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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Wausaukee Rescue Squad Seeks Another Huge Funding Increase

Issue Date: August 19, 2021

Slightly over a year ago the municipalities served by Wausaukee Rescue Squad, Inc. were given an ultimatum - either agree increase their funding enough to have services provided by all-paid squad members rather than volunteers or face the possibility of going without anyone to provide reasonably prompt response to calls for emergency medical services. Squad President Steve VanDenBerg said they were down to eight active members and were unable to recruit enough volunteers to keep the squad going. The squad is currently organized as a private, not for profit corporation.

The municipalities it serves are the Village of Wausaukee, Towns of Wausaukee, Wagner and Amberg, and a small corner of the Town of Middle Inlet.

The group's Administrative Board, which VanDenBerg said meets at 5 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month, includes VanDenBerg, Treasurer Tom Arthur, Vice President Kevin Kwasny, and Secretary Jaimie VanDenBerg. There is a meeting of Squad officers (all of whom are apparently paid employees) with representatives of the municipalities at 5 p.m. on the third Mondays of each month, but that group appears to exercise no decision making powers.

Their first proposal was for each municipality to pay approximately five times what they had been paying, with the total coming to $362,095 for 2021. That was eventually approved along with a new method for dividing up the costs. There also was discussion at the time that the elected officials would need some authority over the employees, and a requirement that some official accounting be done by an outside firm. The accounting requirement appears to have been met, but there is no real oversight of the group by elected officials.

Last month the municipalities were notified that their cost to have services continued will be going up considerably for next year, and at the meeting on Monday, Aug. 16 budget sheets were distributed to the elected officials with numbers that appeared to be a 19 to 20 percent increase over last year, based on comments by some of them.

A reporter at the meeting asked for a copy of the proposed budget, but that request was refused by Rescue Squad officers. Arthur at one point said the budget projects $134,541 as the squad's income from ambulance runs, based on last year's numbers. Discussion of the proposed payroll cost put it in the neighborhood of $450,000 for the year, which is more than the amount of the entire contract amounts requested last year.

Wausaukee Village President Pat Tracy said that request was too much of an increase, and some of the others present agreed with him. He said he would be picking up a print out of income and all checks issued during the past year from the accountant on Wednesday, Aug. 18, and invited leaders of the other municipalities to join the Wausaukee Village Board at a closed executive meeting at the Village Hall to be scheduled in the very near future to discuss Rescue Squad issues.

Among the elected and appointed municipal representatives present for the Aug. 16 meeting at the Rescue Squad building across from the Wausaukee Village Hall were Tracy, Wausaukee Town Chair Jeff Englemann, Wausaukee Village Trustee JoAnn Polomis, newly appointed Amberg representative Mark Wisinski, Wagner Town Chair Steve Renikow, Sr., and Wagner Assistant Fire Chief Mike Caylor. Tom Arthur is Wagner Fire Chief.

Arthur distributed copies of the new contracts prepared by the Rescue Squad officials, and handed out the projected budget. It apparently was the first budget ever for the Rescue Squad.

Renikow asked for comparable numbers from this year, or from this year's budget, but they apparently were not available. Last year the estimated payroll for 2021 was $362,085, and they are now at full staff, with paid 3-member crews working 24/7, most of them living at the Squad building when on duty.

Tracy noted he has been asking for financial reports for the past three months, and that was when he said The Squad's accountant should be advised he would be in on Wednesday to pick up a copy of the check register.

Englemann also was not happy. â€You're increasing the town's cost by 18 percent, and this isn't a very good budget!†he declared.

Jaimie VanDenBerg said she had included money ($250,000???) for a new ambulance that probably shouldn't have been in the budget, and said the accountant had prepared a budget done in an other way, but she had not understood that terminology and felt this one was clearer. She and other Squad employees talked about the difficulty of collecting squad call charges from insurance companies and Medicare and Medicaid. They were advised to look at how they bill.

President Van Den Berg said his wife and another Squad member had gone to a grant writing class to try to get other funds.

During discussion, Englemann said when the squad began it was an arm of the Town of Wausaukee, funded by the town and donations from the public. The Squad building belonged to the town. When the Rescue Squad incorporated as an all-volunteer non-profit group the town gave them ownership of the building and the vehicles. However, Englemann understood that the legal documents involved specify that if the Rescue Squad ever ceases to exist ownership of the building will return to the town.


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