FORT ATKINSON, Wisc. — On Tuesday, Fort Atkinson residents will be deciding if they will help the city's fire and police departments get the funding they need to stay afloat or not.
The city's fire chief says he has one full-time person staffed each day. Last year, the department responded to more than 500 incidents for the first time since 2010. The police chief has 20 officers, and they responded to 4,400 more calls in 2021 than 10 years ago. Both chiefs worry they don't have enough people to keep up with these growing trends.
"That level of response, both on the fire and EMS side, is just not sustainable using only volunteer staff," said Fort Atkinson Fire Chief Daryl Rausch.
"Our officers are very busy in the community and that's what we are trying to combat a little bit," said Fort Atkinson Police Chief Adrian Bump.
That's where the referendum comes in. Because of state-imposed levy limits, the city is seeking approval from its taxpayers to increase their property taxes in order to fund the hiring of six additional full-time firefighter/paramedics, six full-time firefighter/EMTs, and two additional police officers.
"If the referendum fails, there's a chance that calls will be delayed, responses will be delayed. There may not be ambulances available when they're needed, and quite frankly some calls may go unanswered," said Chief Rausch.
If approved, taxpayers' property tax increases will depend on the assessed value of the property. If the assessed property value is around $100,000 taxpayers could expect to see a tax increase of $82.22 each year starting in December. Compared to an assessed property value of $160,000 which would amount to $131.55 in increased property taxes.
While some are in favor of the proposal, others say they don't see the need.
"Property taxes are already very high in his community. I don't think there's an awful lot of crime in this town where there is a shortage of police," said Steve Nyikaos, a Fort Atkinson resident.
If it doesn't get approved next week, city officials say they may have to host another referendum in November to get the funding they need.