St. Charles Mayor Don DeWitte on Monday predicted failure for the new Fox River and Countryside Fire/Rescue District because neither the finances nor the promises for better response times make sense to him.
"We think these are some drastic, definitive decisions the fire protection district is making," DeWitte said. "We believe them to be ill-conceived. The ultimate result will be a reduction in service to the people we have served in the outlying areas for going on four or five decades.
"We just don't believe much forethought has been put into this process. This is going to be a bad situation, and we're going to have to watch it slowly implode."
DeWitte and St. Charles Fire Chief Pat Mullen believe the district's main problem is a tax rate that is simply too low to provide the level of fire service everyone wants in the district. At 19 cents per $100 of equalized assessed value, the rate is about one-third as much as any other nearby fire district.
"They have a revenue problem," DeWitte said. "They don't have an expense problem."
That comment comes in response to repeated statements by fire district trustees about how the city's cost to provide emergency services would price the district out of existence in the next few years. Mullen said the fire district runs a $52,000 surplus even at the current charge of $1.8 million. That price tag doesn't include ambulance service.
Fire district officials are expected to soon finalize a contract with Wheaton-based American Emergency Services to provide both firefighters and paramedics at about $1.7 million a year. But the additional infrastructure cost to establish two firehouses in the district and an uncertain cost for personnel in the second year of the contract is what makes DeWitte and Mullen skeptical of the finances.
DeWitte pointed to fire district President Jim Gaffney's statement last week that a tax increase may be needed in the next few years as support for his financial concerns.
DeWitte and Mullen also demonstrated on a map of the service area how they believe the new firehouses in the district represent a false promise of better response times. Mullen said the location of the new houses, at the far southwest and northeast portions of the district, mean homeowners with the best response times under St. Charles will now wait longer when they experience fires and medical emergencies.
Mullen said the district, having only two firehouses and a large geographical coverage area, will be spread thin whenever more than one emergency call occurs. A chart the city created using GIS maps predicts a response time of up to 16 minutes for the district's station near South Elgin to arrive at the Kane County Judicial Center if needed.
Aside from those predictions, DeWitte said the new fire district creates a financial problem for each of the Tri-Cities. The district's separation from St. Charles and the Tri-City Ambulance Service means each community must now pay a larger share for the cost of having paramedics show up when residents need them. St. Charles, for instance, will shoulder an additional $200,000 of that price tag.
DeWitte said he expects the fire district trustees will come asking St. Charles for help when their plan fails. When that happens, DeWitte said Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay will be to blame.
"As the appointee of four of the five members of the fire district's board of trustees, I believe she's ultimately responsible," DeWitte said.
McConnaughay could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.