TOWN OF BELOIT — The Town of Beloit Fire Department may become part of a collection of fire departments lead by Janesville Fire Chief Ernie Rhodes.
The Town of Beloit Fire Chief Hiring Committee interviewed Rhodes Tuesday morning as it seeks to address the vacancy to be left by retiring Town of Beloit Fire Chief Gene Wright. Discussions indicated Rhodes could remain Janesville’s fire chief while leading the town fire department. Janesville also has been discussing having the Milton Fire Department join the Janesville Department in sharing services and reducing costs.
The town committee is looking closely at the option of forming stronger countywide partnerships in fire services for the future. The matter of addressing the town fire chief position is expected to be on next Monday night’s Board of Supervisors agenda, along with a public hearing.
Wright is scheduled to retire as Town of Beloit Fire Chief and town administrator on Oct. 9. He will continue to serve as Orfordville’s fire chief, after he was offered that job on Sept. 1.
Rhodes said he views a possible partnership between the township and Janesville as a group effort, not as a takeover. He added that community partners each deserve to have a say in how decisions on reorganization would affect their departments.
Rhodes told the committee that if chosen to lead the Town of Beloit Fire Department, he would intend to consolidate command staffs to delegate duties more effectively.
He said one possible idea could be to assign each deputy chief to a specific area, such as training recruits or managing equipment and inventory. By assigning some tasks more efficiently, he said fire department personnel would likely feel improved morale.
Town of Beloit Deputy Chief Rich Tippelt, who is on the hiring committee, told Rhodes that in the first 90 days as chief, a key expectation would be to evaluate the town department and make suggestions for improvement.
Wright said the committee reviewed various options such as naming an interim fire chief, hiring a new chief or pursuing closer ties to other communities.
He added that the existing partnership of sharing resources between the Janesville and Milton fire departments was most appealing to the town board members, who wanted to be a part of that success in the future.
Wright also said the Town of Beloit’s existing AVL vehicle response agreement with the City of Beloit has been working well.
“The writing on the wall shows we need to look further into the future,” Wright said, noting that strategic relationships between departments is increasingly important to save money and more efficiently utilize personnel.
Beloit Fire Chief Daniel Pease said the idea of shared services between the township and Janesville had “great potential.”
Pease said he works closely with Rhodes and “have similar views on what is needed in Rock County.”
“The City of Beloit, Janesville, Milton and the Town of Beloit have all been working together to implement various forms of shared services,” Pease said. “AVL dispatching is a form of shared services that geographically removed the borders between these municipalities so the fire departments could provide better services to all community members.”
In a statement Tuesday, Beloit City Manager Lori Luther said, “The City of Beloit is always interested in regional partnership efforts that more efficiently provides service and eases tax burden. We have not been actively engaged with the Town of Beloit but would welcome any opportunity for collaboration.”
In a separate meeting Tuesday, the Town of Beloit Town Administrator Hiring Committee discussed its next steps in the process of finding a new town administrator.
Town board member Carl McMillan, who is on the committee, said he wants the committee to find a candidate who intends to stay and think long-term for the township.
Community Development Director Tim Kienbaum echoed those thoughts and said it is important to select a candidate who will be physically present in the town offices full-time and will plan far ahead for growth in the township. He said one key area of focus should be available housing lots.
Wright, who is serving as an adviser on the committee, said he believes it would benefit the township to find an administrator who is able to act as a steady hand working with various town boards and department leaders over several years.
The committee largely agreed to take a closer look at the job description and certain ordinances before moving forward.
The matter is expected to be on next Monday’s town board agenda, where the full Board of Supervisors will have a chance to discuss. Workshops and public hearings are expected to follow.
A few town residents attended the meeting and asked questions about the town administrator role, such as the salary range, whether the hiring committee should designate a chairperson and how the role would compare to other area municipalities.
Town Clerk Karry DeVault told the residents that records show a prior administrator earned around $89,000.
One resident said he does not want to see the township caught in a situation where they have to “pay peanuts and get circus clowns,” adding the wage must be competitive to find a quality candidate. Another resident asked the committee to respectfully consider whether the salary range is too high and should be lowered.