Viroqua City Council approves preliminary budget for new fire station

Fire Station discussion starts at about the 1:25:30 mark

VIROQUA, Wis. – The Viroqua City Council approved a preliminary budget of just under $10 million for a new Viroqua Fire Station at it’s regular meeting on Tuesday, December 12, however it looks like the city will only need to come up with $3.3 million of that thanks to a federal grant and some financial help from townships served by the department. The city was awarded $5.25 million through Senator Tammy Baldwins office last year through the Congressionally Direct Spending program. The city has hired Keller Inc. to design and build the building.

Architectural rendering of the new Viroqua Fire Station that would be located on city land just north of the Wild West Days grounds.

The city had been looking at options for a new fire station or possibly remodeling the old one even before they received that federal grant. 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. Viroqua Fire Chief Chad Buros said the department also serves three neighboring townships (Jefferson, Franklin, Viroqua) 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. You can read our previous story about the growth of the department, including our interview with Chief Buros in our previous story.

City administrator Nate Torres presented the council with the latest budget on Tuesday night and laid out all the sources of revenue, that total the city will likely have to borrow in the end the impact to the tax levy for that borrowing. Torres said Chief Borus and Mayor Running have been in discussions with the three townships also served by the department and they have what he called a “soft commitment” for each township to contribute $300,000 to the project, helping offset the overall amount the city will need to borrow. Torres said the townships still need to go through steps to approve their funding but those negotiations will continue.

Under the current cooperative arrangement the city charges the townships rent for keeping engines at the Viroqua station, and some of the trucks and equipment are purchased by the townships directly.

“The chief and I sat down with the three townships,” said Running. “We talked about the ask. They all understood that some point we were going to come something, whether that was an increase in rent or, they knew something was coming. We talked about it and I specifically asked if they felt it was reasonable, or if I was being unreasonable by asking that. They all agreed it was not unreasonable. But all also agreed that they have to figure out how to make it work.”

The townships currently pay between $12,000 and $13,000 a year in rent to the city, and they would pay no rent if they contribute the $300,000 to the project for the next 20 years.

One other source of revenue that will help lower the cost of the project is the sale of the current fire station once the new build is up and the department is moved. The estimated value of the building is in the budget at $500,000. Torres said that value could more or it could be less, and the city could decide to keep that building if there is another department that feels they need more space. All of those variables could impact the overall cost of the project in the end as well.

Viroqua Fire Department Training Tower

The budget also reflects to the cost of moving the training tower that was recently constructed next to the fire station. The estimated cost to move that structure is about $250,000.

If the current budget stays as it is, and the city borrows a little over $3.3 million for the project, at the current interest rate of about 4.2 percent the city would see a debt payment for the building of around $250,000 a year. That would raise the mill rate about .727, or about 73 cents for every $1,000 in property value. To give an example of what the impact of that would be to property taxes, for a $250,000 home, a homeowner would pay an additional $181.77 a year in taxes. Or about $15 a month for the next 20 years.

Torres said all of the numbers and commitments to the project will not be final until the bids are accepted for the project and financing is finalized. The projected timeline to complete that process will be sometime this spring.

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