Fire Department referendum hearing set Jan. 29
By Heather McDonald
The village of Park Ridge Board approved language for a referendum question that will determine how fire protection will be provided to residents in the future; getting the information to the public will be discussed later this month.
Village Board members unanimously approved the language after more than an hour of discussion going paragraph by paragraph through the referendum draft drawn up by President Trish Baker during its December meeting.
The board then set a public hearing date of Monday, Jan. 29, with the hearing beginning at 5:30 p.m. The location will be announced at a later date.
The referendum will be on the Feb. 20 ballot, which will include primaries for local and state positions.
When a resident questioned how the information would be disseminated, Baker said how to educate public would be discussed at the Village Board meeting Jan. 15.
The referendum will be posed as a “select one only” series of questions, so voters will choose the option they best think would serve the village for fire protection services. Options range from contracting with the city of Stevens Point to building a new fire house and purchase newer used fire trucks.
Regardless of the option chosen, taxes will increase up to a period of 20 years if building is approved or for an unknown length of time if the village decides to contract fire protection with the city. If the village contracts with the city and disbands the volunteer fire department, the likelihood of re-establishing a village volunteer fire department in the future is very slim, officials have said.
Currently, the village Fire Department budget is about $37,000 a year. The department currently has two engines and a squad.
That cost could annually more than double – not including the cost for necessary hydrant installation and potential road improvements – if the village contracts with the city of Stevens Point ($75,000). It could rise just over 60 percent if the village chose to keep the volunteer department and replace one engine and refurbish another ($61,000), based on annual extrapolated costs the board compiled earlier this year.
Questions that will face residents are:
– Option 1: Continue the Park Ridge Volunteer Fire Department; build a new fire house, purchase newer used fire trucks for an increase in property taxes of about $84 on $100,000 of property value for the first 10 years and then decrease to $36 per $100,000 for the next 10 years for a total of 20 years financing;
– Option 2: Continue the Park Ridge Volunteer Fire Department and purchase a new custom-made pump to fit into the current station and modify the current Engine 1 to become the hose wagon for an increase in property taxes of about $64 on $100,000 of property value for 10 years; or
– Option 3: Contract for fire protection services with the city of Stevens Point, replacing the Park Ridge Volunteer Fire Department, and also construct a water main and fire hydrants throughout the village, which would increase property taxes by about $76 per $100,000 property value for fire protection and $35 per $100,000 to construct the water main in the village for 40 years, for a total of about $111 per $100,000 property value.
Board members themselves said the questions are confusing, and educating residents will be a key factor in ensuring that the village moves forward in the best interest of its residents.
There still are variables in each of the options.
Unknowns include the size of newer used vehicles (Chief Brian Lepper said it is possible the department could get by with two larger ones), the life of newer used trucks could be 10-30 years depending on age and previous use, costs of used vehicles (board members and fire department personnel have found trucks below estimated prices in months past), actual cost of construction, and the actual negotiation with the city of Stevens Point.
The city contract information was taken from preliminary talks from 2015 and no length of contract has been decided. Other costs such as improving roads and maintenance of hydrants could also come into play.