Antioch voters to decide whether to fund rescue services

  • Antioch Fire Chief John Nixon

    Antioch Fire Chief John Nixon

  • Antioch Fire Chief John Nixon said Antioch and Antioch Township voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to create a new property tax rate dedicated to funding ambulance and emergency medical services.

      Antioch Fire Chief John Nixon said Antioch and Antioch Township voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to create a new property tax rate dedicated to funding ambulance and emergency medical services. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/6/2014 12:08 PM

Antioch fire officials have said publicly since May that a new funding method is needed for ambulance and rescue services in Antioch and Antioch Township.

The Antioch Fire Department and the First Fire Protection District of Antioch are losing money under the current system of spending cash reserves to pay for those services for the area's 27,000 residents, said Antioch Fire Chief John Nixon.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The solution, Nixon said, is to create a new property tax rate dedicated to ambulance and emergency medical services that mirrors the amount collected annually to pay for fire services.

"If we do not come up with a way to collect for EMS service, we would either have to find alternative ways to fund it or scale back response," he said, adding the fire department fields about 2,000 rescue calls a year at its three fire stations.

Antioch-area voters will make that decision through targeted referendum questions on the Nov. 4 ballot -- one for village residents and one for those outside of the village in Antioch Township.

The referendums will ask voters to create a new property tax rate of 25 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation to pay for ambulance and rescue services. The tax would cost the owner of a property valued at $100,000 about $83 in the first year.

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If approved, Nixon said, the new tax rate would generate about $1.5 million in the first year. The new revenue would mostly fund personnel and equipment maintenance, he said, but some money would be put aside for a capital replacement program.

The need for the referendum surfaced in May after the Antioch Rescue Squad was not offered a contract to continue serving township residents after 75 years of operations.

The volunteer rescue squad operated without a tax rate and received most of its operating funds from donations.

Fire district officials decided to place all rescue and ambulance calls in the village and township under one, unified command of the Antioch Fire Department.

When the decision was made to cut ties with the Antioch Rescue Squad -- brought on, in part, because of its legal troubles and fines from Illinois Department of Public Health -- Nixon said a tax referendum would be needed to help fund ambulance and rescue services.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Two-thirds of the fire district's cash reserves have been spent to cover the cost for ambulance and EMS since taking over district rescue calls, Nixon said. Reports show it costs about $35,000 a month to fund those operations.

Minor adjustments could be noticed in the current service if voters approve both ballot measures, Nixon said.

More significant changes would be needed if voters in the village or the township reject the measure.

If village residents reject the question, Antioch Trustee Dennis Crosby said, leaders will have to cut back on other village services to pay for ambulance and EMS. The money would have to come from the village's general fund, and trustees would have to weigh options against the cost of "keeping village residents safe," Crosby said.

"For example, we didn't do any road resurfacing in Antioch last year because we had to fund ambulance services," he said. "We have parades that need to be paid for, public works that need to be paid for, road work that needs to be paid for, but we only have a minimal amount of money to get everything done. There are only so many ways to spend money coming in."

If the question fails at the township level, it would most likely result in cuts to the ambulance and rescue services, officials said.

"You can't run an ambulance (and rescue) service if there isn't any money," Antioch Township Supervisor Steve Smouse said. "So, if it doesn't pass, they'll just have to find away to run it for less money."

Nixon said township residents would most likely see fewer paramedics at fire district stations, resulting in longer wait times for ambulances. It could also mean the fire district would have to hire a more costly outside private agency to handle ambulance calls, he said.

"We would still send paramedics to all calls, but it means that they may need to use a private ambulance service for transport to a hospital," he said. "That cost would need to be picked up by the user."

Smouse said he is neutral on the referendum, but added, "It would make life easier for everyone if it passed."

"I'm waiting to see what the voters want to do at this point," he said.

"It would he helpful if it passed. We'd get the money in for (ambulance service) and be solvent."

About 100 voters have attended two town hall meetings on the referendum, Nixon said.

The third will take place at fire station #1, 835 Holbek Drive, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 9.

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