Possible SDFD Split Still Pending Further Review

The Nasewaupee Town Board still isn’t ready to make a decision about whether the town should leave the Southern Door Fire Department (SDFD) and form its own fire department.

The issue has remained on the board’s agenda since Nasewaupee residents backed an advisory motion during the April 19 annual town meeting urging the board to split from the other three municipalities – the Village of Forestville and the towns of Forestville and Clay Banks – that also make up the SDFD, which has a north and a south fire station.

The operating agreement forming the SDFD states that Nasewaupee, should it decide to leave the department, would have the first option to purchase the pieces of equipment housed at the fire station in the town “at their then-fair-market value.”  

During the June 16 town board meeting, Nasewaupee chair Steve Sullivan said a consultant whom the board has selected will be appraising the equipment at the Nasewaupee fire station, but he won’t be able to do the building appraisal. Sullivan said Dan Lenius was recommended to him as someone who could do the building appraisal.

SDFD Chief Rich Olson, who attended the meeting, asked why Nasewaupee was considering a split from the department. Sullivan said it was partially for financial reasons – the town wants to lower the percentage it contributes to the total fire-department budget – and partially to retain enough firefighters for the town.

“Both have something to do with it,” he said.

It was reported at the board meeting that the SDFD has 16 firefighters assigned to its north station in Nasewaupee, 22 at the south station in Forestville, and 10 emergency medical responders.

The SDFD is overseen by an eight-member fire board, with two members coming from each municipality, and funded with a tax levy based on equalized value, with Nasewaupee paying for more than two-thirds of the department’s budget.

As alternatives to leaving the department, Sullivan has suggested changes to reduce the town’s funding share and increase its representation on the fire board.

Sullivan said a possible split has nothing to do with how the department is being run by Olson, who is “trying [his] best to make people get along.”

“I’ve got no complaints [about the fire chief],” Sullivan said.

Olson said he didn’t “want to stand in the way of the future of the Southern Door Fire Department.”

Sullivan said that whether Olson remained or quit as the fire chief would “probably not make a difference” to the town’s decision whether to stay in or leave the SDFD.

“I don’t object to anything I know of that you’ve done so far,” Sullivan told Olson.

Olson said he believes the SDFD has “had a very good year, and we’re improving, and I want to keep it that way.”

For the board to make a decision this year on the future of the town’s fire protection, Sullivan said, “We’ve got to make sure we get all the information, [and] we’ve got to talk with the firemen. We need to know who really is willing to stay.”

To enable the firefighters to speak freely without criticism from those who may not agree with their views, Sullivan intends to contact the town’s attorney to learn whether in-person or written testimony from the firefighters can be kept off the public record. 

“We have to see how the open-records law applies to that,” Sullivan said.

He said the possible split from the SDFD will be back on the board’s regular-meeting agenda July 21. 

Support for Current SDFD Structure

Outside of Nasewaupee, the elected leaders of the three other municipalities that make up the SDFD said they believe the department is running well with its current structure. 

Forestville village president Terry McNulty, for example, expressed concerns that the department wouldn’t have enough firefighters if Nasewaupee leaves.

McNulty said he also favors keeping the current fire board representation at two per municipality, and he believes funding the department based on equalized value is “pretty equitable.”

“It’s all the same percentage of our levy,” he said.

McNulty said Nasewaupee has a large tax base with waterfront property on the bay of Green Bay, and with the town’s geographic size large enough to be two towns, it makes sense for the majority of the department’s budget to come from there.

Forestville town chair Roy Englebert said he recognizes that the SDFD’s operating agreement would allow Nasewaupee to leave the department, which is now “operating very efficiently” with the four municipalities in it. Englebert said he also favors the current way the department is funded based on equalized value.

“That’s the only fair way to do it,” he said.  

Clay Banks town chair Myron Johnson said he is letting a possible split by Nasewaupee “run its course,” but he believes the department has served southern Door County well with all four municipalities.

“It’s a very good thing for our community,” he said.