Town wants fire bill cut by third

Saukville supervisors ask Newburg department to rework contract because of changing property values
Ozaukee Press Staff

Unsatisfied with an explanation of how the Newburg Volunteer Fire Department determines what to charge them for fire protection, Town of Saukville supervisors last week proposed that the town’s fire bill be cut by a third.

Billing the town on the basis of equalized value, as it once was, would be equitable since the fire department also provides fire protection to the Town of Trenton and Village of Newburg, officials said.

Supervisors subsequently voted 3-0 that the town’s contract with the fire department for 2019 be $116,607, down from the $183,931 it paid in 2018.

They also requested that the fire department respond to their request by Tuesday, Dec. 4, so they might have time to contract with another fire department if the Newburg department denies their proposal.

What the Town of Saukville has been paying is “way out of whack” with what Trenton and Newburg have been paying, Supr. Mike Denzien said.

Last month, the Town Board asked fire department officials to explain why the village is charged what it is. But an adequate response never came, they said.

“It’s like talking to a wall,” Town Chairman Don Hamm said.

Most volunteer fire departments are private corporations that contract with municipalities to provide fire protection. As private entities, their finances and other internal information are not generally subject to public records laws and sometimes are not readily shared even with the contracting municipalities.

According to figures supplied by the Village of Newburg, which also is renegotiating its fire contract, Newburg paid $43,377 in 2018 and the Town of Trenton paid $201,158 in 2018.

Yet, the Town of Saukville is paying a rate based on equalized value more than twice that of the Town of Trenton, 80 cents vs. 38 cents per $1,000 of equalized value. Newburg residents paid 52 cents per $1,000 in 2018.

At nearly $526 million, Trenton, which is home to many newer higher-priced residential subdivisions, has a total equalized value  far higher than either Newburg’s at $83 million or the Town of Saukville’s at $227.7 million.

Saukville supervisors said that 25 or 30 years ago, fire service charges were based on equalized value but that over time the fire department got away from that practice.

“Saukville and Trenton were very similar  30 years ago,” Hamm said.

“If they believed (equalized value) was OK 25 years ago, why wouldn’t it be OK now?” Denzien asked.

According to census data, Trenton has a population of about 4,700 people, Newburg 1,254 and the Town of Saukville 1,822.

Trenton recently signed a three-year contract with the fire department, with a slight increase to what it paid last year, Town Chairman Joseph Gonnering said.

“We’re very happy” with the service they receive and with what they are paying,” he said.

“Why wouldn’t they be?’ Denzien said. “They’re getting a great deal.”

Saukville Town Attorney Sara McCarthy expressed concern that the town have a contract in hand by Jan. 1 to meet state statutes, hence the Dec. 4 deadline for the fire department to respond.

If their dispute with the Newburg Fire Department can’t be resolved, supervisors suggested they might be able to contract with fire departments in the Village of Saukville, Fredonia or Waubeka, although no overtures to those departments have been made.

“It doesn’t make any difference” which fire department they contract with, Hamm said, since each of the four departments have a coverage area in the town and respond to fires there.

Hamm said more than half the town lies within the Village of Saukville Fire Department’s coverage area with about 30% in Newburg’s, 12% in Fredonia’s and 6% in Waubeka’s.

“It’s really just about who handles the money,” Hamm said, with responding departments reimbursed through the department that contracts with the town.



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