The Wisconsin towns association for Rusk County held its Jan. 31 meeting with six out of 24 townships represented at the meeting. Topics of concern during the meeting include discussion on the county ambulance service and township road funding.
The Rusk County Administrative Coordinator Andy Albarado presented an update on the ambulance service for the county saying it is still in deliberation. Residents could potentially see a reduction in service but with the added ambulance service residents would see an elevation in care levels.
Approximately $350,000 has already been set aside for the ambulance service for the county. It is expected the annual cost will be approximately $700,000 based on internal research and figures presented in the request for proposals the county is currently considering.
Up until now the cost for the emergency management services has been assessed through taxes and will likely continue under this model. Another model that could be considered is the capita model that would allow townships to opt in or opt out based on needs they identify.
It was mentioned that some townships also contract for additional service coverage that is closer to their area. Under the assessment model currently being used, there is no way to opt out of the cost for county EMS services.
Albarado acknowledged there are inequities with both models.
The Wisconsin state statute requires townships to be liable for fire and EMS services for their areas. Historically, the county has undertaken the responsibility for these services within the county while not legally liable.
Questioning the response time and how it could change with the new ambulance service showed that the response time would significantly decrease with a full time ambulance service. Currently the response time for first responders to respond to the ambulance is 16 minutes. This response time does not include driving to where the service is needed.
Employing a full time ambulance service would allow the responders to be in the ambulance when the call comes in, thereby eliminating nearly 16 minutes time to arrive at the location.
With 900 square miles to cover within the county, there may be times it will be a challenge to cover the area with four ambulances or even just two, said Medical Examiner Jim Rassbach. While staffing is an issue everywhere and it would be difficult to be 100 percent set up all the time, the county is working on fixing that issue, says Rassbach.
Having a better first responder program would be crucial to making that happen.
Reviewing the system, the service won’t pay for itself if half of the ambulances are out of service. Having a transfer service in the program could allow for money to be made. Rasbach said adding a transfer service will be important to the ambulance service however right now it’s up in the air. It will be the emergency management services committee’s responsibility to discuss that with Marshfield Medical Center. \
Highway Commissioner Scott Emch presented four ways townships to have revenue for township roads. The first is the county culvert and bridge aid program that allows townships a 50 percent match when work with the county on 36 inch or larger culverts.
The state’s Disaster Aid Program allows for a 75 percent reimbursement to towns for damage to roads following a storm. The Disaster Aid Program is a state program administered by the county.
The most effective use of the program requires giving well documented pictures of the damage to Emch who submitted the pictures and paperwork to the state. Under this program, the towns are able to hire anyone to complete the work and labor is included in the cost.
The TRIP Program operates on a two-year cycle and townships apply in the fall for projects. Revenue received is divided equally among the townships. Under the TRIP-D portion of the program the funds are awarded on a discretionary basis. Emch said last year of the 63 townships who submitted projects for the program, 58 were awarded, making it encouraging to put a project in.
Wisconsin’s General Transportation Aids program, GTA, “enables local governments to receive state aid payments to offset the cost of county and municipal road construction, maintenance, and traffic operations. The funding sources of these aid payments are the fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees collected by the state.”
The program requires townships to use 85 percent of the funds in a three-year average to be able to maintain the funds. GTA payments allow for a 85 percent subsidy that will be returned back to the township. Emch said, “it is foolish to not take advantage of the funds.”
The 2019 Rusk County GTA payment is $1,694,189.03, but according to Emch should have and could have been higher. There are 14 townships that lost part of their funding due to failing to make improvements to their township roads.
— Township that lost the most GTA funding are:
— Township of Grant: $35,535.35 or 35.3 percent
— Township of Grow: $25,255.85 or 25.6 percent
— Township of Big Falls: $24,922.57 or 45.5 percent
— Township of Wilson: $14,530.79 or 23.9 percent
— Township of South Fork: $14,356.52 or 37.8 percent
Lost revenue goes to villages and cities, said a disappointed Emch. Losing these significant funds is a waste. The loss of GTA funds to the townships is 10 percent or $187,291.81when all of the townships in Rusk County are considered.
“How do we argue we need more money when we don’t use $187,000?” Emch said.