Fox River & Countryside to cut 3 firefighters

Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District officials have been wrestling with funding solutions since their most recent attempt at a tax hike failed last month. On Monday, the fire board settled on a cost-saving option that would cut three part-time firefighter positions and allow both fire stations to remain open - for now.

Eliminating one staff position per shift would result in a roughly $142,500 annual savings to hold over the cash-strapped fire district for the next several months. Fire officials intend to ask voters again in November for a property tax hike, which Chief John Nixon says is the most sustainable way to address the district's funding shortage.

With the staffing cuts, which were unanimously approved by the board, one station would maintain current staffing levels. The other would be staffed with three firefighters who would have to go out on calls together, Nixon said, leaving that station unmanned if a second call came in.

Though not ideal, trustees said the measure prevents the district from having to close one station on an alternating basis, as had been previously considered.

"I've said all along we've got to keep the two stations open," Trustee Tom Mollenhauer said. "We have to do it for the public."

It also will start putting money in the district's coffers to help fund crucial equipment and vehicle replacements, Nixon said.

The district was hoping to fund those capital expenses, as well as increased personnel costs, by raising its property tax to 43 cents from 27 cents per $100 of equalized assessed value. The measure would have generated an additional $1.48 million annually, but voters last month shot down the district's request by roughly 30 votes.

If a tax increase fails again in November, Nixon said the district will have no choice but to cut more positions and brown out one of its two stations. That would significantly increase emergency response times for half the district.

The district also is considering other cost-saving options and one-time revenue sources, such as selling used equipment or selling land initially slated for building another fire station.

Attorney Ken Shepro said a group of residents has filed a request for a discovery phase in Kane and DuPage counties regarding the March election. In that process, county officials would check for errors that could be corrected for future elections,

Those residents are also likely to try challenging the results of the referendum, as a portion of the question was cut off the ballot, Shepro said. Successfully contesting the vote won't change the outcome, but it would allow the fire district to place the same question on the November ballot.

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