By Al Stanek
Whitewater Banner volunteer staff
A state agency report indicates that, if trends continue, a significant increase in the cost of improved Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in the city of Whitewater will not result in a sharing of the increased costs by the state on behalf of UW-Whitewater.
A recent ‘Banner’ article highlighted the fact that the increased costs for needed improvements in Emergency Medical Services (EMS) would likely only be absorbed by local taxpayers.
A WI Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) “Information Paper” reveals that the amount of state dollars appropriated for a state program intended to compensate cities for lost property tax revenue due to state buildings not being taxable has remained unchanged for the last decade or more while municipalities’ costs have gone up significantly.
The appropriation for the WI Municipal Services Payments (MSP) program has not changed since 2011 according to a LFB 2021 report. The LFB, which defines itself as a nonpartisan agency says “The intent of the program is to aid in the reduction of local property taxes by making an equitable contribution toward the cost of certain municipally provided services.”
A recent state report on the Municipal Services Payments (MSP) program stipulates that the city of Whitewater will receive only 38.48% of what the program estimates is a fair estimate of the total loss of tax revenue by the city because of state buildings being exempt from municipal property tax.
Whitewater is in the top 10 of Wisconsin communities regarding the annual amount of what the MSP “… calls entitlements, or the. amount of reimbursement earned by each municipality,” according to another nonpartisan group’s recent report. The WI Policy Forum, which traces its roots to what was called the WI Taxpayers Alliance, concluded that “Our analysis found municipalities’ entitlements, for which fire and police are by far the largest components, rose by more than 74% in the last decade.”
The Whitewater Common Council recently committed to having enough paid-on-premises EMS staff to have two ambulances available 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Relying primarily on paid-on-call EMS staff in the past often took five minutes or more before an ambulance left the fire station according to a city news release. Often calls were ultimately referred to other agencies which created longer delays.
The city of Whitewater’s projected cost share of incorporating enhanced EMS services as a city department is estimated at $1,100,000 annually. The owner of a $200,000 home in Whitewater will need to pay an additional $105 to $134 each year in added property tax depending on their county of residence.
WFD, Inc., the previous service provider, currently contracts with area towns and those taxpayers are expected to be asked to pay higher taxes to pay for the enhanced level of EMS services. A city of Whitewater news release lists the towns of Whitewater, Cold Spring, Johnstown, Koshkonong, Lima Center and Richmond as currently under contract for fire and EMS services. Town boards in those communities will be asked to collectively increase their contribution for Fire/EMS by an estimated $370,000 per year.
The current proposal for sharing of the additional costs uses a combination of assessed property value for each unit of government and the average number of EMS calls originating from each governmental unit over a five-year time period. There appears to be no way to apply that formula for the 400-acre UW-Whitewater campus and its roughly 11,500 students.