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Village of Howard still looking to make public safety changes without referendum passing

Posted at 12:33 AM, Apr 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-12 01:33:53-04

HOWARD (NBC 26) — The Village of Howard proposed a public safety referendum on last Tuesday’s ballot, but that referendum was short by 333 votes of passing.

The referendum would have meant an increase in taxes but also an increase in fire, police and emergency medical services for the village.

“We were disappointed because it really would have set us up long term to increase both public safety and police and fire," Village of Howard Administrator Paul Evert said.

Evert said a second full-time patrol car and seven full-time firefighter and paramedic positions were a part of the referendum and the need comes from the village’s growing population.

As of now, according to the village, Howard Fire Rescue is almost 26% understaffed and emergency medical response times in the village can exceed 20 minutes.

Evert said he thinks the referendum didn't pass because some people were concerned about the village's tax increase last year and current inflation.

“If you can control one thing with a vote, maybe that’s how you make your decision that you don’t want to see your property taxes go up an additional amount," Evert said.

He said people would have seen roughly a $33 dollar increase for every $100,000 of property valued.

However, Howard isn’t the only village facing shortages and long wait times.

Alan DeYoung, Wisconsin Emergency Medical Services Association Executive Director, said it's a "statewide problem" that's only getting worse.

“We know of at least 30 communities where calls went completely unanswered," DeYoung said. "Nobody showed up at all.”

He said the problem comes from a lack of volunteer interest and funding. Additionally, he said EMS are considered non-essential in the state, so they don’t receive the same funding as essential services.

DeYoung said a referendum like the Village of Howard’s would not have worked for smaller and rural areas that don’t have a big enough tax base.

“We need funds in the state budget to be able to properly fund EMS kind of for the first time," DeYoung said.

Evert said the village is now hoping to rely on future funding from the state, and they will still add four full-time paramedic firefighters with income generated from rescue services.