The Everest Metro Police Department and Rothschild Police Department merger nearly slipped by everyone
Our deeper dive on the potential merger
News that the Everest Metro and Rothschild police departments could become one department nearly slipped by everyone in the news. The agendas of those municipalities hinted at some kind of potential merger of government services. And included in the closed session agenda was discussion of police staffing. But nothing explicitly explained to the public that they were considering a potential merger.
In meetings last Monday, the boards of both the Village of Rothschild and the Village of Weston approved the hiring of a consultant to study and advise on the issue. The Schofield City Council followed suit the following day at their Tuesday meeting.
Schofield Mayor Kregg Hoehn told The Wausonian that former Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin will be the consultant hired to lead the study, which will look at whether it makes sense to merge the departments.
Vergin was previously involved in two other previous department mergers in the area – the 2016 merger of the Schofield and Rothschild fire departments and the 1993 merger of the Schofield and Weston police departments that became the Everest Metro Police Department.
Vergin was the first chief of the newly created Everest Metro Police. During the 2016 merger of the Schofield and Rothschild fire departments that became Riverside Fire Department, he was a member of the Schofield City Council. When interviewed by the Wausau Daily Herald about the fire department merger, Vergin provided some insight into the rationale behind merging public services as well as some of the challenges. “We’re going to be saving money all the way,” Vergin said of the 2016 merger at the time. In the same interview he indicated that a hurdle to any department merger is forging a spirit of cooperation between the uniting departments. This invites the question of whether inter-department cooperation could pose a risk to the success of the current proposed police department merger.
What prompted the municipalities to look at a merger? Village of Weston Board President Mark Maloney cited the benefits of increased coordination of law enforcement as well as a cutback of redundancies. “Look at the duplication with buildings, cars, equipment, computers,” he said. “[The departments] work so well together, but yet I think if it was all one, it would work even better.”
Maloney also said that Everest Metro will be putting a hold on hiring for any new positions while merger discussions are underway. Current Everest Metro Police Chief Clay Schulz will be retiring on Feb. 1.
Maloney indicated that a likely candidate for police chief of the new merged police department is current and longtime Rothschild Chief of Police Jeremy P. Hunt. The Wausonian reached out to Chief Hunt for comment on this possibility, but did not receive a response.
Name and place
Hoehn said that although a final determination on the location of the new department’s headquarters will not be made until the study is completed, one idea is to use the current Rothschild police department headquarters.
Both Maloney and Hoehn confirmed that the merged department would have a new name, rather than carry the name of one of the former departments. The new name has yet to be decided. When I asked Mark Maloney if he knows what the new name might be, he responded with a joke: “My suggestion was ‘Mark’s police department’, but they didn’t take to it”.
Maloney also had some light-hearted ideas for the look of the new squad cars. “I also want yellow and blue squad cars like Sweden, but they didn’t go along with that either,” he said. But his point wasn’t completely in jest – Maloney felt that any police force should be highly visible and clearly identifiable, and he lamented that the standard look for police cars across the country tends toward drab, darker colors.
This wasn’t the first time that there was talk of the Everest Metro and Rothschild departments joining together. A merger of the two was attempted in August 2013, but the plan was rejected by the Rothschild Village Board.
Schofield mayor Kregg Hoehn explained to The Wausonian why it didn’t fly back then:
“The last time, basically there was talk and then it was brought to a municipality instead of including that municipality in the talks itself. So they really went about it wrong. And therefore it felt like it was getting jammed down their throats,” he said of the previous failed merger. “So you can't do something like that if you want to merge and be equal partners.”
The police department merger follows the trend of combining government services to save money. Proponents of SAFER, which combined Weston and Rib Mountain fire services and contracts with other municipalities, say the service has saved the municipalities money. Rothschild and Schofield in 2016 combined their fire departments, setting the stage for additional mergers.
The merger is expected to take several months, after which information will be presented to all three municipal boards. After that, everyone will have to decide if they want to merge the departments.
Editor’s note: Devon Welsh is now covering Weston for The Wausonian, and I didn’t expect him to get his first scoop so quickly. We broke the news Wednesday, before any other press could get on top of it. I contributed some context to the report, since I reported on the 2016 merger between the Rothschild/Schofield Fire Departments, now called Riverside.