Put more seats at the table on the topic of delivering public services.^p
With Gene Wright retiring soon from filling the dual roles of administrator and fire chief in the Town of Beloit, town board members are looking at alternative plans for what comes next.
Apparently, their direction seems to be moving toward some sort of collective partnership with Janesville Fire Chief Ernie Rhodes and, though details of a plan are quite sketchy, presumably the Janesville Fire Department could be involved in some way. It seems likely that sort of significant change would require public hearings or some good-faith effort to open the process and give local residents a chance to weigh in on the plan.
It’s not a completely unique situation, because Janesville Fire has been working on a plan with Milton Fire about shared services. Regionally, in the Beloit area, there has been movement toward the highly sensible closest-station response with calls for service.
For many years, this newspaper has supported exploring ways to find efficiencies in both cost and response among fire services. In fact, we have taken the concept further, by suggesting as finances become tighter and tighter for municipalities—and even schools—there should be ongoing research into smart ways to deliver all kinds of services, from public safety to water and sewer and more.
So count us among those who believe looking at new ways to serve the public is a good thing.
Even so, with a bit of a raised eyebrow, there may be reason to wonder how the Town of Beloit and the Janesville Fire initiative suddenly emerged as, apparently, the leading option. The Town of Beloit and the City of Beloit, for years, have danced around the edges of a discussion about forging a closer relationship, even to the point of some urging consolidation in something of a regional fire service.
Which leads us to this question: Why isn’t the City of Beloit involved in any discussion with the Town of Beloit about what comes next?
Yes, we’re aware there is historic bad blood—dating back decades—between the city and the town. And, yes, we’re aware the town pursued incorporation many viewed as getting a divorce from the city not long ago. Both sides were playing hardball and when the town eventually dropped the idea of incorporation, though not necessarily forever, it’s likely there were some bruised feelings and residual ill will.
Maybe that has a bearing on what’s happening with fire service planning, maybe not. We don’t know.
But we do think the City of Beloit ought to have a seat at the table and be part of the discussion. It just makes sense.
Perhaps, thinking even bigger, there will come a day when a countywide fire service brings both better service and more controllable costs for taxpayers. The cities of Beloit and Janesville employ the largest forces with the most full-time professionals, and it’s getting harder and harder for small departments to find on-call volunteers in large enough numbers to guarantee top service and fast response times. Rock County is not unique. It’s that way all over the country. Doing things the same way it’s always been done, increasingly, is not plausible.
Look, if linking up in some way with Janesville Fire—assuming it’s for the right reasons, and not because of a chip on anybody’s shoulder—appears to be the best decision for people in the Town of Beloit, then so be it. Before that, though, we think it’s a good idea all around to get more seats at the table and encourage a broad discussion of the issues and challenges facing the region while exploring a full range of solutions. More voices make for better choices.