St. Charles area fire district to go private?

 
 
Updated 11/22/2010 11:44 PM

Meet the St. Charles Countryside Fire Protection District with a new name Fox River and Countryside Fire Rescue.

And after Wednesday, the district could change more.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

District officials wouldn't provide details but confirmed they are exploring options to provide fire and ambulance services to its nearly 25,000 residents without using the St. Charles Fire Department.

Trustees will host a news conference Wednesday morning to make an announcement and answer questions.

The district did give official notice to the Tri-City Ambulance Association that it may not be part of the association come next year. The district must give a full year's notice to withdraw. Likewise, the district's contract for fire protection with St. Charles expires at the end of April 2011.

"The demographics from the '70s and '80s have changed," district President Jim Gaffney said. "Certain issues need to be addressed, and we're addressing them. We're strapped for cash. First and foremost for us is your safety. I guarantee that what we do will be for the benefit of you people. But there is nothing that is set in concrete yet."

Gaffney said district officials are exploring two or three options.

One company they've had discussions with is American Emergency Services, which is also in the process of renovating property on Gilbert Street for "future use."

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It also appears the marketing strategy of the district will change as trustees voted to change the name of the district to Fox River and Countryside Fire Rescue effective Jan. 1. Trustees said the new name is an attempt to reflect the district's broad geographical service area and independence from the city of St. Charles.

Indeed, many questions remain, including the impact to St. Charles and the Tri-City Ambulance Association. The loss of income and service area to both bodies would certainly have financial ramifications. Fire protection district officials said those groups already are examining the impact to their organizations.

There is also a question about how the fire protection district can afford other private options. Trustees already expect the district to run out of money within the next couple of years. Any change would either have to result in a savings or eventual tax increase to be viable.

Trustees already locked in a tax levy that will generate just under $2.2 million for the district next year. They also committed to not placing any kind of tax increase referendum on the April ballot. At the same time, Gaffney said district residents thinking they may not want to stick with the district if privatization occurs should realize no other fire protection district of its size in the area has a lower tax rate.

"I think the bang for your dollar is pretty dang good right now," Gaffney said.