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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Wausaukee Rescue Squad Faces Severe Staff Shortage

Issue Date: September 30, 2020

Faced with a choice between finding a way to pay Wausaukee Rescue Squad, Inc. a contract price large enough to provide full time paid employees or letting their residents go without rescue squad service as of January 1, representatives of the squad and the four municipalities it serves met on Tuesday evening, Sept. 29 to hammer out some plans.

Squad President Steve VanDenBerg said volunteers have been getting harder and harder to find, and they are down to eight responders. He and Jaime VanDenBerg, office administrator and EMT, said this cannot keep up.

After long, hard discussion, representatives of the Village of Wausaukee and towns of Wausaukee, Wagner and Amberg agreed to split the estimated cost of $31,000 per month based on the number of improved parcels in each municipality.

They also agreed to each start regularly attending meetings of the Squad's board of directors, on which each is entitled to a vote, and to work in the coming months to change squad governance to a commission that functions like the highly successful volunteer fire department that serves the village and the town.

Wausaukee Village Administrator/Clerk/Treasurer Sara Pullen, who also serves as Village Administrator, had pointed out that for years the village has paid far above its fair share, but would be absolutely unable to meet the new contract amount.

The added expense will cause a property tax increase in each of the municipalities that will probably require electorate approval at special town meetings prior to passing annual budgets in November to allow exceeding the state imposed levy increase limits. The impact will range from a 1.5 increase in the mill rate for Amberg, .74 each for Wagner and Town of Wausaukee, and 1.22 for Village of Wausaukee.

The meeting started on an almost hostile note, but quickly changed to a friendly effort from all parties to work out a solution that everyone can live with. There were assurances from Van Den Berg that financial oversight is done by Tammy and Doug Schlies of Northeast Accounting, and they handle all the funds.

Everyone agreed it is getting harder and harder to attract volunteers for anything. Adding to the problem for rescue squads is that the state continues to increase training and certification requirements, but does not provide money to compensate anyone for the time and money required to get the training.

Wausaukee Supervisor Bob Jicha asked if the Squad currently is solvent, or if it is broke. VanDenBerg said it is solvent, but they need people, and cannot afford a full time paid staff, which requires three people available 24/7 to respond to calls. For the past year they have had only three people available 24/7 - one first responder, one EMT and one driver. They do have trained people from farther south willing to stay at the squad building on a paid basis to fill the need for coverage.

Now, with the Covid-19 restrictions, the state is not even offering the classes that would allow them to train new members.

Steve Van Den Berg noted they had held a public meeting at the Wausaukee School a few years ago to try to recruit members, but only a handful of people even came. As suggested at that meeting, they had started a cadet program in hopes of getting young people trained who could join the squad when they got old enough. There were 13 who started the class, and only one who finished. She has since moved away.

Jamie Van Den Berg recalled they had run an ad in the Peshtigo Times and obtained no recruits. It takes 200 hours to train to be an EMT, and the course is extremely difficult.

The meeting ended with the town and village officials agreeing to take the problem and the funding proposals back to their respective board and then meet again, and also to have each assign someone to regularly attend Rescue Squad Board of Director meetings as voting members until they can get the proposed commission formed.

"Thanks for letting us know this ahead of time, " Wausaukee Supervisor Bob Jicha commented. "We're running short of time, but it could have been a lot worse." He explained it would have been worse if the contract price increase had come after the budgets were finalized in November.

(Read next week's Peshtigo Times for more details on how the price increase will be handled, and what plans are in progress for future improvements.)


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