No to ambulance tax may mean cuts in Antioch area

  • Antioch Fire Chief John Nixon says voter denial of a new tax for ambulance service will cause village and fire officials to consider service options.

    Antioch Fire Chief John Nixon says voter denial of a new tax for ambulance service will cause village and fire officials to consider service options. Steve Lundy/DAILY HERALD, 2013

 
 

Voter denial Tuesday of ballot questions to establish a tax for ambulance service has officials in Antioch and Antioch Township scrambling to determine what's next.

Immediate changes aren't envisioned but service cuts translating to longer response times are possibilities in coming weeks or months as village and First Fire Protection District leaders explore options for continued operations. Whether voters should be asked again for support next spring is another tough question to be answered as the weight of a $2.7 million annual budget strains other areas.

"Antioch has been a cultural anomaly to have a core service that was not funded in any way by tax money. People are astounded by that fact," Village Administrator James Keim said. "That is now a service the governments and entities that exist have to provide and there is a void in funding. It's not easily understood."

Voters in the village and in Antioch Township defeated questions to establish a property tax to provide ambulance service to about 27,000 residents. The measure would have raised an estimated $1.5 million the first year and cost the owner of a property valued at $100,000 an additional $835. Unofficial figures showed voters opposed the measure 2,139 to 1,925 in the village and 2,018 to 1,417 in the township.

Ambulance service for fire or rescue calls in the Antioch area since 1938 had been provided by the Antioch Rescue Squad, a nonprofit group funded by fees and donations. That changed in May when the fire protection district of Antioch did not renew the contract and decided to consolidate operations in the village and township under the Antioch Fire Department.

The move followed problems at the rescue squad, including a sexual harassment lawsuit followed by an investigation by the Illinois Department of Public Health that found some members mistreated patients and abused medications among other issues. Also, a former treasurer pleaded guilty to theft of more than $10,000.

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The Antioch Fire Department uses part-time paid-on-call firefighters and contracts for paramedic service. The department and fire district share three stations and equipment. Costs are split by the village through its general fund, which covers a variety of day-to-day operations, and the fire protection district through its cash reserves. While each entity can tax for fire operations, they need voter approval to do so for emergency medical services, which are the measures that failed, Antioch Fire Chief John Nixon said.

Operations had been expanded at the third fire station to improve response time, according to Nixon. The goal was to make that permanent and have three fully-staffed stations to cover a 36-square-mile area. But that may not be possible.

"What do you do when there are three calls and two stations? That's what we're struggling with," Nixon said. By being spread thinner, the national standard response time for emergency medical care of 6 minutes may not be met in every coverage area, he added.

"It is a tough situation. We're not throwing our hands up in the area and walking away. It may mean service reductions and we'll have to figure out what that means to the communities we serve," Nixon said.

The village is in an unsustainable mode regarding revenues and overall services it provides, Keim said.

"It could involve cutbacks in other departments as well," he said.

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