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posted: 11/8/2017 5:33 AM

Fox River fire district wants to hear if residents would back tax hike

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Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District trustees will host a familiar discussion Monday about asking taxpayers for more money to run the district. This time they are hoping to get input from the community before the counting of the final ballots.

"It is all but assured" trustees will vote Monday to seek another referendum on a tax increase, Ken Shepro, the district's attorney, said. Trustees want community members to attend the meeting to tell them how much of a hike they would support. Voters rejected the district's tax increase referendums in 2015 and 2017.

Current funds to pay staff and replace equipment are inadequate, officials said. The most recent referendum would have raised property tax bills paid to the district by 95 percent. More than 60 percent of voters in the district rejected that request.

The failure last spring fueled conversations about selling off the district's fire service or dissolving the district. Shepro said trustees rejected both ideas. There is not a clear process to dissolve the district even if trustees wanted to, he said. And there's no evidence any fire district has ever voluntarily disbanded in Illinois. So trustees return to the topic of how much of a tax increase they need versus how much voters will approve.

Shepro said a tax increase of 50 percent seems to be the magic number, though the district is still crunching the numbers. An increase somewhere around 50 percent may be enough to restore full staffing at both the district's stations and fund some equipment maintenance/upgrades. Another failed referendum likely means the district will only be able to keep one station open at any time. It would establish an alternating schedule of which station would close.

"The problem there is you're basically telling people to schedule their heart attacks on the days the station closest to them is open," Shepro said. "We don't want that, but it's more a question now of what level of service will our residents pay for. Everyone wants the fire truck or ambulance there when they want it, but they don't want to have to pay for it any other time."

The community meeting begins at 6 p.m. at Fire Station 1, 34W500 Carl Lee Road, off Route 25.

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