Bartlett Fire Protection District trustees Wednesday approved a March 20 referendum question asking voters for a 21 percent increase to the district's own property tax levy -- expected to raise the average homeowner's annual payment to the district from $469 to $569, they said.

The increase is aimed at keeping services at their current level and avoid specific staffing cuts Fire Chief Michael Falese recommended after voters rejected a similar request last April.

Officials expressed concern that voters would be confused by the 21 percent stated in the question, and not recognize it in the context of their overall tax bill.

In fact, less than 6 cents of property owners' tax bills go to the fire protection district and voter approval of the levy increase would increase that only to 7 cents.

Falese said the district's calls are increasing annually -- up to about 4,000 per year -- but its tax revenue has increased only 3 percent over the past eight years.

The requested tax increase was calculated to cost the average homeowner of the district less than $8.30 per month. Though Cook and DuPage counties calculate property taxes slightly differently, the impact estimate was based on the home values in the fire district as a whole, Falese said.

Last summer, the chief shared his recommendations with the trustees on how to keep services affordable if voters don't allow the levy to be increased beyond the restrictions of the tax cap.

They include reducing the number of responders per shift from 14 to 11 and closing one of the district's three stations on a rotating basis throughout the year.

The three staff members per shift who would be cut are the one "paid-on-premises" firefighter and two private contractors who provide a lower-cost supplement to the 10 more experienced union employees and their battalion chief.

Because the district's three engines and two ambulances require a specific number of people, the only way to reduce staff effectively is to take a whole vehicle out of operation -- in this case, an engine, Falese said.