Wis. City Mulls Options For Full-Time Fire Department

Aug. 2, 2013
Sun Prairie officials want to have round-the-clock fire protection and are working to figure out how best to achieve that goal.

Aug. 02--The city of Sun Prairie is determined to have round-the-clock fire department coverage by the start of next year. The question is exactly who will provide it.

The Sun Prairie City Council voted in early July to create a combined fire and emergency medical services department to be operated by the city. That would put an end to the Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department, which has served the community since 1891.

That decision ignited a firestorm that has the city rethinking its plan and reconsidering whether there could be a role for the SPVFD.

City administrator Aaron Oppenheimer said there is consensus that the city move to 24/7 fire coverage, and that the council is now willing to consider SPVFD proposals for providing that service.

The volunteer department made its proposal at Tuesday's council meeting. Oppenheimer called the presentation "informative" and vowed that council members will consider it.

The council met in a closed session to determine a negotiating team and to set parameters for talks with the SPVFD. But, reflecting the division the issue has generated, the council adjourned without settling either issue.

"There are a lot of strong opinions coming from a variety of directions about how that service can be best provided," Oppenheimer said.

Oppenheimer said the city is looking at a possible "transitional" contract with the volunteer fire department.

Cory Barr, who presented the plan to the council, said he was encouraged by the reception but acknowledged the matter is at a "standstill" until there are enough votes to go forward with talks.

"There is a clock ticking. Trying to implement everything into a city-run department by January 1 is really pushing it a lot," Barr said. "The city plan, we thought, was missing quite a few things."

Barr said the city would be foregoing a combined 375 years of firefighting experience among the SPVFD's 45 members. The department also last year added four full-time firefighters and an administrative assistant.

The city has estimated a full-time fire department would add about $450,000 to the city's $25 million budget, requiring an average increase of about $40 a year in property taxes.

SPVFD officials have said those numbers are understated. The department also provides services for the towns of Sun Prairie, Burke and Bristol.

Oppenheimer said the issue needs to be resolved before the budget is adopted in November.

"The city will have fire service January 1," he said. "I think the mayor (John Murray) and council are approaching this with a sense of urgency. They'd like to bring some type of closure to the issue."

Copyright 2013 - The Wisconsin State Journal

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