Itasca fire district seeking tax hike

The Itasca Fire Protection District is asking voters for roughly $1 million in additional property taxes to pay for the rising cost of salaries, employee benefits, building maintenance and other expenses.

The district's funding request will appear on the April 4 ballot.

"The referendum we're looking for is purely to take care of day-to-day operations," Fire Chief James F. Burke Jr. said. "This is not to add more people. It is not to build a new facility. It is just to continue current service levels into the future and to continue to pay our bills."

The district - which covers most of Itasca and parts of Addison and Wood Dale - gets nearly all its revenue from property taxes. But the roughly $4.4 million in tax dollars the district collects isn't enough to pay for its expenses.

"What we're finding is that our expenses are starting to run away from our revenues," Burke said.

In fact, Burke said the district faced a deficit each of the past few years and officials tightened their belts to offset those deficits.

However, the amount of the deficit is projected to grow and officials are running out of options to close the gap.

"I'm getting to the point where I can't cut us much thinner than we are," Burke said.

The district is facing the possibility of having to cut staff. Right now, it has 22 firefighter/paramedics, the chief, a deputy chief and two office staff members. There's also a fire prevention director who is partially paid by the village.

The district already is using a minimum daily staff of five people more than half the time. On those days, the district has a three-person engine crew and a two-person ambulance crew.

"My goal here is to make sure our service levels don't decrease," Burke said. "I don't want to lose the positions that we have because I really can't run much leaner than I am."

If the ballot measure is approved, the district's annual property tax revenue will increase to roughly $5.47 million from about $4.46 million. That amount includes money for the district's pension payments.

Meanwhile, owners of homes valued at $200,000 would see their property tax bills increase by an estimated $130 if voters approve the proposal.

While the referendum is for operational funds, Burke said the additional revenue also would allow the district to address some capital needs. For example, money could be set aside for vehicle replacement and repairs to the district's 46-year-old fire station at 520 W. Irving Park Road.

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