Hampshire fire district asks voters for additional station, more staff

The village of Hampshire started nearly 100 years ago with 700 residents and one fire station. Today, it still has one fire station but 14 times the population to serve.

With further residential and industrial growth, and the expectation of a quadrupling of train traffic in town, fire district officials believe it's time to add a second station.

But it won't come cheap.

The Hampshire Fire District has two referendum questions on the June primary ballot. One question asks voters to approve a 20-year bond that will bring in $4.5 million. That money will pay for the construction of a 9,500-square-foot station on land the district already owns by Hampshire High School.

The cost of saying "yes" to that question is $25 per $100,000 of assessed property value. In other words, the owner of a $300,000 home will pay $75 more in property taxes for the next 20 years. At that point, the bond debt will be repaid.

But a second fire station won't do much to improve fire service without adding firefighters to the department to staff that station.

That is why the second referendum question asks voters for more money to increase the district's operating budget to hire those new firefighters. The cost of saying "yes" to that question is an additional $33 per $100,000 of assessed property value. The owner of a $300,000 home will pay $99 more in property taxes to the district.

That's a combined property tax increase of $174 per year for the owner of a $300,000 home.

Hampshire Fire Chief Trevor Herrmann said he knows that is a big ask during times of rampant inflation. But it will take two years to build a new fire station even if voters approve the money. And the district needs that fire station now, Herrmann said.

"It's not good timing, but it's about life safety," he said. "They're building homes, and there's all kinds of development and commercial development going on up there. And then there's all the traffic, all of the industrial parks, all of the truck stops. You throw all of that in and just think that we're still working with one fire station. We're already behind the eight ball. We need to get this done."

Average response times to the part of the district that will be served by the second fire station hit as high as 15 minutes, according to the 2021 annual stats on the district's website.

Herrmann recently told the Hampshire Village Board any response times to heart attacks and strokes longer than 6 minutes rapidly reduce the chance of survival. The second fire station will serve that area, cutting those response times under 6 minutes, Herrmann said.

If voters reject either or both tax increases, district officials will put the question or questions back on the November ballot. If voters approve only the bond request, the district will build the station but not staff it. If voters approve only the operating budget increase, the district will add more personnel to the existing station until voters approve the new station.

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