Village of Brooklyn: Wis. Retirement System benefits for future full-time chief don’t get unanimous support

Brooklyn Fire/EMS member Charlie Raemisch, a former “Rescue Kid,” talks to the current group of students about his safety gear during the Rescue Kids class on Saturday, Feb. 8 at the Brooklyn Fire Department.

If the Brooklyn Fire and EMS Protection Commission decides to hire a full-time chief next year, the candidate pool might be smaller because the role won’t offer Wisconsin Retirement System benefits.

At least that’s the fear Brooklyn Fire and EMS vice president John Marx said he has after the Village of Brooklyn declined to back a proposal and take a vote on adding the WRS benefit in 2021 at a commission meeting on Friday, Nov. 13.

In a Town of Oregon board meeting on Monday, Nov. 16, supervisor Fred Clark Jr. said the commission couldn’t offer WRS benefits because the Village of Brooklyn first wants a strategic plan developed for the fire and EMS commission.

“It’s unfortunate the Village of Brooklyn blocked it,” Marx said. “It will make it harder to find a fire department or EMS service chief in 2021 if they can’t get the health insurance by the state.”

A WRS benefit package has to be approved by Jan. 1, but the state has a paper filing deadline of Nov. 15, Marx said.

A decision on creating full-time fire chief and a management merger for the fire and EMS commission hit a stalemate when a 2021 proposed budget was approved Sept. 23.

Members of the Village of Brooklyn Board balked at a proposal that would install a full-time fire chief. Under the proposal, management responsibilities would be merged together under the fire chief with an assistant fire chief and EMS director, and the number of officers would be reduced from 13 to nine in the 45-person department in the 2021 operating budget.

At the time, Marx said the proposal for a full-time fire chief would partially be offset by the reduction of four officer positions, and would have cost the five municipalities that comprise the commission $29,876. That would equal a 9.1% increase for the EMS department and a 7.3% increase for the fire department in the 2021 operating budget.

The full-time fire chief position was proposed with a salary of $83,066 that includes health insurance and benefits, Marx said. The EMS department budget would pay for 60% of that position, with the fire department picking up the rest of the tab.

Marx said the savings for the commission would be $20,150 and $33,040 in EMS expenses if it reduced the fire and EMS departments, respectively.

The Brooklyn Fire and EMS District serves about 3,500 residents in Dane, Green and Rock counties in the south central part of the state. In addition to the Village of Brooklyn, the towns of Oregon, Brooklyn, Rutland and Union all contribute funding to the district.

The commission also considered offering benefits to any of the part-time employees that work more than 1,200 hours per year. It was discussed that if one of the part-time employees was part of the retirement system in a previous job, the hours worked per year for eligibility would be reduced to 600.

Marx said he knows of four candidates already interested in becoming a full-time chief of the Brooklyn Fire and EMS District.

“I don’t think they would want to give up months or a year of WRS benefits,” he said.