By LeAnn R. Ralph
TOWN OF SHERMAN — No decision has yet been made by the Sherman Town Board to change fire districts and put all of the Town of Sherman into the Menomonie Rural Fire District.
“Despite what you have read and heard, we have made no decision to change the fire district,” said Dan Fedderly, chair of the Town of Sherman, at the Sherman Town Board’s October 18 meeting.
Several dozen Town of Sherman residents attended the meeting.
The northern half of the Town of Sherman is currently in the Boyceville Community Fire District, and the southern half of the township is in the Menomonie Rural Fire District.
The only decision the Sherman Town Board has made is to look at what the process entails of changing fire district boundaries and to gather information about the costs for each fire district, Fedderly said.
The Boyceville fire district has been a standing agenda item for the Sherman Town Board for the last five to seven years, and every month the town board discusses the progress toward building a new fire station in Boyceville, Fedderly said.
The Sherman Town Board is seeking information on the cost of service, the response times, insurance rates and the level of service from each fire department, he said.
A ten-year cost analysis of the Boyceville fire district and the Menomonie rural fire district, from 2009 to 2018, shows the total cost of assessments to the Town of Sherman for the northern half from the Boyceville fire district has been $128,761 compared to a total cost for Menomonie rural of $51,712, Fedderly said.
Fedderly acknowledged there were reasons for the differences in cost, such as the size of the fire districts and the amount of equipment owned by each district.
The Menomonie rural district operates out of the north side fire station in Menomonie, known as Station 2, which was built by the City of Menomonie. When Menomonie rural fire responds to a fire, equipment and personnel can come from Station 2 or from the City of Menomonie’s other fire department location at Station 1.
While the Menomonie rural district states that the district absorbs the $500 charged per fire call, one woman in the audience who lives in the southern half of the Town of Sherman said she had received a bill from the City of Menomonie for $1,000 after a fire call.
The assessment for 2018 from the Boyceville fire district for the northern half of Sherman was $10,248 while the assessment for 2019 is $18,805, Fedderly said.
The Sherman Town Board must look at the costs and why the cost has increased and whether Sherman is willing to pay the increase, he said.
One person in the audience noted the Boyceville fire district has recently invested in several pieces of new equipment and that Menomonie rural fire also is buying a new fire truck.
The cost to Sherman for the new Menomonie fire truck will be $2,200, Fedderly noted.
The increased assessment for 2019 is a concern, he said.
Another concern for the Sherman Town Board is the state-imposed revenue limits and whether the cost for Boyceville’s new fire station and new fire truck will be set up in such a way the payment can be placed outside of the township’s revenue limit or whether the Town of Sherman would have to take money from other portions of the budget, such as the road budget, to pay for the fire station and the fire truck.
State law allows municipalities to only collect a certain amount in property taxes, but state law also allows municipalities to not include certain items, such as debt payments, in the total amount assessed for the levy limit.
The $39,000 payment included in the Boyceville fire department’s budget for a new fire truck should be outside of the levy, Fedderly said.
Since the fire department will be receiving a loan to pay for the balance of the new fire engine, the amortization schedule will allow the loan payment to be outside of the revenue limit, he said.
The annual assessment for the fire department must be included in the tax levy limit, but the loan can be over the levy limit, Fedderly said.
“People are still taxed, but this way, it does not wipe out the town budget,” he said.
One audience member noted that two years ago, residents in the Town of Sherman had voted in a referendum to approve building a new fire station in Boyceville.
The referendum was an advisory referendum, and the Sherman Town Board has been asking for specific numbers on the cost of building a new fire station “for a long time,” Fedderly said.
In order for a referendum question to be binding, the exact amount of what the fire station would cost the Town of Sherman would have to be included in the question so town residents would know exactly what they were being asked to approve.
Over the years, the Boyceville fire board has been presented with a range of costs for a new fire station, from $1 million to $3 million.
On the advisory referendum, 183 town residents voted “yes” to building a new fire station, and 130 town residents voted “no” — or in other words, 58 percent of those who voted said “yes” to building a new fire station and 42 percent said “no,” Fedderly reported.
Cost is one factor, but response time also is a factor, he noted.
Matt Feeney, a deputy with Dunn County and the director of the Boyceville ambulance service, provided background information about Menomonie’s fire station on the north side.
Firefighters at Station 2 are medics. At one time, Station 2 was located at the hospital in Menomonie, Feeney said.
At any given time, Station 2 is staffed with two medics and an officer, he said.
