Park Ridge board president, trustees get heated; residents call for action
By Heather McDonald
Park Ridge village officials and residents want to move forward immediately with addressing its volunteer fire department needs, but which path to take has the village at a crossroads again.
Village Board members Monday, March 19, after an hour of debate, discussion and comments from residents, tabled the decision until its next board meeting, 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 16.
Before tabling the item, however, board member Steve Bergin wanted to move forward with the option voters chose through an advisory referendum Feb. 20: keep the volunteer fire department and purchase a newer used truck to replace an engine. Trustee Randy Busch seconded.
The motion failed 2-2 with Bergin and Busch voting in favor and Village Board President Trish Baker and trustee Gordon Renfert opposed. Trustee Jim Sachs was absent, but had sent an email to Baker indicating he preferred to get solid cost figures to incorporate into the village’s long-range planning process before moving forward.
“I think it’s premature in that we don’t know what our other expenses are,” Baker said. “These numbers are all old … we don’t know what this truck is going to cost. To commit to a quarter million dollars is irresponsible use of village money.”
In the primary election last month, voters approved keeping the volunteer Fire Department nearly 2-1 in an advisory referendum in which about 60 percent of registered voters cast ballots. The second option, to purchase a newer engine at a cost of about $250,000, received the most votes with 89 of 208, and contracting with the city of Stevens Point for fire protection services came in second with 74 votes. Another 45 votes supported building a new bay for the department and purchasing a newer truck to replace the engine.
“You can’t ignore what the general electorate says,” Bergin said. “They voted to retain the volunteer Fire Department. You can ask which is the best option, but nonetheless, 2-1, they voted that the Fire Department should stay.
“If you’re not going to take the direction of the voters, then it was a waste of time, and we all ought to resign,” he said.
Banter between village trustees became heated at a couple of different intervals when Bergin and Busch questioned Baker’s seemingly opposing comments – one minute saying the board should make a decision and move forward and in nearly the same sentence requesting a new committee investigate cost figures for the fire department over the next 20 years, including the purchase of the needed newer truck, other ailing equipment and the potential for increasing the volunteer firefighters’ annual stipend to match surrounding areas.
“I think we’ve gotten pretty clear direction from our voters who want to continue to get information,” she said.
“With all due respect, Trish – ” Bergin began.
“Steve, let me finish,” she said. “If we follow Robert’s Rules, you only get two times to speak on an issue, and you have twice. We don’t usually follow Robert’s Rules, but you’ve spoken a lot.”
“I thought you were done,” Bergin said.
“Well, I wasn’t,” Baker replied.
She went on to say pulling numbers together would only take about two months, and then said the board should explore establishing the new fire committee and provide those members direction before making a decision.
“In the two years I’ve been on the board, we’ve covered these issues, we’ve done our due diligence,” Busch said. “Members on the Comp Plan Committee made the same suggestion and the board rejected it. I’m at a loss.
“So we’re going to get new quotes? That took a year,” he said. “I see this as a way to draw this out until there are new members on the board.”
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