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Our video interview with Viroqua Fire Chief Chad Buros about a proposed new fire station, why it is needed, the $9 million price tag, the $5.25 million federal grant to help pay for it

Here is our interview to Viroqua Fire Chief Chad Buros about how much the city fire department has grown, challenges the department faces and why they need a new building.

VIROQUA, Wis. – The city of Viroqua has been tackling some big projects in the last five years including a new police station, a new city hall, purchasing much of the old county farm and constructing of a new 50 acre business park, revamping the Park Bowl baseball facilities and now they are aiming to build a new fire station. That is a lot of building in a short period of time, but the award of a $5.25 million grant from Senator Tammy Baldwin’s office has made that project too good to pass up. The challenge now for the city will be figuring out how to fill the gap between that grant and the final cost.

The current fire station is located at the end of East Broadway Street in what was once a beer distributors warehouse. The fire department moved there in the early to mid 1990s and up until about two years ago they were sharing the space with the Viroqua Police Department. The department had planned on staying in the building once the police department moved out but the same issues that were a problem for the police department, were also a problem for the fire department. Fire Chief Chad Buros said the department also serves three neighboring townships and the building has reached maximum capacity with all that equipment it takes to serve that area. Buros also said the number of calls for service the department is seeing has doubled in the last couple of years, and that number is not expected to go back down with all the growth on the horizon for the city.

A look at the budget – how did we get here

When the city of Viroqua decided to apply for federal money with Senator Tammy Baldwins office they were already thinking about the issues at the current fire station and how quickly they were likely to outgrow the building. The question was how much money to apply for. The city enlisted the services of ADCI, an architect the city had used for both the city hall project and the new police station. ADCI put together a rough guess as to what they department might need. You can see that estimate in the chart below from April 7, 2022. ADCI estimated a 20,000 square foot building at $290 a square foot. That came to $5.8 million. Then they added 20 percent for “soft costs”. Things like furnishings and computers etc. That brought the estimate to $7 million. Since the project was being built on city land, a lot in the city business park just north of the Wild West Days grounds, there was no cost to purchase land. The application that was sent to Senators Baldwin’s Office was for $7 million.

The grant that was awarded was not for the $7 million but for $5.25 million. A good portion of the original estimate. Since that time the city has hired Keller Inc. , a company the specializes in fire station design and construction, to help refine the design of the building. Through that process and through visits to many area fire stations the size of the building grew beyond the original 20,000 square feet by 6,000 square feet. That added another $1.7 million to the cost. The rough estimate also did not include moving the fire departments training tower from the current site to the new site. That added about another $250,000. Add in additional interest and inflation and the new estimate is in the $8,5 million to $9 million.

The challenge for the city is that the project was not on it’s capital improvement plan, so the money to make up the difference between the $5.25 million grant and the final cost will need to be borrowed or come from other places. As City Administrator Nate Torres put it to the city council, originally the hit to the general obligation debt was around $1.7 million and with the new estimate, that hit is up around $3.3 million.

The city does have some potential ways to help offset some of the cost. The city fire service does include the towns of Viroqua, Jefferson and Franklin. Costs are shared with those departments and the city has had discussions with the them about possibly helping with some of the cost. The city could also sell the existing fire station as a commercial property once the department moves out and those proceeds could help go toward construction.

Impact to tax levy

The city had been trying to keep the debt levy in the $800,000 to $850,000 range but when the fire station cost is added to the other capital improvement projects the debt levy in the first 10 years goes over $1 million per year.

Impact to taxpayers

Cost of the project for the average taxpayer in that worst case scenario is about an additional $140 per year for a $200,000 home. As the chart below shows the amount of the project that local taxpayers might have to pay for, which is around $3.345 million adds about 70 cents for every $1,000 in property value.

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