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Return of the north shore coverage issue

Linn may ask neighbors to rejoin conversation about improving response times



Allis (click for larger version)
September 25, 2012 | 03:49 PM
LINN — "I would say there's still a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding," Town Supervisor Jeanne Allis said over the phone Sept. 20.

Miscommunication about emergency coverage in the town's north shore region, where Allis lives, a region separated by Geneva Lake from the rest of the town of Linn.

Misunderstanding, she said, because of incorrect statements, some of which were printed the Regional News in letters to the editor and, on March 29, in the response to a candidate questionnaire from the person who ran against Allis.

But the north shore issue has been in play long before any of that.

Because of the lake, it takes Linn emergency personnel — all of whom are stationed in or near Zenda, or the south shore region of the town — longer to respond to north side calls. They have to drive around the lake, usually through the city of Lake Geneva, which anyone who knows the city in the summer will tell you may not be easy.

The questions Linn officials face is what action, if any, can improve response times to the north shore? What would be most effective, not just in performance but in terms of keeping spending down?

Allis and, during a separate phone interview Sept. 21, Linn Town Chairman Jim Weiss said the issue may return to the town board as early as the regular meeting in October.

Weiss said he expects the board may be asked to authorize him to contact officials from the village of Williams Bay and the town of Geneva, to ask them if they're interested in discussing these questions.

"We need to address the north shore issue, so the first thing we need to do is find out if there are any neighboring municipalities that are willing to participate with us," Weiss said.

Williams Bay, which lies to the west of Linn's north shore, already has a contract with Linn to provide fire and EMS coverage to the north shore. The town of Geneva, which lies to the north of this region, has no fire and rescue department.

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However, a few years ago, Linn, Williams Bay and Geneva officials hired a consultant to conduct a study of fire and rescue services in the area. There were talks of substations and other possible ways to improve response times, but in February 2010, the Williams Bay Village Board backed away from the discussion.

"Times have changed," Weiss said, citing that since then, there are different officials on the boards of the village and the town of Geneva. "Maybe things have changed, too."

But what about the city of Lake Geneva?

"The city of Lake Geneva was asked to be a part of that study three years ago and they didn't want to at that time," Weiss said.

He said they will first contact the communities which took part in that 2009 study, which was done by McGrath Consulting Group, of Wonder Lake, Ill.

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"We've got to have a starting point, that's all," Weiss said. "It's not that we wouldn't consider any other municipality."

When asked if the town board would approach Lake Geneva to take part in these discussions, he said it's too early to answer that question.

Allis, however, seemed open to that idea. "We're all neighbors," she said. "We can share services and take advantage of things. We're such a small community."

Erroneous statements

The last time this issue prompted public comments from Linn officials past and present was during the spring election.

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Allan Polyock, a former Linn chairman and supervisor, ran against Allis. He stated in his questionnaire response to the Regional News that Williams Bay's fire and rescue departments only responded to north shore calls as far as Chapin Road.

Polyock also stated a new contract with Lake Geneva was presented to the Linn Town Board, but it had not been signed.

These were false statements, and at the April 10 annual town meeting, Polyock apologized for the error.

In an April 13 interview, Weiss discussed the efforts of the town's Protective Services Committee to create a five-year emergency coverage plan for the north shore, which was Allis' idea.

He also said it is important to provide "adequate and proper" emergency protection to that region.

The issue remained quiet, but alive. On Sept. 20, Allis said some are still saying the north shore has no fire or rescue coverage.

"We are covered and it's worked out quite well," Allis said. "But what's the plan for the long-term?"

She said she asked the Protective Services Committee to work on a plan at its July meeting.

"We need to get it back on the agenda," Allis said.

It's an issue which has remained close to home for her. Not only does she live in the north shore region, it's something she still receives a lot of feedback on from time to time.

"This was the issue that prompted me to run," she said, referring to her first campaign for supervisor in 2008, which was victorious.

Allis stressed that she is pleased with the current level of north shore service, but officials should look for ways to improve it.

And soon, Allis said, because the Bay contract expires at the end of 2013.


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