How the Carol Stream Fire Protection District spends its money is the focus of a crowded race for two available seats on the district board in the April 5 election.
Six candidates are running for the open spots on the five-member board, which provides direction to fire administrators who oversee the district's 15-square-mile coverage area that includes Carol Stream and parts of neighboring communities.
Incumbent Jim Panopoulos is seeking another six-year term, while Trustee Rodney Strom is not seeking re-election.
Panopoulos was the lone vote last year against the district's budget, which faced a $450,000 deficit. To make up the difference, the board voted to institute an ambulance fee that is billed to residents' insurance companies for service calls. In addition, a $150,000 part-time firefighter program was cut from the budget.
But Panopoulos said there isn't a budget crisis at all -- in fact, the district's revenues have been increasing.
"There is a budget problem," Panopoulos said. "The problem is the expenditure side."
He said the amount of overtime budgeted last year -- more than $500,000 -- could have been cut. He proposed reducing or eliminating trustee stipends, but says other trustees ignored that request. He also questioned the hiring of a professional landscaping firm, when firefighters previously cut the grass at fire stations.
Panopoulos said he encouraged Karl Langhammer, a former paid-on-call Carol Stream firefighter, to run for the board. Langhammer said he thinks current Chief Rick Kolomay has made "great strides" over the past year in helping the district become fiscally responsible, but thinks board members should have been more assertive in questioning things like the ambulance fee.
Though the revenue stream is steady now, Langhammer warned it could drop in the next few years as declining property values are reflected in property tax assessments and collections. He said he's concerned that may give the district reason to increase the ambulance fee.
"I hope that's not the case," Langhammer said.
Brian Jordan, a sheet metal worker, said he thinks the current board is doing a good job. He said he was in favor of the ambulance fee because surrounding communities have similar fees in place.
Jordan is the only candidate to be have been endorsed by the Carol Stream Firefighters Union Local 3192. The union recruited and supported Panopoulos for trustee in 2005.
David Carlson, a retired firefighter/paramedic who is currently a fire inspector for another fire district, said he thinks the Carol Stream district is back on track financially. He said he was supportive of the ambulance fee and thinks the district should continue to pursue grants as another way to find revenue.
Michael Tuman, who was the first full-time chief of the district in 1972, said he would have supported past budgetary measures, and said all governmental bodies are dealing with difficult financial situations.
Ken Anderko, a member of the Carol Stream Fire Commission that is responsible for personnel issues, said he also would have supported the recent budget and thinks the district is run well.