County looks to mutual aid agreements
Lending a hand to help a neighbor in an emergency is second nature to most people, especially those in rural communities.
It came as little surprise at last week’s law enforcement committee meeting when committee members agreed to allow emergency management director Coleen Handrick to provide mutual aid to Clark County when that county’s emergency management director resigns on July 23. Handrick said Clark County hopes to have a new person in place by September.
Handrick noted that during a recent meeting with the Wisconsin Emergency Management, the state agency that oversees her job duties, it was noted that some counties required formal mutual aid agreements before they could respond or assist in any way. She suggested mutual aid agreements should be drafted with surrounding counties in case there was ever a need for their help.
Mutual aid agreements are common tools for municipalities, emergency service agencies and others which allow cooperation and govern such things as workplace insurance coverage, compensation and responsibility for potential damage to equipment.
“I am a big believer in mutual aid,” said committee chairman Lester Lewis. He said it “just makes sense to have the mutual aid agreements.” He said he was surprised there were never ones in place before this.
“Of course we would assist them, we would want them to do the same for us,” he said. Handrick noted that Clark County gets hit with emergencies a lot compared to Taylor County.
Committee members formally approved giving Handrick authority to assist as needed with Clark County emergencies and said they need to begin the process to set up regional agreements looking at geographical areas beyond the zone groups set up by the state. Lewis said he felt these agreements are something the state should have coordinated previously.
Committee member Ray Soper said he couldn’t understand why the agreements weren’t in place for everyone in the same regions. It was noted that the regional groups of Wisconsin Emergency Government are somewhat arbitrary and given Taylor County’s location in it they have neighbors in other districts more than their own such as Price County being in a different region than Taylor County.
9-1-1 surplus funds
A multi-year upgrade to the county’s 9-1-1 system is finally completed, with the project coming in under budget with a projected surplus of $36,600. Of that amount, the county already tapped into $15,000 to pay for a new drug dog.
County finance director Larry Brandl suggested applying the remainder of the funds to the county’s squad replacement account which would give the county enough money to move forward with replacing two squads yet this budget year. The county had held off on squad replacement this year as a budget-savings measure, but Brandl noted allowing squads to get too old can cost the county more in the long run in repairs.
Committee member Scott Mildbrand said he was not opposed to that idea, but suggested the county wait until after the July 22 finance committee meeting. He said that is the meeting where the finance committee will set the budget parameters for the coming year.
Soper suggested alternative uses of the funds such as investing in upgrading the county’s emergency radios in the squads. He noted Sheriff Larry Woebbeking talked about the need for upgrades in the past.
Woebbeking said that while this is a need, they have been advised by their state group to hold off on replacing any aging equipment at this time with the possibility of grant funds coming for that purpose.
“It is always a guessing game,” Lewis said, noting the body cameras the county recently purchased are now grant eligible.
“Do we replace the squads we need or do we save money to replace something we are not sure when we will need it?” Lewis asked.
One of the challenges facing the county is the long lead time between when they order a squad and when it would be available for delivery. Placing the order now, would result in delivery by the first of the year, but waiting until a new budget year to place an order could result in not getting it until next summer.
Woebbeking said the concern with delaying squad purchases is that they could get into the situation of always having to play catch up.
Soper said he understood that, but said the funds were designated for the 9-1-1 project and should go back to general county coffers.
In the end, committee members voted 3-2 to transfer the funds into the non-lapsing squad replacement account. Soper and Mildbrand voted against the motion.
In other business, committee members:
_ Approved starting the process to hire a part-time nurse for the jail. The current nurse is retiring and they want to get someone in place as soon as possible. With a current jail population of about 30 inmates, Woebbeking said there was no reason to go above a part-time person. He noted there are companies the county could contract with for this service, but they are at about $150,000 a year.
_ Discussed how long deputies wait at downed trees on town roads when road hazards are called in. Lewis, who is the Molitor Town Chairman, raised the issue after he was called to a tree down and was surprised to see the squad with two deputies parked there. He noted especially in more rural parts of the county it may be several hours before a town employee can respond to a tree being down. He questioned if there should be some policy in place for these situations.
Woebbeking said law enfacement offi cers are continually aware of concerns about being sued and potential liability in situations causing them to overthink in some cases. It was suggested that in these situations placing a cone or road closed sign would work as well.