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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Controversy Swirls Around Wausaukee Rescue Squad

Issue Date: July 29, 2021

Differences of opinion emerged loud and clear at a meeting of the Wausaukee Rescue Squad, Inc. Board of Directors on Monday, July 19 at the Wausaukee Rescue Squad Building, which is located across from the Village Hall and Fire Station in Wausaukee.

Wausaukee Rescue Squad, Inc. is a private, not-for-profit organization, but it it is supported mainly by contracts with the four municipalities it serves, and by an agreement reached last year, each is entitled to appoint a representative to serve on the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors is supposed to meet at 5 p.m. on the third Monday of each month, but this was the first meeting of the board since February.

Agendas and meeting notices were not provided to the public or the press and apparently have also not been going to the municipalities.

The member municipalities are the towns of Wausaukee, Wagner, and Amberg and the Village of Wausaukee. Municipal officials present for the meeting were Wausaukee Village President Pat Tracy, Wausaukee Town Chair Jeff Engelmann, Wagner Town Chair Steve Renikow, Sr., Wagner Fire Chief Tom Arthur, and Wagner Assistant Fire Chief Mike Caylor. The person assigned to represent the Town of Amberg reportedly had resigned.

Others present were Wausaukee Rescue Squad, Inc. President Steve VanDenBerg, his wife, Jamie VanDenBerg, who is secretary, and numerous employees of the Squad, which is no longer made up of volunteers.

At the meeting, VanDenBerg referred to the Board of Directors as â€the Advisory Board.â€

The group's Administrative Board, which VanDenBerg said meets at 5 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month, includes VanDenBerg, Tom Arthur, Kevin Kwasny, and Jaimie VanDenBerg. A reporter present for the meeting was told the Administrative Board is elected by the Squad but you must be as member for at least six months before you can vote. Since all â€members†are now paid employees, that appears to mean the employees vote for other employees who serve as officers of the Squad on the Administrative Committee.

There appeared to be no agenda for the Board of Directors meeting. Roll call was not taken, and no financial reports were shared with those attending. There were no votes of board members, no minutes were presented, no decisions were made and no formal actions were taken.

At the start of the meeting Tracy asked for financial reports for the past four months. VanDenBerg said he did not have them on hand but would get them. Tracy noted four months ago the Board meeting had been cancelled and there had been no meetings since.

VanDenBerg said â€we†were there for the next two months, but â€nobody turned up.†He said he should not need to â€invite†them to meetings or send meeting notices.

Tracy said prior to the cancellation of the March meeting they had been getting e-mail messages with the meeting date and agenda, and then there were none. â€We should get an agenda before each meeting,†Tracy declared.

VanDenBerg said cancellation of the March meeting was his fault, as he had a gall bladder attack right before it was to start. He did not address lack of notice for the other meetings, but said no one had shown up. Tracy noted they had previously recieved notices and agendas for the meetings, but that had stopped after the meeting that was cancellec in March.

Tracy also asked which door they should use to enter the building for meetings, because the front doors, which look like the main entrance, are locked and people wanting to attend cannot get in. Apparently the back door is kept open.

Tracy also said he planned to talk with the other directors about paying VanDenBerg his hourly wage when he is technically on Squad duty, but is at home rather than at the Squad building. His answer was that he can respond to the call just as quickly from his home as he can from the Squad building.

â€We're paying you to be here, not at home!†Tracy told him. No one else took up the argument at that time, but Caylor returned to the issue later.

VanDenBerg said there had been a problem with the Squad vehicle and he had sent each of the municipal representatives e-mails â€asking what to do about the rig,†because repairs would cost about $3,000 and their accounts were almost empty. â€Nobody responded,†VanDenBerg declared. â€How is that for being totally involved?â€

He also complained that the Squad had received no payments on the annual contracts.

Tracy replied there were no contracts. VanDenBerg said the figures were not finalized. He had previously criticized Wausaukee Village Clerk/Treasurer/Administrator Sara Pullen for not providing him with the numbers for the method she had suggested for allocating Squad costs to each of the municipalities.

Last fall, when the municipalities agreed to a huge increase in the Squad contract price to allow them to go to all paid members, Pullen had prepared some rough numbers for allocations based on the number of improved parcels on the 2020 tax rolls.

Discussions last fall had included expressions of need to reorganize the business end of the service, to have a real Board of Directors and more accountability, but it appears nothing has happened since then in regard to governance of the Squad.

Although there had been no Board meeting since February, interim contracts had been prepared and sent to each of the member municipalities with requests for payment.

Engelmann said the Town of Wausaukee got its contract in February, and approved it and signed it. A lady in the audience said the contract Wagner received was $3,000 different from what Pullen had said would be the right price for them.

The first contract sent to the Village of Wausaukee begins by stating the agreement was made on the first day of May, 2021, and was to run until Dec. 31, 2021. However, the typed date at the end of the contract said it was signed by the Rescue Squad president and secretary on the 1st day of August, 2021, and that was scratched out to say it was the 21st day of June, 2021. It was addressed to the Village of Wausaukee, but contained lines for signatures of a Town Clerk and Town Secretary, which were then crossed out to read Village President and Village Clerk.

