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posted: 8/17/2010 12:01 AM

St. Charles fire district seeks advice from customers

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The St. Charles Countryside Fire Protection District won't solve its money troubles this November, but trustees hope its 20,000 customers will give them enough direction to end a fight with St. Charles by the spring.

With budget woes of its own, St. Charles began publicly pressuring the district to increase the amount it pays the city for fire protection and emergency medical services. The city has repeatedly said the district's payments don't actually cover the volume of emergency calls the city handles for the district. District trustees have debated the potential to ask its customers for a tax increase for several months. Instead, customers will see two nonbinding questions on the November ballot.

One question asks voters if they'd support a 10-cent tax increase that would keep the district on solid financial ground for the next five years. A 10-cent tax increase would add $117 to the property tax bill of a home that would sell for $350,000. A "no" on the 10-cent tax increase would leave the door open to a binding request for a tax increase of a lower amount, such as 5 cents, on spring ballots.

Until then, the district has been renewing it's current contract with St. Charles on a month-to-month basis.

The second question asks voters if they'd agree to a reduction in services if they don't want to pay a tax increase. The question does not define what such a reduction in services would entail. Trustee Bob Handley said the question is intended to let voters know something must give if they don't agree to a tax increase.

"I'm not really sure how we can reduce services," Handley said. "And I don't know that I'd want to reduce services any more than they already are. We'd have to talk to St. Charles about any service reduction options."

The district's attorney, Ken Shepro, said one idea for service reduction could involve requesting the city stop sending a fire truck along with the ambulance on every medical call to cut back costs, Shepro said. Such a reduction in service may result in the district paying the city even less money that it does now. It's unclear how such a change to the contract would impact St. Charles' ability to pay fire department salaries.