Future uncertain for Fox River fire district after voters reject tax hike

After a request for a property tax hike narrowly failed Tuesday, Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District officials again are faced with determining how to continue operating with what they say is insufficient funding.

The district has warned residents of its most probable plan of action, which would include cutting up to nine firefighter positions and rotating closing one of its two stations every day. Fire board President Bob Handley said Wednesday nothing will be decided until the board has a chance to evaluate all cost-cutting options at its meeting next month.

"(Browning) out a station ... is the last thing we want to do because it's going to increase our response times considerably, which is not a good thing," Handley said. "But that's probably going to be what happens. I don't know if there are any other alternatives."

Tuesday's election was the fourth time in recent years voters rejected the district's request for a property tax increase. In addition to being the lowest tax hike requested, unofficial tallies show the measure also failed by the slimmest margin - a 1,943-1,904 vote.

The binding referendum asked for a 60 percent increase in the taxes paid to the fire district to fund equipment replacements, as well as pay raises for emergency personnel. If the measure was approved, the owner of a $100,000 home would have paid an additional $53 per year.

The election results are unofficial until they are canvassed in the coming weeks. With such a "razor thin" margin, Handley said the district won't make any decisions until vote totals are verified.

Fire officials for years have been debating how best to serve their 25,000 residents while operating on the lowest tax rate in the area - 27 cents per $100 of equalized assessed value, Handley said. After its last attempt at a tax hike, the district cut several employees and started considering the possibility of outsourcing its services or dissolving, which would require voter approval.

The cash-strapped district is running out of options, Handley said, but he believes residents are starting to catch on to the severity of the issue. Whether the district will try again for a tax hike in November has yet to be determined, he said.

"It's encouraging that the more we get publicity out there, the more favorable the results become," he said. "As soon as people hear our message, they understand."

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