For the St. Charles Countryside Fire Protection District to build and staff its own fire stations, it must succeed at a task it repeatedly has failed at in the past.
The district has long wanted its own fire stations. In years past, the plan was to build the stations one now, one later and have them staffed by the St. Charles Fire Department.
But failed attempts to win over voters, and their checkbooks, in three of the last four years foiled that plan.
Now district trustees once again plan to build fire stations in the rural district outside of the city proper. Only this time, they want to staff the stations with private ambulance and fire suppression businesses.
Trustees provided no definitive dollar amounts at a public meeting earlier this week for what that plan will cost. However, district President Jim Gaffney said, trustees are looking to stay within $1.3 million and $1.6 million for the contracts. At $1.6 million, the district would essentially be paying about $150,000 less than what it paid the St. Charles Fire Department for services until this year, when the amount increased to $1.8 million. That price tag doesn't include what the district pays to the Tri-Cities Ambulance Association.
Gaffney indicated the district intends to build the new fire houses and purchase emergency equipment via bonds and grants. The district recently received an A+ rating from Standard & Poor's when it sought its first assessment from the credit rating agency.
Gaffney said trustees are researching borrowing money via bonds that could be repaid over 15 to 18 years, if necessary. The district can issue the bonds without getting voter approval, as long as it pulls in enough money through its existing property tax levy repay the debt. The district has annual income of about $2.2 million through the property taxes it levies.
If the district can't find fire and ambulance services at a cheaper price, going for another referendum may prove perilous. Voters have rejected every request to borrow money the district has made in recent years. Trustees have already promised there will be no tax increase referendum in April.
Trustees also must decide if they will seek out the best deals for services and/or construction via a public bidding process. Gaffney said trustees have only had private discussions with possible vendors to this point.
"We have not bid anything yet," he said. "We have not done anything."
Asked if trustees would use public bidding, Gaffney said the district has never used it for the fire and ambulance contracts in the past. Instead, it's only negotiated with St. Charles and the Tri-Cities Ambulance Association.
"That will be a board decision," he said.
Trustees will decide if their privatization plan is feasible by Feb. 1.