Village of Howard seeks support for public safety referendum
By Janelle Fisher
City Pages Editor
HOWARD – The Village of Howard hosted a press conference Feb. 7 to discuss a public safety referendum which will appear on the election ballot of its residents April 4.
The referendum, which proposes to increase the existing levy by $765,000, is intended to provide additional funding to the village’s police, emergency medical and fire rescue services.
If approved, the referendum would allow for a second patrol car to be staffed full-time within the village, allow for the establishment of a village-operated, fire-based paramedic service and resolve understaffing issues within Howard Fire Rescue by transitioning from a primarily paid-on-call staff to a full-time, seven member firefighter-paramedic crew.
Hobart Village Administrator Paul Evert said a referendum for the village has been in the works for a while now and was not a decision which was taken lightly.
“Since August of 2022, our village board has considered how best to proceed as the village faces increasing demands on our public safety services,” he said. “Howard historically has been a fiscally responsible community. Since it became a village in 1957, Howard has been one of the lowest per capita spending communities in the state when compared to communities of like size… We take pride in that.”
Evert said that although the referendum would mean an increase in spending, Howard would still remain relatively low compared to the rest of the state.
“If approved, Howard will remain one of the lowest per capita spenders in the state on public safety, but the efficient services provided will be greatly improved,” he said.
The current shortcomings the referendum would address might not be noticed by most residents, Evert said, but make a big difference in the event of an emergency.
“Most of our residents are unaware that in a typical night from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., we do not have firefighters at the station,” he said. “While the number of structure fires has increased, during the evenings our paid-on-call firefighters leave their homes when dispatched, arrive at the station and then head out to the emergency. This additional funding will address that gap in service.”
Not only improving fire response times, Evert said the referendum will also address delayed response times from the private service the village currently contracts with for paramedic services.
“The village has also experienced response times from our contracted paramedic provider,” he said. “In 2015, there were 300 calls for rescue. In 2022, there were 775 calls for rescue. In 2022, 19% of EMS calls took 10 minutes or more for an ambulance to arrive. This additional funding will improve response times.”
Brown County Sheriff Todd Delain said even the police department has experienced delayed response times which the funding provided by the referendum would address.
“This vote allows citizens to decide on the ability of the village to provide public safety resources where they’re needed,” he said. “As it relates to police services, I believe that it’s really about maintaining a high quality of service relates to timely response to incidents and quality work. One thing that is certain is that the Village of Howard has grown significantly over the last two decades and resources provided haven’t really been able to keep up with the need.”
Village President Burt McIntyre said the board was prompted to act due to the safety concerns those extended response times carry with them.
“There is no greater responsibility of a municipal government than the safety and wellbeing of our citizens,” he said. “We had reached a point that we were getting very concerned about response times, about manning our fire trucks, about having the personnel available to provide the safety that all our citizens are very much entitled to. It wasn’t an easy decision for the board to do this… We think this is a good thing. We think that the citizens of Howard can support this and feel a lot more comfortable in their homes and in the village. They are going to be a lot safer and they’re wellbeing is going to be a lot better by supporting this referendum.”
Delain echoed McIntyre’s sentiment regarding the entitlement of citizens to services protecting their safety and wellbeing.
“When we have major incidents, it’s a team effort,” he said. “And that’s what this referendum allows for the village — the police, fire and rescue continue to work together to maintain the very high quality that the citizens of Howard expect. So I urge everyone to support this referendum in the village because it is certainly the best things we can do with the restraints placed on the village with funding resources”