed over the issue for a year, but it's unclear how the votes will go.
The rural association votes on the draft agreement Wednesday night, and the city council votes Monday, Feb. 11.
Firefighters have no vote, so they've been trying to express their concerns to city council members, said Jamie Schrimpf, a firefighter, treasurer and part-time office assistant at the fire department.
The biggest issue is control of the district, he said.
"There is a trust issue, we feel, in play" between all the parties involved, he said.
"They (rural members) have continuously said, ‘This is not a power grab. We're not interested in telling you what to do,'" Schrimpf said.
But the firefighters think the agreement drafted by the rural association contains language that would give the rural association more control, he said.
"They say it won't affect us as firefighters, but we just don't understand how it can't," he said.
Creation of a fire district would not change the fire and rescue services provided or the area served. It would create a new payment and governing structure.
The discussion to form a district started in January 2012 when the parties were making slow progress on the future of the department's leadership. In July 2011, the city council had voted to not renew the contract of the former fire chief. City officials discussed whether a new full-time chief was needed, while rural association members argued against what they said at the time was "taxation without representation."
The association represents towns covered by the fire department outside the city. Officials from the towns of Avon, Spring Valley and Magnolia in Rock County and the towns of Decatur and Spring Grove in Green County are association members.
The association also owns and maintains vehicles that the fire department uses.
At least one member of the rural association—the president—isn't in favor of the plan. Art Riese, who also is the Decatur town chairman, said he's not against creating a fire district, but he's concerned about increased costs to his residents.
Fire and rescue services would remain the same for residents, but residents would have to pay more, he said.
"We know it's going to cost us more, but we don't know how much, and that's what scares me," he said.
The details of who would pay the fire department's operating budget apparently are not finalized. Some people think it would be a 50/50 split between the city and rural members, said city council member John Bernstein, who also is the chairman of the city's fire oversight committee.
He thinks the city is giving up more because it would contribute all its fire vehicles and equipment plus the fire station building. He acknowledges, however, that rural members would pay more, he said.
He said he feels city officials have listened to all the concerns.
"Hopefully, the right decision will be made in the end," he said.
Rural association member Ron Schwartzlow, a Decatur Town Board member, declined to comment on the association's concerns.