Results of a yearlong study of ways the Somers, Bristol and Paris fire and rescue departments could share or consolidate services, and possibly save money, were presented at a joint meeting of the municipalities Monday.
The 46-page report prepared by Wisconsin Policy Forum (WPF) — a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy research organization — was produced to help local officials make data-driven decisions as they consider options to meet future “increased service demands resulting from new residential and commercial development and increased traffic on I-94.”
“A very important initial finding is that under current conditions a three-way consolidation would not produce significant service-level efficiencies,” Henken said. “Because of the distances between the stations, simply consolidating and turning into one department doesn’t necessarily get you an ability to respond any better.”
However, Henken said the study did uncover ways the municipalities could potentially save money under a few scenarios that would require departments to operate a bit differently.
The report “fleshes out” the pros and cons and fiscal impact for eight different joint service options. It includes information on demographics, an inventory of existing staffing and equipment and data on call volume and expenditures.
It also identified similar challenges being experienced in all three communities. For example, a common concern raised by fire chiefs is the ability to recruit and retain hourly employees, Henken said.
Annual expenditures for fire and EMS protection for all three communities combined is roughly $2.4 million, according to the study. Somers accounts for about $1.4 million of that total, with Bristol spending about $740,000 and Paris about $282,000.
“Our analysis finds that the current fire/EMS model meets the needs of residents and businesses in the area with adequate response times,” the report concludes. “However, there are some vulnerabilities going forward, particularly in light of anticipated growth.”
For example, growth projections provided in the report suggest the Somers department will likely need to construct and staff a third fire station to respond to call volume there.
The report provides eight shared-service and consolidation scenarios. The long-term scenarios assume Somers will need to add two shifts and Bristol one shift to accommodate added demand for service.
Most of the options presented come with an increased cost for fire and EMS services, but the analysis suggests there could be some financially viable cooperation.
Under one cost-saving scenario, Somers and Bristol would jointly provide EMS service in Paris. Paris would retain its paid on-call fire department, members of which could provide first response.
This would result in a net savings of $164,420 that could be split somewhat evenly by the three departments, Henkel said.
Two other options there could be a cost savings if Bristol increases staffing and contracts to serve Paris, or Somers adds a third station to the west and contracts to serve Paris.
“The cost reductions for Bristol and Somers would result, in part, from sharing service expansion costs with Paris, which would benefit from that expansion by securing enhanced fire and/or EMS service levels,” the report concludes. “For Paris, the question is to what extent policymakers desire that benefit and whether and how much they are willing to pay for it.”
Each municipal board will independently review the report, which will be available on the WPF website today.