Don’t keep information and process from the public

I have attended as many Cambridge Area Fire Commission meetings, Building Committee meetings and Oakland Town Hall meetings in the last year, and reading reports of those meetings. The purpose was learning as much as possible on issues surrounding the remodel/build of the Cambridge Area Fire/EMS station. This, along with the solar farm issues, impacts our communities in so many ways for the residents’ and communities’ financial future and wellbeing.

The Building Committee, appointed by the Fire Commission in 2021, began meeting in May, 2021. Devin Flanigan of Keller LLC, who developed the needs assessment and design put forth in the 2020 $6.5 million referendum, has been involved in most meetings. Rockdale’s representative has not participated.

In July, 2021, the Fire Commission put together a mission statement for the Building Committee for the first time. This came after a request for EMS financial statements, suggestions for studying different building sites, studying private EMS services and what they might offer to our communities, looking at studies already done, and studying consolidation with other nearby communities — before deciding on a building plan that would bind the communities to costly building decisions.

The mission statement, in part, provided: That the Building Committee look at the Keller needs assessment only, look at the Keller $6.5 million plan and recommend any changes to the Keller plan to the Commission. Changes will be discussed today.

Deerfield and Deer-Grove Fire/EMS has followed the lead of many Wisconsin municipalities facing the decision on what to do about the high cost of EMS services for personnel, equipment and housing. They have hired an independent group to study their demographics and do an independent audit of the EMS service — for Deerfield at a cost of $2,500 and for Deer-Grove at a cost of $13,400. Other studies have been done throughout the state, including nearby at Marshall and Fort Atkinson, and the results are available.

Our Fire Commission should allow such a study to be done here, at what would be a nominal overall cost, before making important decisions, including finalizing any union contract for wages and benefits for the newly unionized Cambridge EMS personnel and incurring more in attorney’s fees.

The Fire Commission also should allow private EMS service providers to come in to a public meeting to answer questions and advise on what they might do to provide for the Cambridge Area EMS services. Ryan Brothers already has requested this opportunity.

These steps in providing information, sorting out facts, providing transparency in our local government are necessary before the Building Committee turns in recommendations, and before the Fire Commission finalizes a plan that the public is asked to vote on in another referendum.

If the Fire Commission is committed to providing the public with the best possible solution to, and balancing the needs of both: The great people who have and will serve as volunteers in our fire department and the EMS service providers, and if they have listened to the needs and concerns of the taxpayers, they will allow information and facts to be presented and studied before making any decisions. The mistake of trying to keep information and process from the public should not continue.

The Building Committee meets today, Sept. 14 at 5 p.m., and the Fire Commission on Thursday, Sept. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Cambridge District Fire Station.

Respectfully,

Virginia Newcomb

Town of Oakland

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