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The Future of Cedarburg

Public Safety Referendum on Ballot on April 2, 2024

The City and Town of Cedarburg have authorized referendums that, if approved, would allow the municipalities to exceed state-imposed levy limits and increase funding for the Cedarburg Fire Department. The referendum questions will appear on ballots on Tuesday, April 2, 2024.

Additional Funding will Address Increased Demand, Improve Emergency Response Reliability

In the last decade, the Cedarburg Fire Department has seen a nearly 47% increase in the number of calls for service and a 17% decrease in the number of volunteers available to respond to calls.

If approved by referendum, additional funds would improve emergency response reliability and enable changes recommended by the Joint City and Town of Cedarburg Fire and EMS Committee, including funding to:

Additional full-time staff will bolster the Cedarburg Fire Department and ensure that qualified professionals are available at any time of the day or night to respond to emergencies.

The inclusion of additional Firefighter-Paramedics will increase the level of service the Department will be able to provide, boosting CFD from an AEMT-level agency to a Paramedic level. This will result in an increase in the number of emergency medical skills and medications available to support patients.

Property Tax Impact

The referendum will ask voters in the City and Town of Cedarburg whether or not they support the addition of $2,015,658 to the CFD annual operating budget. Based on the Department’s funding formula, the City’s portion of this additional budget would amount to approximately $1,292,302 and the Town’s portion would be approximately $723,356.

In the Town of Cedarburg, this would result in a property tax increase of approximately $57.08 per $100,000 in assessed property value ($276.86 for a median home assessed at $485,000).

In the City of Cedarburg, this would result in a property tax increase of approximately $67.82 per $100,000 in assessed property value ($264.51 for a median home assessed at $390,000).

Learn More and Make an Informed Decision

Information sessions about the upcoming referendum will be held at Ozaukee Pavilion (W67 N866 Washington Avenue) on the following days:

These meetings will also be accessible virtually. Check back here for a link to join the meetings via Zoom.

More information will be shared with residents through direct mail and social media, and information sessions will be held in advance of the referendum on April 2, 2024. This web page will continue to be updated with more information in the coming weeks. 

In the meantime, if you have questions, please contact Fire Chief Jeff Vahsholtz at jvahsholtz@cityofcedarburg.wi.gov. 

Referendum FAQs

I heard that many people on staff at the Cedarburg Fire Department are unpaid volunteers. Is there a plan to compensate those individuals and help improve recruitment and retention?

As of January 1, 2024, the Cedarburg Fire Department follows a paid-on-call model, compensating part-time staff (formerly volunteers) for calls they respond to. 

The 2024-2033 Fire Protection / Emergency Medical Services Agreement between the City and Town of Cedarburg identifies that this approach will continue, even if the referendum fails and no additional funding is added to the Cedarburg Fire Department budget, with the City of Cedarburg responsible for maintaining compensation for paid-on-call staff.

What is the proposed public safety referendum that is on the ballot for Tuesday, April 2?

The referendum will ask voters to decide whether or not to allow the municipalities to exceed state-imposed levy limits and increase funding for the Cedarburg Fire Department. Additional information about this Public Safety referendum is available online at: https://www.cedarburgfiredept.com/future/

What will appear on the ballot?

The formal resolution requesting permission to exceed the state revenue limit will appear as follows on the Town’s April 2 ballot:

“Under state law, the increase in the levy of the Town of Cedarburg for the tax to be imposed for the next fiscal year, 2025, is limited to 1.153%, which results in a levy of $2,416,878. Shall the Town of cedarburg be allowed to exceed this limit and increase the levy for the next fiscal year, 2025, for the purposes to increase funding to hire and retain additional fire and emergency medical services personnel for the Cedarburg Fire Department pursuant to an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Cedarburg for shared fire protection and emergency medical services, by a total of 29.929%, which results in a levy of $3,140,234, and on an ongoing basis, include the increase of $723,256 for each fiscal year going forward?”

The formal resolution will appear as follows on the City’s April 2 ballot:

“Under state law, the increase in the levy of the City of Cedarburg for the tax to be imposed for the next fiscal year, 2025, is limited to 2.390%, which results in a levy of $11,970,886. Shall the City of Cedarburg be allowed to exceed this limit and increase the levy for the next fiscal year, 2025, for the purposes to increase funding to hire and retain additional fire and emergency medical services personnel for the Cedarburg Fire Department, by a total of 10.795%, which results in a levy of $13,263,188, and on an ongoing basis, include the increase of $1,292,302 for each fiscal year going forward?”

When and where do I vote?

Election Day is Tuesday, April 2, 2024. All polling places will open at 7:00 a.m. and will close at 8:00 p.m. Wisconsin voters are required to show an acceptable photo ID in order to vote. Additional voting information, including polling places and information about requesting an absentee ballot, can be found on the City’s website at www.cityofcedarburg.wi.gov/city-clerks-office/pages/elections-voting

and the Town’s website at www.townofcedarburgwi.gov/elections/ 

Why do we need a referendum to raise the tax levy limit?

State of Wisconsin statutes limit the amount of property taxes a municipality can collect each year to the percent increase in equalized value from net new construction. In order to exceed the levy limit, the municipality needs voter approval through a referendum.

What will it mean if a majority of voters vote “yes”?

If the referendum is approved by a majority of voters in both the Town and City of Cedarburg on April 2, the municipalities will be allowed to exceed their state-imposed levy limits to fund necessary full-time staff additions at the Cedarburg Fire Department and ensure CFD’s ability to provide high-quality, consistent emergency services to the Cedarburg community.

