TOWN OF WHEATON – The town of Wheaton voted Tuesday to leave the Chippewa Fire District at the end of 2020.
The town board voted 4-1 to withdraw from the district, which also includes the village of Lake Hallie and the towns of Lafayette, Hallie and Howard.
Wheaton generally pays about $200,000 of the overall $1.5 million fire budget.
Board president Mark Blaskowski, along with board members Alice Droske, Wayne Miller and Ken Books, voted to leave the fire district, while Bud Beckwith voted against it.
“I’ve had four months of listening,” Droske said. “I based on my decision of what I’ve heard.”
Under the plan, the town also is negotiating with both the cities of Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire to provide EMS/ambulance services. The town also will also establish its own fire department. There is already a fire station building in the town.
Blaskowski praised the work of the five-person committee, which met eight times this year to analyze the proposal, comparing similar-sized municipalities and how they provide fire protection.
“There was a lot of anxiety to form the Fire District, and there was a lot of anxiety when (municipalities) decided to leave it,” Blaskowski said. “Yes, (purchasing) gear is going to cost us a lot, but it was going to cost us a lot anyway.”
Blaskowski said it would be easy just to stay in the Chippewa Fire District.
“But I’m supporting the committee,” he said.
When the fire district began, all the entities were fairly rural, but that has changed with the growth in Lafayette and Lake Hallie, he said.
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“They outgrew us,” Blaskowski said.
Books noted the 2020 budgets will be compiled soon.
“I’m curious to see what the fire district is going to do,” Books said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do in a short amount of time, and we’re contractually bound to provide these services.”
Books echoed Blaskowski’s comments that other communities are providing similar services at a lesser cost.
“I have looked at Elk Mound’s budget. They have a good budget there,” Books said.
Herb Steinmetz, a town resident, expressed his concerns about the plan, saying there are unanswered questions.
“We don’t know if we’ll have a budget or good services,” Steinmetz said.
Fifteen people attended the meeting.
The Chippewa Fire District formed in 1978, and it took over ambulance service in 1990. When it was formed, it also included the towns of Tilden and Eagle Point. However, those municipalities left the Fire District in 1996; they had been receiving ambulance service from Chippewa Falls since 1990.
Each municipality pays a portion of the roughly $1.5 million budget. The district has nine full-time employees and about 120 volunteers, operating four different stations, including the new main facility that opened in Lake Hallie in summer 2014.