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Neighboring towns strike deal to share firefighters
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Neighboring towns strike deal to share firefighters

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WALWORTH – A shared contract to hire firefighters jointly is in the works among six area municipalities that are struggling to find and retain firefighters.

If approved, the estimated $405,847 annual contract would staff two full-time, EMS-trained firefighters to serve the neighboring towns and villages of Walworth, Sharon and Darien around the clock.

The proposed contract begins on Jan. 1, 2021 and continues for three years.

Mark Ruosch, president of the village of Sharon, said all of the municipalities have had trouble finding or retaining new firefighters, and often do not have flexibility in their budgets to pay for full-time additions.

The Village of Sharon has no full-time fire department staff and operates only with volunteers who are paid either hourly or per call. Recently the village has had difficulty finding volunteers to fill vacant spots.

Ruosch said the shortage has led the six municipalities to consider a shared service contract, where each village or town would pay a portion of the costs representing the added services they would receive.

“The pool is dwindling, and we either have to come up with a better way of finding volunteers or keeping them around,” he said.

The proposed contract describes the difficulty that volunteer departments have experienced finding people to assist with fire protection as local government finances have grown tight.

“The Darien, Sharon and Walworth Departments have struggled to function while facing these changes,” the contract states. “Despite all the challenges ... all three departments have found a way to provide service.”

If the contract is approved, Ruosch said the two firefighters would start their day in Darien and move to other stations or respond to calls as needed throughout the day.

The additional crew members would lessen response times, provide around-the-clock EMS service to the area, solidify partnership among the departments, and maintain existing volunteer programs, according to the contract.

Each municipality must approve the contract and any accompanying tax increase needed locally to fund it.

The Village of Sharon’s portion of the costs would be $50,876 annually.

Ruosch said some municipalities might have to seek voter approval in referendums to raise the revenue needed to fund the new arrangement.

He said the contract is a good idea, but that he is waiting for the final costs to be determined before deciding whether to support it.

“We definitely need help, but how we get to that help, it all depends on the money,” he said.

In the village of Walworth, officials are considering a referendum in November to raise revenue to fund the contract.

The village’s portion of the costs would be $109,183 annually.

Walworth village president Tom Connelly said referendum language will be considered by the board in August for a possible ballot measure in November.

Connelly said it will be up to the public to decide if they feel the additional fire protection service is worth the expense.

“It’s really just a question for the public,” he said. “We’re asking the public to dig into their pockets for some extra funds for these two employees.”

With all municipalities struggling to fill volunteer firefighting positions, Connelly said the shared contract may be the most affordable option to having access to more firefighters.

“Honestly this would be the cheapest option,” he told village board members July 13, “for buying paramedic-level service for the three municipalities that would partnering, rather than us do it on our own, Darien do it on their own, or Sharon do it on their own.”

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