With a mission to close what trustees view as an information gap, the Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District will host a public meeting Wednesday to form what officials hope will be a critical mass of public support for a March tax increase.
The previous three attempts to get residents to support equipment replacement and emergency responder pay increases failed.
With each question the margin of defeat shrank. More than 60 percent of voters turned back the district's request for a 95 percent tax increase last April. District President Bob Handley said the improved referendum results stem from an increasing number of residents learning they've been getting a bargain on fire and ambulance service for years.
"Each time we have gone for a referendum our 'yes' votes substantially increased," Handley said. "When I talk to groups and tell them what we've done, the price we've done it at and what we're asking for, everyone walks away saying they'd be stupid not to support us. So we have to figure how to get the word out there the best way we can."
District officials host a public forum on the proposed tax increase at 6 p.m. at Fire Station 1, 34W500 Carl Lee Road.
At 27 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation, the percentage of the property tax bill the district represents is just above the township cemetery district. Handley said the district is unaware of another fire district in northern Illinois with a lower tax rate. That's great for taxpayers. It hasn't been great for the district's equipment or staff.
Handley said the district fields more calls (1,345 in 2016) than officials anticipated when breaking away from St. Charles. That's caused more wear and tear on equipment, much of it purchased used. And the staff is in a continuous state of training thanks to rampant turnover.
"Our pay scale ... to say it's subpar would be an understatement," Handley said. "They love to come and get trained here. But they'd be foolish to stay once they get an offer with a full-time department."
District officials cut 10 employees after the failed April tax increase. The district has two stations, but can only afford to keep one station open at a time without more money. The planned brownouts will mean nine firefighters will lose their jobs. Residents might also experience longer response times depending upon which station they are closest to and if it is in operation when their emergency occurs.
The district has not had a tax rate increase in 12 years. A successful March referendum would increase the tax rate to 44 cents per $100 of equalized assessed value. That's an increase of about $216 for the owner of a $400,000 home.