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Soldiers Grove Village Board takes up fire department issues
Soldiers Grove

SOLDIERS GROVE - At their meeting on Thursday, Oct. 5, the Soldiers Grove Village Board spent a fair amount of their time discussing a variety of issues pertaining to the fire department and provision of fire fighting services to the village, and Utica and Clayton townships.

Soldiers Grove Fire Chief Ben Clason started his report by noted that since an Independent-Scout story highlighting the need for additional volunteers. the department has signed up several new recruits.

Clason reported that he has identified a few issues with the department’s ongoing fire inspection and some Amish businesses in their fire protection district. In particular, he is concerned about safety issues with a local pallet factory and a hardwood flooring factory.

The board is unclear about how fire inspectors know where to go. They agreed that a good approach would be to work with the fire inspectors to ensure they are aware of all of the commercial facilities in the department’s jurisdiction.

Clason reported he has initiated dialogue with the businesses in question to raise safety concerns and encourage the business owners to adjust some of their practices accordingly.

Regarding billing of parties who receive fire department services, the board was very clear that they do not intend to be aggressive in seeking payment from people who have already suffered a hardship in their lives. The goal, rather, is to seek to recoup as much of the expense of providing services for the department from homeowner’s insurance policies as possible, in order to help fund the resource-scarce department.

The village’s counsel, Phil Stittleberg, has advised Clason that the village doesn’t have to adopt anything in order to pursue the billing because the power to do so is already covered under the village’s home rule authority.

“We need to make sure that whatever approach we take is applied equally, and is compassionate to people who have survived a disaster,” Vicki Campbell said.

Clason was charged with clarifying with Stittleberg what it means “to have attempted to collect the debt.” The matter was tabled to the next meeting pending clarification of that issue.

Purchase of a new brush truck was also a big agenda item for the board. At the prior meeting, Clason had shared various bids received from auto dealerships, and reported to the board that the department’s brush truck was no longer functional.

Clason started the discussion by reporting that the department has been approved to receive a DNR grant in the amount of $10,000 through the FFP program. The grant requires a match. The brush truck skid slip-on unit for pickups and flatbed trucks for off road wildland firefighting needed for the brush truck will cost $15,045.80, and the balance will be spent on things like training and fire prevention outreach materials.

Clason pointed out that before he can accept the grant, he needs to know that the department will be able to purchase the new truck. “If we accept the grant and don’t purchase the truck, then we’ll just have a new skid sitting around without a truck to put it on,” Clason said.

Village President Steve George expressed concern about what other vehicles in the fleet will need to be replaced, and how that will be accomplished if the funds are spent on the brush truck. Clason shared George’s concerns, and expressed that he “hated to have to spend the money,” but that all of the other important vehicles in the fleet have a back up, but not the brush truck. He said that without the brush truck, the department would have a critical gap in their capabilities.

Clason reported that he had not yet heard back about the FEMA grant he applied for which would, if received, cover 95 percent of the $250,000 cost of the purchase of a higher ticket item like a pumper truck.

When queried about the availability of used brush trucks, Clason responded that they are available but are all pushing the NFPA dates. To purchase a new vehicle means that it will meet the NFPA requirements for 15 years and also be in the fleet for that amount of time. The 2017 model was only quoted at $1,800 less than the 2018, and by buying the 2018, the village would receive a longer warranty.

Campbell pointed out that the village currently has $138,000 in CDs and savings, and $90,000 in the truck fund.

The board agreed unanimously to put the purchase of the truck in motion, with a cap on total expense of between $65-70,000.

The last issue Clason raised with the board was an increase in funding for the department, which he said had not been increased “in many a long year.”

Clason pointed out that a five percent increase would only add another $700 into the department’s budget; a 25 percent increase would add $3,500. Clason reported he is also on the agenda of the Utica and Clayton Township meetings to broach the same issue with them.

“Trucks aren’t getting any cheaper, and we’ve got to look at an increase at some point, whether it’s this year or next,” Clason said. “It might have been better if it had been a slow, steady increase rather than one larger increase, but we have to start somewhere.”

Campbell expressed understanding of the issue raised by Clayton, and support for the proposition in theory.

“I’m just not sure where the money could come from,” Campbell said. “If we add to the fire department budget, we’re going to have to cut something else.”

There was broad agreement that the village would have to take the lead, encouraging the townships to follow suit. Budgeting for 2018 will begin in November.

Clason was empowered by the board to communicate to the townships that there would be an increase of a maximum of five percent in department funding from the village in 2018, but at present time the board is not sure what that percentage will be.

In other business, the Soldiers Grove Village Board:

• heard a CDC report and learned that Roth House and Old Oak Inn remained in arrears on second quarter room tax payments;

• learned that another $200 payment on one loan had been made, and that Driftless Brewing continued to pay their loan on time;

• agreed to place the same order for sand and salt as had been placed the previous year;

• agreed to purchase the sludge gate recommended by Davy Engineering for $2,500, which is expected to help with the village’s phosphorous problem;

• tabled the issue of Sewer Residential Equivalency Units to the next meeting pending receipt of a comparison of rates with other communities;

• approved the contract for the same health insurance plan for 2018, with an opportunity to revisit the rates in January;

• approved a picnic license for the Rod & Gun Club, and an operator license for Delon Olson.