If approved, this would result in a property tax increase of approximately $67.82 per $100,000 in assessed property value ($264.51 for a median home assessed at $390,000) in the City of Cedarburg.

In the Town of Cedarburg, this would result in a property tax increase of approximately $57.08 per $100,000 in assessed property value ($276.86 for a median home assessed at $485,000).

What does it mean if a majority vote “no” and the referendum fails?

If the referendum is rejected by a majority of voters in either community, the Cedarburg Fire Department will have to reduce staffing back to 2021 levels and the City and Town will be faced with difficult decisions about how to address the growing need for public safety services.

Why are we proposing this referendum now?

Current funding is insufficient to meet the growing public safety needs of the Cedarburg community. In the last decade, the Cedarburg Fire Department has seen a nearly 47% increase in the number of calls for service, while there was a 17% decrease in the number of volunteers available to respond to calls.

Additional funding is necessary to hire the full-time staff necessary to meet community needs.

Will the addition of these full-time staff members resolve the Cedarburg Fire Department’s service delivery and funding challenges long-term?

If approved, increased funding will address public safety needs for the next decade. 

While the City and Town of Cedarburg worked to project future costs, it may be necessary to re-evaluate the community’s needs when it comes time to review the current shared services agreement, which runs from 2024 – 2033. 

Will CFD seek to add all 10 additional Firefighter-Paramedics right away?

Staffing increases would be phased in over time, with a goal to have all 10 additional Firefighter-Paramedics on staff by 2028.

If we won’t be hiring all 10 additional Firefighter-Paramedics immediately, why are we being asked to pass a referendum for this total budget increase now? Can we mirror what school districts do, and increase property taxes over time instead?

In the State of Wisconsin, municipalities do not have an ability to “phase-in” referendum-approved tax increases over time in the way that school districts can. 

Instead, the City and Town of Cedarburg projected how much funding was needed to sustain necessary increases in staffing over the next decade. If the referendum is approved, the City and Town will collect more funds than are expended on staffing until 2028 and will save those funds in special revenue accounts dedicated to future Cedarburg Fire Department staffing expenses. Then, from 2029-2033, the funds previously accrued will bolster annual tax revenue to fund the necessary total staffing increases.

What other alternatives were considered to fund public safety? 

To date, the City and Town of Cedarburg and Cedarburg Fire Department have considered all available options to help mitigate public safety challenges, leverage cost-saving measures and identify funding from outside sources – including by leveraging federal ARPA dollars to hire full-time Firefighter-Paramedics on a time-constrained basis.

To further address public safety challenges and prioritize the safety of the community, the City and Town authorized funding, as of January 1, 2024, to move CFD from a volunteer to a paid-on-call model – compensating part-time staff who respond to emergencies and helping improve retention and recruitment efforts.

Has CFD considered consolidating with other departments?

Yes. CFD has and will continue to identify ways to cooperate and collaborate with neighboring agencies, including through the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (more commonly known as mutual aid) and, starting in 2024, by consolidating to a unified dispatch operation for Ozaukee County.

While the Department and municipal staff have commissioned a nonpartisan study from the Wisconsin Policy Forum to review potential options and have discussed potential consolidations with the Mequon and Thiensville Fire Departments and with the Grafton, Saukville and Port Washington Fire Departments, the Joint City and Town of Cedarburg Fire and EMS Committee does not recommend pursuing additional consolidation measures at this time. The report indicated that the only potential cost savings to consolidation would be “through more efficient procurement and possible reduction of apparatus and backup apparatus” – which is not relevant to Cedarburg Fire Department, whose apparatus are purchased with donations rather than budgeted for through tax revenue.

In addition to the lack of cost saving potential from consolidation, this decision takes several other factors into consideration, including:

I’ve heard a lot about public safety referendums recently. Why is this a topic in the news?

Cedarburg is not alone in experiencing public safety staffing challenges. According to a study from the Wisconsin Policy Forum, many municipalities across the state are facing budgetary challenges that are requiring more municipalities to seek funding for their public safety departments through referendums.

Why do we need to go to referendum for these funds? Can’t the City and Town borrow to help fund public safety services?

Funds necessary to support ongoing public safety costs, including the salaries and benefits for additional Firefighter-Paramedics, are funded jointly by the City and Town of Cedarburg through the municipalities’ operating budgets. Funds are necessary on a recurring basis. While the municipalities can borrow for one-time expenses it is not permissible to borrow for ongoing staffing expenses.

Over time, if the City and Town of Cedarburg do not identify funding to hire the recommended additional staff, the existing challenges will create more strain as the demand on the Department continues to grow.

Report Identifies Increased Demand, Declining Volunteer Availability as Key Challenges

In November 2023, the Cedarburg Fire Department (CFD) released an options assessment detailing the department’s history and current challenges as well as a proposed solution and potential options to fund that solution. 

The options assessment was presented to municipal elected officials and staff at meetings in November and is included in its entirety below, along with additional resources.

Survey Shows Community Supports Property Tax Increase to Fund Fire Department Solutions

In December 2023, residents in the City and Town of Cedarburg received a survey designed to help municipal leaders determine the best path forward. 

Results indicate that 82% of respondents believe high-quality emergency medical and fire services are very important, and nearly 70% of respondents support a property tax increase to bolster Fire Department funding. December 2023 Survey Results