Fox River & Countryside officials are mulling over temporary fixes for filling the fire/rescue district's depleting coffers after its most recent attempt to bring in more cash failed. But Chief John Nixon told the fire board Monday there's only one sustainable solution for addressing the funding shortage: a property tax hike.
Voters last month narrowly rejected the district's request to increase its property tax rate to 43 cents from 27 cents per $100 of equalized assessed value. The measure would have generated about $1.48 million annually to fund what Nixon says are critical equipment replacements and repairs, as well as increased personnel.
Without that money, officials have warned that the district likely would have to cut nine part-time firefighter positions -- three per shift -- and rotate closing one of its two fire stations each month. But during a special meeting Monday, Nixon urged the fire board to keep both stations open and find other ways to tighten its belt until the November election, when he expects the district to try again for a tax hike.
"You can't get wrapped up in the short term. You have to think about a sustainable future for this fire department," Nixon said. "Putting a Band-Aid on it by cutting people doesn't fix it."
Browning out one station on a rotating basis would significantly increase emergency response times for half the district at any given time, he said. It can take up to 16 minutes for first responders to get from one station to the other side of the 38-square-mile district.
That's not a risk Trustee Tom Mollenhauer is willing to take.
"The importance is providing service to the public and doing whatever we can to keep two stations open," he said. "The need is there. ... We've got to scrape the bottom of the barrel (and) do whatever we can to do it."
Nixon said he'd bring back suggestions for cutting costs or implementing one-time revenues, such as selling equipment, to temporarily address the funding shortfall.
Mollenhauer said the district also could consider selling land that has been slated for a new fire station, though board President Bob Handley said he'd prefer to keep that property as a long-term option.
The fire board is expected to discuss and possibly make a decision on potential short-term solutions next Monday.
Meanwhile, a group of residents already has begun planning an education campaign to support the district if another referendum question is placed on the November ballot. Out of four attempts in recent years, the district's most recent request for a property tax hike failed by the slimmest margin: 32 votes.