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GLENWOOD CITY — Can Glenwood City afford to continue to operate an ambulance service?
That was one of the questions that the Common Council for the City of Glenwood City pondered during an hour and a half special meeting held Wednesday evening, July 7, at the City Hall.
With retaining current Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and hiring new ones becoming an issue, Glenwood City Ambulance Service co-director Julie Lee had recently approached Mayor John Larson about looking into possibly re-structuring how the City and its participating municipalities (the Village of Downing and Towns of Glenwood, Forest, Emerald, and Springfield) compensate its EMTs and drivers.
The council had preliminary discussions at a committee-of-the-whole in May, but the issue suddenly took on added importance this past month when a rash of resignations for various reasons, left the volunteer service with just ten EMTs and three drivers to cover shifts 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
That prompted a June 29th public safety committee meeting in which Lee and newly appointed co-director Wendy Werner apprised members of the rapid decrease in staffing numbers which, in turn, led to the July 7th special meeting.
Lee told the board that 99 and a half of this year’s 180 first-quarter shifts and 88 of the 182 second-quarter shifts had been covered by many of the EMTs that had recently resigned which included several of the weekday shifts.
The Glenwood City Ambulance service answered 244 calls in 2020 according to Lee.
Mayor Larson began last Wednesday night’s discussion on the issue by telling council members that in August of last year, the service had 16 EMTs and nine drivers and to function well, the service really needs at least 14 to 16 state-licensed EMTs and five to six drivers.
He continued, informing council members that EMTs and drivers currently receive a $20 standby or on-call stipend per 12-hour weekday shift which increases to $40 per shift on weekends (from 6 p.m. Friday evenings through 6 a.m. Monday mornings). In addition, EMTs also receive $40 per emergency call with drivers getting $32.50, if a run extends beyond 2.5 hours, compensation for the extra time is calculated at 26¢ per minute.
Lee and Werner told the council that they had surveyed the current roster of EMTs and the consensus among them was that a new payment structure of $10 per hour to be on call at or near the fire station would be beneficial in retaining current employees and for attracting new hires.
Under the proposed compensation package, standby and run pay would be eliminated.
The Boyceville Ambulance Service is currently paying its ambulance personnel at a rate of $9 per hour for a 12-hour shift stated Lee.
She added that the average pay that other area services are offering is $9.14 per hour.
The Mayor said the proposal would likely triple the annual standby charges that the City and the Town of Glenwood currently pay assuming that the current base rate of $875 per ambulance call remained unchanged.
“This is a major change,” Larson told the board.
To which councilman Ken Peterson quickly retorted, “I don’t see it being feasible with those numbers.”
Lee said the ambulance service currently had three applications to join the service and two others from EMTs that live outside the service area which would require a place to house them during their shifts.
That lead to another issue.
The service currently has no place for on-call personnel to stay especially during overnight shifts. EMTs and drivers are required to respond to a call within five to seven minutes of the initial page.
Lee said she has not yet responded to those “outside” applicants because the service has no where for them to stay during their 12-hour shift.
“So, it’s going to cost us money there too,” added councilman Ben DeGross.
“It’ll be at the fire hall or we would need to find a different place for them to sleep,” added councilman Austin Sandow.
The mayor said he did not see a problem, in the short term, buying a camper and placing it inside the fire hall.
Werner asked the mayor where it would be placed in the station.
“There is a spot there,” stated Larson. “The old brush buggy can get out of there.”
“I know they don’t’ like to hear that (in reference to the firefighters) but there is a spot in there that can be used before we start spending lots and lots of dollars,” he added.
“Are there other options?” the mayor then queried the board.
Sandow said he rents out rooms in his home to others and it costs a minimum of $400 per month. He added that gives members an idea of what it would cost if they decided to rent something.
DeGross proposed using the current city hall once the city government and police move into the new facility that is being constructed.
Clerk-Treasurer Shari Rosenow said the City is currently paying about $900 per month to rent the city hall which includes rent and taxes.
“Hudson went away from having an ambulance service altogether and we thought we were getting a good deal buying an ambulance from them. Maybe we were a little premature,” said Larson.
“Maybe we’re better off to do the same thing,” he added.
Lee said that she thought it might cost the City more money in the long run stating that a lot of services are having to build new facilities. She said Lakeview took over the Hudson service area and was stationed right in the Hudson Hospital but said Lakeview is now being “booted” because the hospital is going to use that space to add on to its catheter lab.
“So now Hudson and Lakeview have to build a brand new building,” noted Lee.
She also said Baldwin is constructing an $11.3 million facility to house police, fire, and EMS.
Councilman Peterson later inquired about the possibility of not offering EMS services for a couple days each week to keep costs down but Lee and Werner said that would not work, people need 24-hour coverage, seven days a week.
The council discussed costs for several more minutes before deciding to set up a meeting with the other effected municipalities to further discuss the situation and try and work toward a common solution.
The council agreed on meeting with the other governmental bodies on Wednesday, July 21.
The council also spent considerable time discussing several city-owned properties and the possibility of selling off many of them.
City Properties Committee chairman, Randy Ketola, presented colored aerial photographs with the city properties in questioned outlined in red.
The nine properties included in the discussions were the city-owned parking lot at the corner of Pine and Second Streets; the 3.5-acre City Park located on First Street just south of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church; the tennis and sand volleyball courts on the east side of Hinman Park; a hillside parcel between Logghe’s Trucking and Misty Meadow Wood Products and the City Cemetery; the 28.5-acre former saddle club grounds on the southwest side of town; the old water tower land located in the middle of a block bounded by Cherry Street to the north, East Walnut Street to the south and Second and Third Streets to the west and east, respectively; a .46-acre parcel north of the former American Legion building (now occupied by West Cap’s Housing and Energy Division) located on the City’s northeast side; and the former site of the NSP/Xcel Energy substation at the corner of Pine and Sixth Streets, adjacent to Hinman Park.
Talks centered on the option to put many of the properties up for sale especially the old City Park and former saddle club grounds.
Council member Steven Lee reminded fellow board members that a City referendum was held on the sale of the old City Park several years ago when an area resident expressed interest in purchasing the land it sits on to build a single-family home and voters overwhelming decided that the city should retain ownership.
Sandow stated that if the City could sell that property he would like to see the funds put back into improvements at Hinman Park.
Members also seemed to favor keeping the Hinman Park land on which the tennis and volleyball courts sit with an eye toward making improvements.
They also wanted to maintain ownership the parking lot on Pine and Second Street.
As for the remaining properties, the board instructed Ketola to contact local realtors about possibly listing them for sale.
The council also granted a pair of fermented beverage licenses during the meeting.
It approved a temporary Class B license and a temporary operator’s license for the Glenwood City Youth Sports/Girls Rule Softball association to serve beer during a youth tournament to be held this Friday through Sunday, July 16-18 at Hinman Park. Rosenow, who oversees operations at the city swimming pool, told the board that she would be adding a third lifeguard during the period to help make sure that no alcohol is taken inside the fenced-in pool area.
A Class A combination license was granted for Family Dollar Stores of Wisconsin, LLC that would allow the off-sale of beer at the Glenwood City store.
Finally, the council took no action on emergency sewer lateral funding for Bonnie’s Cafe.