County right to pick up radio costs for volunteers

THE SHEBOYGAN COUNTY BOARD did the right thing by picking up the full cost of new emergency system radios for volunteer fire departments and emergency responders in the county.

The new radios are needed, as the existing radios are outdated and the manufacturer, Motorola, will no longer be providing parts and service for them.

The radios are utilized by police and fire departments, ambulance services, first responders and other personnel throughout the county. They are more than a dozen years old and anyone who deals with technology knows that a dozen years is more than a lifetime – more like several lifetimes – for such equipment. Especially for equipment crucial to life and death emergency situations.

At issue was the cost of replacing the radios.

That cost, for city, village and town users, was estimated to be between $2 million and $2.5 million. That’s a huge price tag in these times of tight local government budgets.

The county originally proposed picking up 50 percent of that cost, then the Law Committee increased that to 70 percent. At last week’s County Board meeting, Supervisor Richard Bemis moved to have the county pay all of the cost for local volunteer fire departments and first responders.

He cited the fact that members of those departments are all volunteers, supported financially for the most part by local boards and councils with limited resources, or through fundraisers and donations.

The proposal was opposed by Supervisor Devin LeMahieu, who said volunteer departments should go to their local boards to make up the 30 percent balance of the cost the county would not fund under the original plan.

The problem is, most of those boards and councils are hard-pressed for money as it is. Most volunteer departments are supported by local town boards, which typically have the smallest budgets and property tax bases of any level of government.

Such a burden would be much more severe for them than it would be for a larger city or the entire county.

LeMahieu’s argument that city of Sheboygan taxpayers should not be burdened to pay the additional cost under Bemis’ proposal also doesn’t hold water.

County taxpayers outside the city of Sheboygan made concessions and picked up additional costs to move joint emergency dispatch between the city of Sheboygan and the county forward. Some argued that the cost of combined dispatch fell disproportionately on county taxpayers, but in the end the common good prevailed.

Such was the case as well in the county picking up 100 percent of the cost of radios for local volunteer agencies.

The county is in much better shape to absorb the estimated $750,000 additional cost and is better able to cover it with the least impact on individual taxpayers.

City residents may pay a little extra, but the amount if they do will be minimal, and the county may well be able to cover the cost without impacting the property tax rate at all, in the city or in the county.

The end result, as with combined dispatch, will be better, more efficient, more timely responses to emergency situations throughout the entire county, protecting the lives and property of every resident, and that is most important of all.

At issue:
Emergency radio upgrades
Bottom line:
County best able to pay

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