Conversation at the meeting indicated that previously payments were due by the 15th of each month after the end of each quarter, but now the contracts call for full payment in February or quarterly payments by the 15th day of the first month of each quarter. There was no indication who made that decision.

VanDenBerg said he was â€demeaning†to Pullen and apologized and brought her a new contract to sign. However, he also said the newspaper article last fall said the municipalities would get back to the Squad with the right contract prices, and that didn't happen, and added, â€I don't owe anybody an apology!â€

Tracy said, getting back to issues raised at the June Village Board meeting, â€If you're going to be paid by the hour for being here, you have to be here.â€

One of the squad members asked what they were supposed to eat if they had to stay at the building. (The building includes three bedrooms, cooking facilities, etc.

Caylor declared the towns had been told the Squad members would be paid for being at the Squad building 24/7, â€â€and now we're told somebody who lives 10 minutes away is getting paid $15 an hour for staying home???â€

Another person on the Squad said that's the way EMS works out of Marinette.

â€They are not us!†Caylor declared.

VanDenBerg said having a paid crew has worked well, and introduced Char Staffeldt-Kroll, who has a 40-year career in the EMS field, and is an NWTC instructor. She joined the Wausaukee Squad in January. She provided numbers on various certifications of each, and some of the recent trainings, public activities, etc.

She said she would like to work with the government officials on grant writing for the Squad.

Other new Squad member/employees were also introduced. They come from Spread Eagle, Bagley, Grover, Porterfield, McAllister, Oconto Falls, and more. There are currently 19 â€members,†including three from Wausaukee and two from Amberg. Those who live more than 10 minutes away stay at the Squad building when working their shifts. The others apparently do not. When not on runs, those staying in the building take care of housekeeping, yard maintenance, buying supplies, and simple squad maintenance. There was mention that people like being there now, and have fun together again in addition to doing a good job.

â€As members and employees we are very proud of this organization,†she declared. â€We need your support just as you need oursâ€Our number one priority is patient care.â€

There were indications the Squad will be asking the municipalities for greatly increased contract prices again next year. VanDenBerg said when asking for the price hikes last fall they had only figured in the cost of paying people 24/7, and neglected to include the money they were already getting from the municipalities for other expenses. Their only other income is from money they are paid for making squad calls (mainly insurance for patient transport), and from fund raisers.

Talk turned to the mechanical problems with the squad response vehicle. The group was told if they order a new one today, they might get it a year from now, and it will cost a quarter of a million dollars.

â€We board members want something too,†Englemann declared. â€Right now you guys are your own entityâ€We fund you, but we have no say. If we are going to fund you, there have to be changes!â€

He said they could get funding faster, and would have a better chance of getting grants if they were a government entity. He said he doesn't want to point fingers, and did not want to spoil the good things they are doing, â€â€but we represent the taxpayersâ€We have to be sure their dollars are spent right!†He said they are unique in being the only fully paid Squad in Marinette County. He acknowledged there are 260 hours of training required to become EMTs and more to remain certified.

It was mentioned the Wausaukee Squad has had 180 calls this year.

VanDenBerg said many squads in the area are going professional rather than volunteer responders, and mentioned Mountain Rescue and Oconto Falls.

Engelmann said right now, the towns contract for Squad services just as they contract for garbage collection services. He said their cost had increased last year from $20,000 to $140,000.

A person in the audience who formerly owned a garbage company that contracted with the towns pointed out that their equipment was purchased with their own money, not donated funds from community members and the municipalities. She asked who owns Wausaukee Rescue Squad, Inc., and was told, â€Wausaukee Rescue is its own entity.â€

At that point VanDenBerg said the Peshtigo Times reporter had accused him of stealing Wausaukee Rescue Squad, Inc. and not providing notices of meetings. He said they do not need to abide by Wisconsin Open Meetings laws, and are not required to hold public meetings, and said he is waiting for an answer from the Wisconsin Attorney General's office on that issue.

The reporter pointed out her comments about him taking over the squad had been made in a private telephone conversation with him, and now he had made it public. She asked if he would at least e-mail meeting notices to the paper and did not get an affirmative reply.

No one could answer a question from Englemann as to who would own the building and equipment if the municipalities contracted with some other service and they were dissolved.

There was talk from Squad members that in Mountain the municipalities had taken over, and now the towns have to pay employee retirement benefits, higher insurance rates, etc.

Englemann said the Squad will need a budget for next year, and Jaimie VanDenBerg said she had taken a class on that.

â€It would be easier â€for one municipality to buy us out, than for all four municipalities to run us,†Arthur suggested.

Englemann said they need better communication, more of these meetings.

Tracy asked if the Squad will report at the end of the year what each member is paid, and the answer seemed to be no, but they would report on how much was paid in total salaries.

There as more talk, but no decisions were made on anything. The next meeting apparently will be at 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 16.


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