County needs to demonstrate leadership on safety issues

Jim Baumgart  Sheboygan County Supervisor

Sheboygan County and all its units of government have the complex task of providing needed services to citizens and all who travel here. That includes police, fire, and emergency support, safe roads, quality schools. The list is seemingly endless. And, they all cost money.

The Sheboygan County Board, is now discussing an emergency radio upgrade. Most people in the know understand we need a system that all units of government, from fire departments, police, emergency units, and others can use efficiently in protecting both life and property.

In technology terms, the radio and communication system we now use is old, has certain important limitations and needs an update. But, who’s going to pay?

With trust in government at a low ebb in both Wisconsin and this nation, Sheboygan County should provide the kind of leadership its citizens can be proud of. As best we can, we should do what is right for the safety of all of our communities.

In turn, county citizens, even the most fiscally conservative ones, need to understand after all the discussions have taken place about updating the radio communications within the county, doing so will not be free.

The total cost for the whole communications system is about $13 to $14 million. Sheboygan County will cover most of it at a cost of $9.2 million for the “backbone” equipment and software to support the radio system. In addition, Sheboygan County will also be providing a little over $2 million for radios for the Sheriff’s Department and other county personnel. That leaves about another $2.2 million to replace radios for the other local units of government including volunteer fire departments, volunteer emergency vehicles, and required staff. The county is seeking to have those units of government share the cost. It sounds like a fair deal, but is it?

Last time Sheboygan County upgraded its radio system, the county picked up the full cost including the cost of radios. But in trying to keep their cost down, now the county would like the other units to cover about 40 to 50 percent of the cost of the radios (costing between $1,700 and $2,000 each).

What may look fair may well be an uneven and unfair shifting of costs. Last time I checked, our county government represents all the citizens of Sheboygan County so why not have everyone pay a share in the cost?

While one could look at all the volunteer fire department and local volunteer emergency personnel in Sheboygan County, lets look at the Johnsonville Volunteer Fire Department. They came to a recent Sheboygan County Board meeting to list their concerns over the proposed cost of the radios.

Like many other volunteer departments, they are fairly small. While they receive some money from their township, they have fund raisers to help buy equipment - sometimes one brat, hamburger, soda and beer at a time. They serve, at some risk, to insure their community can be provided a quick response to a fire or injury. And, if a neighboring community needs help - these volunteer fire departments respond. We should appreciate and be proud of their service.

When in place, the new radios and communications system will certainly save lives, help those injured, and come to the rescue of others more quickly. If these and other emergency volunteers are paying their way, so why should we shift more cost to them. They will still need to maintain the new radio equipment and replace any broken or destroyed while in service.

Maybe the real question is, are we a county who’s citizens understand that all share in the responsibility in the cost of emergency services, or are we also a divided county.

The Sheboygan County Board has a responsibility when it comes to safety - they need to be leaders.

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