The ambulance rig used to transfer patients from one medical facility to another is located at Station 2, and the Menomonie ambulance service does quite a lot of patient transfers, Feeney said.
Historically, at any given time, there are not very many people at Station 2 just waiting to respond to a fire, he said.
Station 2 often does not have staff available, and fire apparatus could then mostly be coming from the downtown Menomonie fire station, Feeney said.
Fedderly said he had asked for dispatch logs from Menomonie and from Boyceville for response times in the Town of Sherman — that is, how many minutes until the fire engines are rolling to head for a fire — and for on-scene times.
The average on-scene time for Boyceville was 11 minutes, and the average on-scene time for Menomonie was 15 minutes, he said.
Menomonie rural fire and the City of Menomonie fire and ambulance have separate equipment but use the same people, Feeney said, noting that Menomonie fire and ambulance frequently receives simultaneous calls.
When the Boyceville fire department leaves the Boyceville fire station, it is with a full company, noted one person in the audience.
Insurance rates are also a concern, Fedderly said.
The rates are based on where the property is located, the protection class, the distance from the nearest fire department, the rating of the fire department, and mutual aid agreements, he said.
Fedderly said he had asked his insurance agent about the impact on insurance rates from changing fire districts and was told there would be no change because the rates are based upon the distance to the nearest fire department and not the fire district in which the property is located.
Paul Heifner, Town of Sherman resident, said he had been told by his insurance agent that if the township were to change fire districts so his property was farther from the fire station servicing the district, his property would be considered in an unprotected area, and he would pay higher insurance premiums.
Several people in the audience said they had talked to Town of Tainter residents who said they paid more for homeowners’ insurance after Tainter had switched from the Colfax fire district to the Menomonie fire district.
At one time, part of the Town of Tainter was in the Colfax fire district and part of the town was in the Menomonie fire district.
The entire Town of Tainter is now in the Menomonie fire district.
The level of service between the two fire departments is equal, but the Menomonie rural fire district costs taxpayers in the Town of Sherman $14.49 per $100,000 of assessed property value, and the Boyceville fire department costs $37.23 per $100,000 of assessed value, Fedderly said.
The Town of Sherman assesses all of the residents equally and spreads out the cost of both fire departments across the entire township, he said, so that residents all pay $27.31 per $100,000 of assessed property value.
Many of the residents at the meeting said they did not object to paying more for the Boyceville fire department because they liked the peace of mind from having a fire department close by.
“It’s like an insurance policy,” said one person, adding that you pay your insurance premiums and hope you never have a claim, but that if you do have a claim, you are glad you paid the premiums.
Many of the residents also said they would not object to the Town of Sherman charging the assessment for Menomonie rural fire to the residents in the southern part of the Sherman and charging the assessment for the Boyceville fire department to the residents in the northern part of Sherman.
People at the meeting also expressed concern about knowing what is on the agenda for the Sherman Town Board meetings, knowing when the meetings are scheduled, and being able to read the minutes from the meetings.
The official newspaper for the Town of Sherman is the Dunn County News, but many people at the meeting said they subscribed to the Glenwood City Tribune Press Reporter.
Fedderly said the Town of Sherman would incur more expense to publish meeting notices and other official notices in both newspapers.
The Town of Sherman, however, would not have to declare the Glenwood City Tribune as an official newspaper and could, in fact, publish the meeting agendas without publishing the other notices.
The Town of Sherman also is considering developing a website that would include the agendas and the meeting minutes.
Several people pointed out they either do not own computers or other devices with which to connect to the Internet or that the Internet access is so poor where they live that they would be unable to connect to a town website.
State law allows municipalities to post agendas in three public places.
People at the meeting noted the Town of Sherman’s posting places seem rather remote and inaccessible.
The question of whether the Town of Sherman approached the Menomonie Rural Fire District, or whether Menomonie approached the Town of Sherman, also still has not been answered to the satisfaction of the people who attended the Sherman Town Board meeting.
Fedderly said he had received a handwritten note from Frank Bammert, chair of the Menomonie rural fire board, at a meeting of the Dunn County Town’s Association about changing the fire district boundaries and, in fact, produced the note he said Bammert had written.
At the annual meeting of the Menomonie rural fire district the day before the Town of Sherman meeting, Bammert said the Town of Sherman had approached the Menomonie rural fire district.
At this point, no decision has been made about placing the northern part of the Town of Sherman in the Menomonie Rural Fire District, Fedderly said.
The town board must consider what represents the greater community benefit, he said.