The Aug. 26 Platteville Common Council meeting might have been more notable for the Information and Discussion part of the agenda than for the Action Items part of the agenda.
One reason is that the council tabled for two weeks the Kallembach house bids, after Ald. Amy Seeboth-Wilson pointed out that the city’s Request for Proposal said the city would score each of the bids, when that had not actually happened.
I didn’t participate in the scoring that took place Tuesday night. (And in fact the public was not invited to the scoring; the city used an Open Meetings Law exception common in dealings with business.) Bids are supposed to be objective; the lowest qualified bidder (though there is some squish room in the word “qualified”) gets the bid. The city has said throughout that the highest bid will not necessarily get a property, so the city isn’t being dishonest. Let’s just say that this might be one of the most unusual things that the city has done in its history.
If indeed the ultimate decision with any Kallembach property is in the hands of the council by any criteria aldermen deem fit, it seems to me that the city’s choice of bidders should be based on two words: “owner-occupied.” The number of For Rent signs found throughout the city, which is a direct result of UW–Platteville’s two newest dorms, suggests that the housing market does not need more rentals. In a city with more rentals than owner-occupied houses, the city needs more of the latter to reverse the trend of people working in Platteville but not living in the city.
Two Information and Discussion items were of more interest since the Kallembach house discussion got truncated to nine minutes. The first was the question of merging the city’s taxi service with UW–Platteville’s shuttle service. The Southwest Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission studied a potential merger, and it claims that considerable federal and state grants could be found to fund a merged service, instead of having city residents and UWP students (the latter through a $30 annual fee) fund it.
Beyond the merits or drawbacks of mass transit, there is merit to service if there is demand for service. In a community the size of Platteville, the taxi model, where the customer chooses where to go and when (subject to taxi availability), would seem to be more useful than the bus model, where travel is dependent on the bus schedule. (The former is more amenable to such activities as shopping as well, unless you’re able to ride on an empty bus on the way back home.)
One subject that came up was having the city purchase buses; the city now owns two of the three taxis, and leases them for $1 to the operator. The city should own neither taxis nor buses for the same reason that school districts shouldn’t operate their own bus services. Stratton Buses of Cuba City runs the UW–Platteville shuttle, in addition to Platteville and other school buses. The point here is to provide the service, not be an owner of vehicles whose ownership by the city is not really necessary.
A merger is worth studying for the ability to expand service and spend less money, thanks to those federal and state grants. At least until proven otherwise by increased service demand, pursuing the merger should be based on cost savings more than increasing service beyond now.
Speaking of cost and service, the subject of Southwest Health’s taking over Platteville EMS came up again. The cost issue here is the future cost to the city of a third ambulance, which Platteville EMS wants, and, more importantly, the cost of a new EMS building, vs. the annual cost to the city of a subsidy for a Southwest Health-run paramedic service, which was initially estimated around $200,000. (Southwest Health is interested in expanding EMS to a paramedic service.)
The service issue is whether there is enough demand for a paramedic service to justify the added annual cost. Paramedics would be full-time employees of the hospital (or the city if the city decided to upgrade Platteville EMS to paramedic status). That would mean phasing out, and probably sooner than later, the paid-on-call EMTs.
Platteville EMS sometimes has issues, based on scanner traffic, in finding backup crews for transfers. Some EMS services in this have issues finding EMTs to take calls, particularly during weekdays, as more people work in communities other than where they live. Platteville EMS has some vacancies, but its staffing issues are not as dire as other EMS services, which could be one point against a hospital EMS takeover. It’s not hard to see, however, a day where EMTs are more difficult to find because of the steadily increasing education requirements, particularly continuing education. There is also something to be said about having the taxpayers in charge of EMS when the taxpayers will be paying for it one way or another.
Which brings up a larger point. Sometimes I get the impression that some members of the Common Council want Platteville to be a bigger city, with bigger-city services, than it actually is. Yes, Platteville has 12,000 people when UW–Platteville is in session. The cost of government services is being borne, however, by about half that many people — those who are here all year and paying taxes all year, as opposed to those here between September and mid-May.