Costs are climbing, volunteers fading
By Steve Sharp - email@example.com
JEFFERSON -- Of community leaders interviewed for this series on intergovernmental cooperation in Jefferson County, perhaps the most pragmatic was Jefferson City Administrator Tim Freitag.
That is not to say Freitag is not a positive and upbeat leader. He just has a veteran mind-set and approach to interviews such as the one for this story in which he pulls no punches and conveys a cool, analytical view on things.
“I am a proponent of governments working together to get things done,” Freitag said. “I think the taxpaying public demands it for reasons of efficiency. I’ve done this long enough to know everyone wants to preserve their own jobs, but things change. Levy limits and state shared revenue being cut means we have to do things like this. Financially there could be no other path forward.”
Freitag said smaller Jefferson County municipalities are going to only encounter more pressure in the coming years in areas such as fire fighting and emergency medical services. He said the costs of these types of things are skyrocketing and the good old days of volunteer fire departments are likely going to be things of the past as volunteerism fades with modern lifestyles coming about.
“People are more mobile now. They are commuting to places like Madison and Milwaukee from these smaller places and they don’t have the time to be volunteers,” he said. “Some fire departments are having trouble getting trucks out the door. Fire departments are extremely expensive things to maintain. I don’t see how these volunteer fire departments are going to be able to continue.”
Freitag acknowledged Jefferson County’s burgs such as Helenville, Sullivan and Johnson Creek have their identities their residents would like to see preserved, but that may not be possible as time progresses. He recognized that, at one point, the Jefferson and Johnson Creek school districts were considering consolidation, but that did not occur.
“It will be hard to move on unless we change the way local government is funded,” Freitag said, “and I don’t see that changing. Financial and manpower resources are waning. Things change and it all becomes harder. The dwindling of resources will require these types of changes and consolidation is the path forward.”
Freitag called consolidation of governments “practical.”
“I see this as inevitable,” he said. “If you want to be able to continue to offer good services that people expect and deserve, we are going to have to do this.”
Freitag is excited to be able to work with the county on the evolution of the former Jefferson County Highway Department site on the north side of Jefferson at the intersection of Business Highway 26 and Puerner Street. He called the project, which is slated to include a mix of business and residential development, along with a Rock River-side park, a modern template for what everyone in area government wants to do in terms of cooperation.
“We have people at the different levels of government in place who work well together,” Freitag said. “We have some very good examples of intergovernmental cooperation.”