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updated: 11/22/2011 5:01 PM

Increased ambulance costs, pay raises part of proposed Batavia budget

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Batavia Alderman Vic Dietz is still looking for a way to avoid raising property taxes to pay for ambulance service, as the city council prepares to approve its 2012 budget.

"I am not in favor of a tax increase, and spent considerable time plowing through the budget to see if I could make cuts to avoid that tax increase," the chairman of the government services committee said Monday night.

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That committee will take another stab at it at 7 p.m. Nov. 28.

The city council had a public hearing on the $92.7 million budget Monday and expects to vote on it Dec. 5. The new fiscal year starts Jan. 1.

The budget includes increased costs for ambulance service, due to the departure of the Fox River and Countryside Fire Protection District from the Tri-City Ambulance Service cooperative.

The Tri-City board decided to keep all five of its ambulances after the departure, Mayor Jeff Schielke said, believing call volume warranted it.

Two of the ambulances are stationed in Batavia, two in St. Charles and one in Geneva.

The ambulances also serve residents in unincorporated areas in Geneva Township and the Batavia and Countryside Fire Protection District.

Schielke said of the 3,000 ambulance runs in Batavia through Monday afternoon, 224 times both Batavia ambulances were running at the same time.

Ambulance users are charged $600 to $800 per call, depending on the complexity of their case. Nonresidents pay an additional $100. Ambulance fees cover about 47 percent of the service's current budgeted expenditures.

Batavia expects the city's share of the ambulance costs to increase at least $115,000 next year.

And there is a plan afoot by Tri-City Ambulance to change the way the member agencies split the cost. When the Tri-City Ambulance budget was approved in February, some St. Charles aldermen complained that city was bearing an unfair burden of the bill, at 41 percent. The member agencies split the costs based on their respective equalized assessed valuations. The ambulance board is now discussing splitting based on call volume. St. Charles has the most calls, followed by Batavia, then Geneva.

"Frankly, until this time, Batavia has made out quite well under that," said Batavia City Administrator William McGrath.

Other notes on the budget:

• It factors in pay increases for union and nonunion workers.

• It contains $100,000 for removal of trees killed by the emerald ash borer.

• It calls for lifting a hiring freeze to add an engineering tech, an engineering assistant, a deputy fire chief, a traffic officer and a utility billing supervisor. The last three are vacant positions.

Only one private citizen spoke at the hearing, Carl Dinwiddie. Dinwiddie and his wife, Yvonne, are avid followers of local governments, and sometimes-critics of their spending.

Dinwiddie asked a few questions about increases in utility rates and a potential new tax on natural gas, but otherwise praised the council.

"This budget is as good as any I've seen," said Dinwiddie, a federal manager who has worked 35 years for the FAA.

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