OCONOMOWOC, Wis. – The Western Lakes Fire District says staffing shortages are endangering public safety. On August 9, voters in seven municipalities will decide if they are willing to pay more property taxes to hire more first responders.
Currently, approximately 90% of Western Lakes Fire District staff work part-time or on call. The fire chief says this leads to slow response times that could put lives at risk. If a referendum passes, 33 additional full-time firefighters would be hired to fill the void.
The fire department that responded to two drownings in the past week on Lake La Belle said personnel shortages were creating a crisis in western Waukesha County.
“Every day is a gamble,” said fire chief Brad Bowen.
Chief Bowen says calls for service have increased by 74%. Meanwhile, it loses an average of 40 part-time employees each year.
“We’ve had employees say, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ or ‘I can’t take calls after midnight because I have to be up and have to function at my full-time job putting on some time. food on the table for my family,” said Chef Bowen.
Chief Bowen says the problem is reflected in response times. It takes an average of 11 minutes and 14 seconds for the Western Lakes Fire District for a fire truck to arrive on the scene, which is above the national standard of 9 minutes 90% of the time.
“As we know a fire doubles every minute depending on what is burning it could double every 30 seconds,” he said. “The chances of survival and cardiac arrest, stroke, heart attack, which are affected by response times.”
A task force of firefighters and city leaders says the issue will take $6.3 million to fix, but that decision will be left to voters in the seven municipalities that receive fire services. These municipalities include the Town of Oconomowoc, the Town of Oconomowoc, the Town of Merton, the City of Ottawa, the Village of Lac La Belle, the Village of Summit and the Village of Dousman.
If the referendum passes, residents of the town of Oconomowoc will pay $80.10 in additional taxes for every $100,000 of property they own. This cost would double in the village of Dousman.
“That’s what breaks you down is the property taxes,” said Dousman resident Chris Kent. “They grow and grow every year in this small town.”
The village president of Dousman tells TMJ4 that the reason their residents would pay more is because their population is much smaller than other municipalities and they have several large schools and non-profit businesses that are exempt.
Chris and Gary Kent did the math and it would cost them an extra $500 in taxes every year.
“As much as I’d love to say yes, I’ll probably say no because it’s not fair,” Gary said. “The per capita cost just isn’t fair.”
Western Lakes is far from the only community turning to referendums to pay more firefighters. Chief Bowen says seven communities across the state asked voters for more fire resources in April and they all passed.
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