Ladysmith city taxpayers could be on the hook for nearly $40,000 in lost fire department revenue resulting from a town changing where it receives fire protection services.
That was the message given the Ladysmith Police & Fire Commission at its Wednesday, May 15, meeting.
The Willard Town Board will not sign a new 5-year contract with the Ladysmith Fire Department. It plans to join the Sheldon Fire Department when the contract expires on June 30.
The Ladysmith Police and Fire Commission recently approved a slight increase in fire department dues charged to its contracting townships. The result would have been a 5.88 percent increase from the town’s previous annual dues of $35,196 to new dues of $37,266 or about $2,070 per year.
Town officials sought fire protection from Sheldon after residents in the southern part of the township closer to Lake Holcombe, where property values are much higher than in the north, asked for assistance that could lower their homeowners insurance. This area is also much closer to Sheldon than Ladysmith, by as much as 6 miles along County D.
With Willard town officials refusing to sign the new fire services contract and pay annual dues to Ladysmith, the city is seeking other ways to make up for $37,266 in lost revenue.
“Because of the detachment we lost that revenue so the city is going to have to assume that,” Ladysmith Fire Chief Kyle Gibbs said.
Gibbs is drafting a new contract under which his department will begin charging for mutual aid assistance calls to the town of Willard. No other towns served by Ladysmith are expected to be charged like this.
Area fire departments have agreements in place under which they provide mutual aid to neighboring departments with tankers, personnel and other assistance. The Ladysmith Fire Department currently does not charge for mutual aid to any area department
Town Chairmen Dan Murray in Flambeau and Dan Murray in Grow are questioning the Ladysmith Fire Department budget, citing the combined town dues exceeding department expenditures in most of the last five years. He is asking why the city is not contributing like the towns.
Murray cites a city budget spreadsheet that shows surplus revenues in 2016, 2018 and 2019. A new fire truck was bought in 2017.
Murray questions why if there are more revenues than expenditures in three of the last four years where is that money.
“There. That is the question,” Murray said.
The revenue side of the budget shows lines for 2% city fire insurance dues, 2% district fire insurance dues, fire equipment FEMA grants, fire department fees, insurance recoveries and donations. The line for Fund balance applies is blank, and that is where Murray said the surplus town and village dues should be getting rolled over but are not.
“If everything going into the fire department is supposed to be staying in the fire department there should be something that shows that the way I look at the budget,” Murray said.
The Ladysmith Fire Department and much of its equipment are owned by the city. It charges fire protection dues to municipalities that contract for services. Members towns are Big Falls, Dewey, Flambeau, Grant, Grow, Hubbard and Willard. Member villages are Conrath and Tony.
The Sheldon Area Fire District is owned jointly by its surrounding towns that receive services from the department. It is not clear if Willard can simply join Sheldon without buying in as an equal to other towns that have continually been funding the department for years.
Gibbs said the city kicks in its funds through equipment purchases that do not show up in annual budget expenditure and revenue spreadsheets.
“What do you consider a $250,000 truck and a $210,000 truck in the last five or six years? That is $460,000,” Gibbs told the commission.
At an April 29 structure fire in Willard just north of County D and several miles west of Wis. 27, Ladysmith fire trucks arrived before Sheldon trucks.
The Ladysmith Fire Department will charge Willard from the time of the page to the time firefighters return to the hall, according to Gibbs.
“We are charging per unit per hour so it is pretty cut and dried,” Gibbs said.
“We do need to follow up with the town of Willard also with a letter saying as of July 1 we will no longer be in our contract,” Commission Chairman Cora Schultz said. “If they come back to us that’s fine If they don’t we will survive.”
Sheldon Fire Chief Chad Jones said his department was approached by Willard officials. He plans to continue calling for mutual aid in emergencies, no matter what the cost.
Gibbs hopes to present details of the contract at the June Willard Town Board meeting.
A preliminary draft of the agreement calls for charges of $500 per hour for the ladder truck, $300 per hour for each tanker, $400 per hour for a pumper, $250 per hour for a van and manpower and $250 per hour for a portable pump.
“I am definitely disappointed to lose the revenue because it is taxpayers of the city that will be costing all of us more money,” Gibbs said.
Schultz said the city might make out better by billing Willard per mutual aid call instead of annual fire protection dues.
Commissioner Rick Nash expressed concern that a pay per call system could end up benefitting Willard, leading other townships to follow suit.
“Are we opening the door for that,” Nash said. “We’ll see, but you wonder about that”
Murray said 60 percent of the Ladysmith Fire Department calls are in the city and the rest are in rural areas.
Gibbs disagreed, saying it is actually the reverse.
All towns have signed the new contract for services fire protection agreement with Ladysmith except for town of Grow, according to Gibbs.