Milton, surrounding municipalities propose joining Edgerton fire department over fiscal, staffing challenges

MILTON, Wis. — The city of Milton and four surrounding townships on Monday announced their plans to ask to join the Edgerton Fire Protection District in an effort to address fiscal and staffing challenges.

Bryan Meyer, the chairman of the Town of Milton, said the current Milton Fire Department that serves the area covers roughly 90 square miles of land in the city and town of Milton as well as the towns of Harmony, Johnstown and Lima.

Officials weighed a number of options ranging from mergers to consolidation and shared service models before deciding to move forward with the plan to ask to join Edgerton.

“A regional approach was the best model to pursue, and in that spirit (we) have approved a petition for membership within the Edgerton Fire Protection District because we believe it represents the best option to serve all of our communities long-term and met our criteria to improve our overall level of service,” Meyer said.

During a news conference Monday afternoon, officials touted the plan as a way to create a sustainable future for fire coverage in the region. Milton Mayor Anissa Welch said it came after extensive research and discussion.

“Time and time again, leaders have concluded in various ways that when we combine our resources, we are stronger and better positioned to deliver key services our communities depend upon to flourish,” she said.

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In addition to staffing issues, Jeff Kelnz, the chair of the Town of Harmony said a “substantial increase” in prices for fire protection — in part due to raising wages for part-time firefighters to $15 per hour — played a role in the decision.

Once submitted, the proposal will go to Edgerton’s fire district board for review, Edgerton’s city administrator Ramona Flanigan said. It would require approval from all municipalities currently involved.

Flanigan was not aware how long the process would take but said communication from other municipalities has been good so the move was not a surprise.

The city of Edgerton does not have an official position on the matter, she added, saying the city council will likely review impacts on operations and budget before making a decision.

Last year, the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum released a report that found EMS calls are rising and current service models are proving to be a challenge for fire departments.

RELATED: Report: Fire, EMS departments nearing crisis in Wisconsin as 911 calls rise, staffing declines

That report found consolidation can help solve some of the issues rural departments face, it can cause others and usually does not come with cost savings in the short term.

The Edgerton Fire Protection District covers roughly 100 square miles in portions of Rock, Dane and Jefferson counties. Last January, it launched a cadet program to help find and recruit young people with an interest in becoming first responders.