Rescue Squad loses funding
Douglas County's Rescue Squad could be on the chopping block next year. A budget proposal approved Wednesday by the county's law enforcement committee eliminates all 2007 funding for the volunteer rescue organization. It's one of three major cuts...
Douglas County's Rescue Squad could be on the chopping block next year.
A budget proposal approved Wednesday by the county's law enforcement committee eliminates all 2007 funding for the volunteer rescue organization.
It's one of three major cuts Sheriff Tom Dalbec said he faced to trim about $105,000 from his patrol budget to keep spending within the constraints of a statewide property tax freeze. Under the freeze adopted by legislators and signed into law by Gov. Jim Doyle, Douglas County is limited to a 2 percent spending increase for next year.
"There's cuts in this budget," said County Administrator Steve Koszarek. "There's certainly (service) cuts in this budget."
Dalbec said the decision on where to reduce spending wasn't easy.
"I had probably three places in my budget that I looked at specifically," he said while meeting with the committee, "one being a non-mandated service (the rescue squad), one directly related to part-time staff and one being overtime. So those are the three cuts I'm going to recommend ... unfortunately, something's got to get cut."
To keep spending within the constraints, Dalbec said he had to eliminate part-time bailiffs who provide courthouse security, reduce minimum patrol staff levels to trim overtime expenses and eliminate the $17,000 budget that supports rescue squad operations.
Trimming the minimum number of deputies re-quired to be on patrol won't mean fewer officers under normal circumstances, Koszarek said. It will simply mean the county won't have to replace some patrols with deputies paid at time-and-a-half scale in order to reach the current minimum levels when vacations and other legitimate time off is warranted for deputies, he said.
"The overtime budget has been problematic for years," Koszarek said. "At some point, you get into the meat."
He said if the sheriff's $3 million budget isn't limited to a 2 percent increase, it would mean cutting more deeply in several other departments to keep the county within the spending cap established by the state's property tax freeze.
While the rescue squad received just $17,000 of the sheriff's department budget during 2006, Dalbec said it would take a much larger commitment -- $100,000 to $200,000 -- to replace the groups' aging and failing vehicles.
"That's what we're talking about here," said Supervisor Nick Baker. "I think we should put $100,000 into it, but we don't have the money to do it."
When Supervisor John Robinson questioned who will provide the service if the rescue squad is eliminated, Dalbec said volunteer fire departments in towns and villages could pick up the slack. He's proposing to donate equipment currently held by the rescue squad to volunteer fire departments that don't have extrication and other equipment necessary for rescue operations.
Some rescue squad members, who just learned of the decision to eliminate their funding Wednesday afternoon, were left dumbfounded by the sheriff's decision.
It will place a significant burden on volunteer fire departments, and towns and villages, said Chris Gross, who serves on the rescue squad and the Superior Volunteer Fire Department. He said not all fire departments, particularly those near Highway 35 in western Douglas County, are equipped or want to handle rescue operations.
They may have little choice. If the rescue squad were to incorporate as a nonprofit organization, Dalbec said he couldn't say he whether he would call on the organization for assistance without knowing what the structure would be.
"Heaven forbid a family member of someone in this room gets in an accident over there because you're going to be waiting a long time if this rescue squad unit goes down the road," said Dan Parkinson, assistant rescue squad coordinator.
Shelley Nelson covers Superior/Douglas County. Call (715) 394-4411, ext. 134 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .