The city of La Crosse Fire Department will provide service to the town of Medary for 30 years in return for an annual fee based on Medary’s property values under an agreement slated to be discussed this week at a city committee meeting.
The agreement, which goes before the Finance and Personnel Committee at 6 p.m. Thursday at La Crosse City Hall, is a win-win, according to Medary Town Chair Linda Seidel and La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat.
“It really shows two communities who want to work together,” Kabat said. “We hear so much, especially lately, about the lack of people wanting to work together. From our standpoint, we’re very interested in working with communities who want to work with us.”
Under the contract, the town will receive fire protection, first responder, rescue and inspection services from La Crosse until the beginning of 2050. In return, it will pay a fee based on the town’s equalized assessed values and the fire department’s total budget that will start at 5% and increase each year.
The majority of Medary’s fees will go toward funding a La Crosse fire station in the area near Valley View Mall, a site that the La Crosse Fire Department has been interested in for 20 years.
“It allowed us to have the opportunity of a slow progression of increase in fees and hopefully it will allow for future growth with the La Crosse fire department to have a station closer to the Medary border,” Seidel said.
From La Crosse’s perspective, the long-term agreement will help fund the La Crosse Fire Department, Kabat said.
“When you think about relationships and how we’re all planning as communities to be here for the next 100 or more years, a 20-year ramp up is no big deal. It really gets us together and adds so much to the fire and emergency medical service,” Kabat said.
La Crosse has been covering Medary’s fire calls since 2017, when the town’s agreement with the Onalaska Fire Department fell through. Onalaska wasn’t able to cover the area anymore and Medary couldn’t afford its own, Seidel said, so Medary had to look elsewhere.
Town leaders landed on La Crosse.
It took two years for the municipalities to find an agreement that worked for both of them, primarily due to the cost of running a full-time, career fire department compared to a volunteer fire department.
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“It’s kind of apples and oranges when it comes to budgets and figuring out what a fire department costs, switching from a volunteer force coming from 15 to 20 minutes away to a full-time, career fire department and explaining what the city of La Crosse has,” said La Crosse Fire Chief Ken Gilliam.
The career firefighters have a higher accreditation level and more training. They also are able to provide first responder and rescue services for medical emergencies and inspection services.
Kabat wasn’t concerned with the time the negotiations took.
“In 100 years, no one’s going to remember that it took us a couple extra months to figure out the details. What they’re going to realize is we have this great partnership and hopefully a station that covers that mall area. People’s quality of life and health and safety are vastly improved,” Kabat said.
La Crosse has received about 80 to 90 Medary calls each year in the two years it’s been covering the town, compared with 6,000 calls in the city of La Crosse. It was relatively simple for the city to absorb those calls, said Gilliam, and town of Medary officials heard nothing but good things about the service.
“We heard loud and clear from our residents that they were appreciating the quick response times they were getting from La Crosse,” Seidel said.
However, Medary was paying a percentage of what La Crosse residents were paying for the same fire department. Under the agreement, that amount will go up each year.
“They valued what they’re getting. Their taxes are going to incrementally go up, but you get what you pay for,” Gilliam said.
Gilliam hopes the partnership is the first of many in the area. He is a strong supporter of a study by the Wisconsin Policy Forum and La Crosse Area Planning Committee proposed in September to discuss the opportunities for regional cooperation.
Seidel and Kabat agreed that municipalities working together will improve the quality of life throughout the region.
“We have a lot of great fire departments that are stretched thin due to the need for volunteers and I think collaboration will improve the safety of all residents, not just city of La Crosse residents,” Seidel said.
The agreement is an example of municipalities working well together, Kabat said.
“It’s showing that, hey, this is possible. These conversations are complicated. At times these are hard conversations, but it shows that this actually can happen,” Kabat said.
Jourdan Vian can be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @Jourdan_LCT.