By Dave Fidlin
The Rochester Village Board could have more involvement in decisions made within the independently run Rochester Volunteer Fire Company, based on a proposal in motion.
The Village Board on Sept. 11 discussed the organizational structure of RVFC, which, as an autonomous agency, has made many of its decisions independent of local government.
Since the village contracts for service through RVFC, however, there has been a working relationship between the two entities. Annually, the village provides a set amount of money to the company as municipal budgets are finalized.
However, there have been proposals in recent months to increase the Village Board’s involvement. Last month, for instance, the board was asked whether it wanted to pursue more involvement in staffing issues within RVFC.
Trustee Lori Peternell, who made an unsuccessful motion to keep the organizational structure as-is, questioned references to “transparency” during deliberations.
“What do you see that you’re currently not seeing?” Peternell asked her colleagues on the board.
As the recent discussion unfolded, a number of board members expressed interest in having access to more detailed financial information from the company, including equipment purchases and sales.
“I think it’s fully within the right of the Village Board to ask because there have been issues in the past,” Village Administrator Betty Novy said of such a proposal.
Peternell said the board has not asked for the same level of detail from other contracted organizations, like the Racine County Sheriff’s Department for police protection, though a delineation was drawn between the comparisons. Other contracted agencies do not have the name “Rochester” on their vehicles.
Trustee Chris Johnson, who cast a vote in support of Peternell’s status-quo suggestion, said he believed a monthly accounting of financials from the company would be suffice.
“If we get the monthly report, I think that would be everything we need,” Johnson said.
Other board members, including Trustee Gary Beck Sr., said they would be open to discussing further how village government could have a closer working relationship with the RVFC.
“I wouldn’t mind taking a deeper look into it,” Beck said.
In a memo to the board, Novy said there are three possible legal organizational structures.
Currently, RVFC is structured as a Chapter 181 non-stock corporation, which works with Rochester on a contractual basis.
Another scenario includes a Chapter 213 structure that would give the Village Board authority over the fire company’s organization, but not its actual officers.
“A chapter 213 fire company provides more liability protection for its members and is subject to more open record requirements,” Novy wrote in the memo.
She added, “If that were to occur, the relationship between the village and the fire company would be the same as it is now, a contract with a private company for services with no input on its management, other than the financial considerations outlined in the current fire protection, emergency services and lease agreement.”
The third option would have sweeping changes and would entail bringing fire and EMS services under the direct auspices of the village as an actual department, alongside public works and other day-to-day functions run out of village hall.