By Dave Fidlin
After months of discussion, Village of Waterford officials this week made the decision to move forward with a plan to create a Police and Fire Commission.
The move comes as the village reorganizes its municipal court and police department, in addition to the fire and rescue department. It also is recognition of a growing community.
Municipalities with 5,500 or more residents need a commission under state statutes, and the village currently hovers around 5,350 residents.
A consulting firm, Sprinsted, has been working with the village to plan some of the finite details in the fire and rescue reorganization. Officials from the firm had recommended the village move forward and create the commission, even though Waterford falls below the population threshold.
The village’s reorganization will require redrafting existing ordinances. For this reason, Village Administrator Rebecca Ewald said she favored creating the commission.
“We’re going to do it at some point,” Ewald said. “For methods of efficiency, it makes sense to go ahead and create (the commission) right now.”
The commission’s first task will be one of its largest and most significant to the fire and rescue department: hiring a part-time fire chief. The board recent made the decision to move forward with the plan – another recommendation in Springsted’s study.
Ewald said the commission will meet on an as-needed basis and will make decisions independent of the Village Board. The commission’s primary role, she said, will be hiring and firing decisions and take any other disciplinary matters needed.
“The closest example I can think of is the CDA (Community Development Authority),” Ewald said. “The only time they meet is when there’s something they need to take up.”
While the commission will make decisions independent of the board, all seven members of the board will have a role in determining who sits on the commission through an appointment process. Based on her review of other municipalities, Ewald said it is not customary to have any board members sit on the commission.
The village’s plan is to have the fire chief begin work July 1, and Ewald indicated it would be the best course of action to begin formally posting for the position in April.
Based on the hiring timeline, the village would likely create the commission at some point this spring.
While the bulk of the discussion centered on the reorganized fire and rescue department, the commission also would have oversight of the municipal court and police department. Despite uncertainty in the future, the village has retained its own police department for the time being.
With board approval granted, Village Attorney Marcia Hasenstab will create an ordinance in recognition of the new commission. It will be presented to the board at a later date, and other issues – including whether or not commissioners will be paid – will be taken up at that point.