Park Ridge board continues discussions on fire department needs
By Kris Leonhardt
STEVENS POINT –The Park Ridge Village board will continue to look into addressing village fire department needs during their April meeting.
Park Ridge Board President Steve Menzel and Trustee Gordon Renfert recently toured the fire department, where Park Ridge Fire Chief Brian Lepper expressed an urgent need to replace the department’s hose truck.
After touring the facilities, Menzel said he would like to see the board put together long-range planning regarding department needs, while looking at the 2021 budget and what could be allocated for the 2022 budget.
During a March 15 meeting, board members discussed possibilities for acquiring a needed truck, including a lease option, and planning for department needs.
Fire Chief Lepper said that no matter what route was taken, public education would need to be an element of the process.
“One of the biggest problems… is misinformation that has been out to the public. I would say in the last year, if not even longer, there has been as much misinformation or half truths, if not more, then there are facts. And, I think that when Steve (Menzel) and Gordon (Renfert) toured the fire department, and spent three hours; three hours alone tells you there is a whole lot of conversation and a whole lot of stuff,” Lepper stated.
“Prior to last month’s village board meeting, I had asked for an agenda item that the fire department and the board could work together to try to figure out how we do get factual information out, without doing the door drops, the mailings, open letters.
“In January, one of our residents wrote an open letter that’s got illegal information in it; that if I would have followed those recommendations, I would have violated both state law and village ordinance. In that letter, he even says, ‘a trustee told me.’ So, if that is true, and I have to believe it’s true, our trustees are even misinformed.
“I just don’t think collectively, whether it’s a long range planning committee or not, if it goes to a referendum and misinformation is out there, you are still not going to get an actual reflection. Because, people are making decisions on (misinformation.)
“I think with the divide in the village, until we can figure out a way to get the facts out, we are not going to bring all 500 residents through the fire department. But, I would think one of the goals of this board is to try to get to as much consensus as we can and stop the bleed, if you will, but I don’t ever see that bleed stopping when decisions are made on what my neighbor told me that’s not true.”
Lepper also added his concerns for the amount of time it would take for equipment that is needed sooner than later.
“After five years, one referendum and two public hearings, and prior long-range planning work, I don’t see anything changing in the near future; and, if it going to take 18 months to get a decent Comprehensive Planning report and then ‘x’ amount of time to either find that needle in the haystack of a used truck or whatever, I can pretty much tell you I won’t be your fire chief. Because, I am not going to wait 18 months with the equipment we have now,” Lepper stated.
Menzel said that the process would not take 18 months and that the Comprehensive Planning committee and a strategic planning group would make public education part of their work.
For their April meeting, the board will come back with an outline and timeline on a framework for dealing with the department’s needs.
During the Dec. 28 board meeting, Park Ridge trustees passed a resolution to place the bidding process for a new fire station on hold, while the board considered best options for the village’s fire service. The board unanimously passed a resolution to keep the bidding process on hold.
In January, the board unanimously passed a motion for the village to withdraw the bid award for a new fire station building in favor of “pursing additional planning that includes revisiting various options for fire protection services in the village and proceed as rapidly as possible to analyze the options for the fire department.”