Township, village of Arena continue EMS discussion

Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief

Following the failure of a referendum to provide funding for the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) shared by the town and village of Arena, both municipalities are working to find ways to fully fund the services through 2021. 

Because the village’s referendum failed in the November election, it has re-budgeted for 2021, and can only cover 27% of the 48% of the EMS budget it is responsible for, said Village Clerk DaNean Naeger. The town is typically responsible for 52% of the funding. 

Town board President David Lucey said at a Nov. 10 village meeting that the town is pursuing avenues to exceed its levy limit to cover its costs. Lucey said the town board is expecting to exceed the limit by $75,000. 

At the fire board meeting on Nov. 19, the members of the fire board from the village and town met to discuss potential options for covering the remaining funding and keeping EMS services full time throughout next year. 

One option would include using the fire board’s saving funds to fund the services through 2021, however using this option would drain the fund and offset scheduled 2022 purchasing of a new fire truck. 

This option would require both the village and township to uphold their required funding percentages for 2022. 

The board also discussed the village pursuing a secondary referendum in the spring to attempt to receive tax levy funding for the services, and explored using police officers as EMTs, which the board determined would cause too large of an overlap in services. 

The board discussed dissolving the volunteer EMS, but determined the option would be too expensive. 

The board also discussed the option of having the township present a written offer to the village to buyout its share of the services. 

The village would likely not receive any money from the buyout and would continue using the services, until an agreed up cost of services had been reached, in which case the township would bill the village for further

There was no action taken on this discussion at the meeting, and both municipalities are expected to revisit the topic Dec. 1, at the village board meeting. 

Other action and discussion taken at the meeting include: 

—Accepting the resignation of one full time EMT, who’s last day was on Nov. 21. The board discussed hiring a replacement from either a pervious or new applicant pool. The hiring discussion was tabled due to a lack of current funding from the village. 

—Discussion of one fire fighter testing positive for COVID-19 after attending a fire board meeting. It was reported that the individuals sitting directly on either side of the sick individual quarantined and have tested negative. 

—Two new members of the fire department will begin entry level training in January.  

—David Mueudt will retire from the fire department at the end of 2020. 

Shortly after the three Village of Arena referendums failed at the ballot box on Nov. 3, Valley Sentinel sent a series of questions to Kate Reimann, current village president, and Paul Pustina, former village president and current village trustee. Reimann has not responded to requests, we will update the story if we receive a response. 

Below are Pustina’s responses.

Valley Sentinel: How will the failure of the referendums affect the Village’s budget?

Paul Pustina: The Village has stayed within State guidelines. 

VS: Had those items already been budgeted for next year? If so, what changes will need to be made and from where?

PP: Even though the referendum for the purpose of employee retention and benefits did not pass. The Board earlier passed Resolution 2020-19 giving the employees a raise for 2021. This was done before final budget figures for 2021 were even assembled. I did not vote in favor of this resolution as promising raises before the next year’s budget numbers are accumulated is not good practice. 

The Village’s budget is not in good shape. At least it is balanced. Approximately $67,865.29 had to be cut in order for the Village to be able to balance the budget per State guidelines. All capital accounts were affected and there is no extra money. It will take the Village another 2-3 years minimum to correct this and that will be with focused financial restraints.

VS: How will the referendum results directly affect the EMS program? Employee benefits? Maintaining streets?

PP: The EMS program has yet to be finalized. There is still a chance that it could get funded for at least 2021 and then another hard look will need to be made. 

The Village is in the Wisconsin Retirement System and those figures are in the 2021 budget. Any attempt for health insurance will need to be delayed.

Maintaining streets should be ok for now. Again, the Village will need to put some projects on hold and the Village will need to work within budget guidelines. This has not been done recently. The Village’s streets are not in such disrepair that having to wait a year or two will be a huge inconvenience.

VS: The Village historically has had trouble with retainment in its departments and in its boards/commissions, there have been several resignations lately, what is the Village doing to improve retainment and retention with its employees and on its boards/commissions?

PP: Things were relatively stable before the current Village President took office. Changes are inevitable when new people come in, but, the changes and actions by the current administration has resulted in the resignations of good people, smart people, who thought things through.  

I have asked the current Village President to sit down and meet twice in order to discuss things and have been refused both times. I have asked for a closed session Personnel meeting to discuss employee concerns and have had no response. 

What needs to be done in order to improve retainment is to act with the thoughts of the Village residents in mind, not personal agendas. 

VS: Why do you think the residents rejected the referendum measures?

PP: The information provided was not consistent. There were three pieces sent to Village residents. I think the residents saw through the wording and recognized that exceeding budget limits for employee raises and street maintenance were not valid asks. These are two things that should be included in the budget process. The General Fund Balance cash on hand policy is 20%. The overspending and inadequate planning of the Board had, according to one of the referendum informational sheets provided to residents, had left a shortfall of 15.2% in the unassigned fund balance.

The EMS referendum information was not complete either. There should have been more explanation of what could happen if it didn’t pass.