Why Fox River & Countryside could transfer some properties to West Chicago fire district

A group of homes in an unincorporated area near St. Charles could be transferred from one fire district to another in a move officials say would improve service to the area.

But concerns over higher property tax rates and response times have sparked opposition among some residents, who question whether the change is in the best interest of the dozens of families who live there.

The subdivision off Kautz Road currently is covered by the Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District, though its closest fire station is at least seven miles away. Other fire agencies are typically able to respond to that area faster, board President Robert Handley said, prompting officials to begin considering alternative service options.

“They're in a little island out there that isn't contiguous to our district,” he said. “It's a hike. We get down there, but we're not always first.”

Officials are now proposing that the 43 parcels be disconnected from Fox River & Countryside and annexed into the adjacent West Chicago Fire Protection District, which has a station less than four miles away. If adopted by both fire boards next month, the transfer would take place Jan. 1, 2021, according to a notice sent to affected property owners.

“Fire districts are always cleaning up their boundaries,” Handley said. “(This) gives them a contiguous district that can respond well for them.”

Under the West Chicago fire district, however, the tax rate for that subdivision would jump to roughly 93 cents per $100 of taxable property value -- more than three times what residents pay now to Fox River & Countryside.

A petition circulating in the subdivision has received more than 40 signatures in opposition of the proposed disconnection and annexation. Resident Mary Johnson said she and several of her neighbors would prefer a different solution involving an even closer entity -- the St. Charles Fire Department -- that wouldn't place a financial burden on taxpayers.

In a one-year deal that began May 1, the Kautz Road neighborhood started receiving primary fire and emergency medical services from St. Charles and the Tri-City Ambulance agency, which were then reimbursed by Fox River & Countryside for the property taxes collected in that area.

The agreement was negotiated after residents requested coverage from the city, which has a fire station roughly two miles away, Fox River Fire Chief John Nixon said at the time.

Before the contract expired April 30, St. Charles Fire Chief Scott Swanson said, his department reached out to Fox River & Countryside leaders, who did not request an extension and indicated “they had other plans in place for protection and coverage."

“I think we provided a nice bridge for (the fire district) for a year until they decided how they wanted to proceed,” city Administrator Mark Koenen said.

Residents believe renewing the deal with St. Charles would make the most sense for the “health, safety and welfare of the neighborhood,” Johnson said, noting it would also prevent their tax bills from spiking.

“The fire and rescue services are about saving lives,” she said. “It's never too late to do the right thing.”

But Handley said paying another entity to service properties within its jurisdiction is “not good policy” for a fire district.

West Chicago Fire Chief Patrick Tanner said he was approached by Fox River & Countryside officials in January and accepted their request to provide permanent service to the neighborhood.

“We will be able to respond to that area in a reasonable time, and we'll be able to provide service to that area without any problems whatsoever,” Tanner said, noting he doesn't anticipate a significant increase in calls or a need for more personnel.

The proposed disconnection will be considered by the Fox River & Countryside fire board at its Aug. 17 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at the 34W500 Carl Lee Road, St. Charles. West Chicago fire officials will discuss the annexation at a 7 p.m. meeting on Aug. 27 at 200 Fremont St., according to a public notice.

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