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posted: 4/1/2010 12:01 AM

St. Charles mayor: Time for fire district to pay its fair share

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As the St. Charles Countryside Fire Protection District contemplates a tax increase, St. Charles Mayor Don DeWitte is making a public push for the district to start paying its fair share for fire service.

DeWitte said Wednesday the city has been after the fire protection district to pay what it should for several years.

The city and the fire protection district are two different taxing bodies. The fire protection district serves the unincorporated areas adjacent to the city and contracts with St. Charles to provide fire services.

"St. Charles city residents have subsidized the district by 2 or 3 percent for the past few years," DeWitte said. "That doesn't sound like a lot of money, but it represents up to $80,000 a year. That's enough for us to hire an additional firefighter. In tight budget times, it makes a difference."

District President Ed Malek announced last week that the district will decide in the next couple months if it should seek a tax increase to bolster operations in November. Malek said early projections show the district will be unable to pay its bills by 2012 without a tax increase. The district pays $1.75 million a year to the city for fire services.

DeWitte said that's not enough, but he's not necessarily a fan of the district seeking a tax increase either. DeWitte said he believes the district would be wise to use the money it's put aside to build a firehouse for operations, including the extra money DeWitte believes the district owes the city.

DeWitte pointed out how the district's voters have consistently rejected the idea of spending money to build a new firehouse.

"The voters have chosen which they prefer," DeWitte said of how the district should use its savings. "It's not a tit-for-tat. They are a taxing district. And we have the same responsibility to our taxpayers that they do."

But there may also be another reason DeWitte is against the idea of the district dropping a bunch of money to build a firehouse. St. Charles city officials are eyeing a new firehouse at Red Gate Road shortly after it builds a new bridge over the Fox River at Red Gate. The city still needs funding to make that bridge project happen. The bridge when then take a couple years to build. Once complete, the city would turn its attention to building a fourth firehouse in the city. Building a new firehouse at Red Gate, with the bridge in place, would mean that firehouse would spend much of its time serving the residents in Malek's fire protection district. That also means the city would likely ask the St. Charles Countryside Fire Protection District for money to help build that new house.

Malek was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.