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July 2014

28

Is an Oconomowoc fire consolidation likely?

Equitable funding formula may be key to expansion of LCFR

Nashotah Village President Rich Lartz and City of Delafield Mayor Ed McAleer believe that another expansion of Lake Country Fire and Rescue - this time including at least the City of Oconomowoc - is likely.

However, Chenequa Village President Robert Foote says "I am not willing to go that far."

"This is all very complex. A lot is going to depend upon economics. What does a Lake Country Fire and Rescue budget look like when you include the City of Oconomowoc, the Village of Hartland, and the Town of Delafield? That is what we are in the process of finding out," Foote added.

However, Foote agreed with an assessment offered by Lartz and McAleer that Oconomowoc Mayor Jim Daley might support consolidating the Oconomowoc Fire Department into LCFR Daley favors it if the municipalities can agree on an equitable formula for sharing the cost of operations of the consolidated department that presently serves the City of Delafield and villages of Nashotah and Chenequa.

McAleer, Lartz and Foote met privately with Daley prior to Christmas to discuss the how consolidation discussions would be conducted and how the consolidated department would be governed, operated and possibly funded. Daley declined a reporter's request to discuss the meeting.

"We did not discuss any details of a funding formula. Any discussions regarding the formula have to be conducted in open meetings of the consolidation committee. I don't think they ought to be discussed in private meetings of elected officials," said McAleer.

A 15-member consolidation committee consisting of three representatives each of the City of Delafield, Town of Delafield and villages of Nashotah, Chenequa and Hartland began meeting in the late summer of 2012. The discussions were put on pause in October when the City of Oconomowoc announced it was interested in joining in the consolidation talks.

Oconomowoc city officials have said they want to provide their residents with 24-7 paramedic level emergency medical services. Some of those city officials have said both publically and privately that the most cost-effective way to provide those services might be consolidation with LCFR.

While City of Delafield and Village of Nashotah officials appear confident about Oconomowoc's desire for consolidation, they may be less confident regarding the Town of Delafield and the Village of Hartland. This is partly because there have been no meetings of the consolidation committee, including the Hartland and Town of Delafield representatives, for the past several months.

In addition, officials of the Town of Delafield and Village of Hartland have sent some mixed signals.

Delafield town officials have said they are interested in exploring consolidation. However, Town Chairman Paul Kanter has said he expects a newly consolidated LCRF would be completely restructured. Key members of the consolidation committee representing Nashotah, Chenequa and the City of Delafield say that is not going to happen.

Hartland officials have said they too are interested in consolidation but only, according to Village President David Lamerand, if a newly consolidated department can provide services at existing, or higher levels at a cost similar to what village residents pay now.

Neither community has indicated an interest in the past of funding paramedic services which would be requirement of any consolidation, according to LCFR officials.

McAleer and Lartz said they will be meeting privately with Kanter and Lamerand to brief them on the nature of the private discussions that have been recently held with Oconomowoc city officials.

Most of those discussions have been devoted to the details of how the existing funding formula would be applied to the City of Oconomowoc and its fire department budget and operations.

The funding formula for Lake Country Fire and Rescue is based on each of three communities' populations, number of emergency calls, and the estimated value of improved real estate parcels within each community.

"We want to meet with Hartland and the Town of Delafield to assure them that we have not thrown them under the bus," said Lartz.

Foote expressed some of the same concerns that were voiced last year by former Nashotah Village President Julie Swenson, one the architects of the Lake Country Fire Department which served the villages of Nashotah and Chenequa.

Swenson questioned why the villages of Nashotah and Chenequa and the City of Delafield should want to expand LCFR since the department is providing the three communities with cost-effective fire and emergency medical services.

Foote said there were Chenequa trustees who were also concerned if LCFR would be expanding too fast by adding three additional communities to its service region.

And, he warned, implementing a consolidation of three new communities into the department might be a bigger challenge that getting a consolidation agreement.

"As they say, the devil is in the details," he added.

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