Antioch, fire district will again seek tax for ambulance service
Fallout from a failed referendum request for ambulance service in and around Antioch has begun, sparking plans to again ask voters to approve a new tax to pay for the calls.
As of 6 a.m. Dec. 1, the on-duty staff at the Antioch Fire Department was reduced from 11 to eight, leaving one of the three district stations unstaffed.
That means fewer people are covering a 36-square-mile area in and around the village, with no crew on duty at Station 3, 24675 W. Grass Lake Road. Stations at 700 Deep Lake Road and 835 Holbek Drive each will be staffed with a crew of four.
"We're experiencing longer response times," Fire Chief John Nixon said Thursday. "We haven't had any significant incidents besides routine ambulance and routine fire calls, fortunately."
Funding has been an issue since last May, when the fire district did not renew a contract with the Antioch Rescue Squad and consolidated operations under the Antioch Fire Department. That left the district and village to split the cost of ambulance service.
But with no specific property tax line item as a source of funding, both began burning through reserves.
In November, voters in Antioch and the unincorporated areas of the fire district by an overall 4-3 ratio rejected a question that would have established a taxing category for ambulance service. The request would have cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 about $83 each year and provided a total of $1.5 million annually for ambulance service.
Within the past two weeks, fire and village officials in separate actions authorized placing the same question on the April 7 general election ballot.
"We only asked for what was necessary. That's why the question is the same," Nixon said. The request will be 25 cents per $100 in assessed valuation compared to the maximum allowed 40 cents per $100 assessed valuation, he added.
Antioch Village Administrator Jim Keim said there potentially were other referendum options, such as a non-home-rule community sales tax, but the village board determined a separate tax for emergency medical services was the most appropriate.
Village funding for the service comes from its general fund, which pays for all day-to-day services, a situation that didn't exist previously.
At the same time, the village board is considering reductions in other services to plug the gap.
"There are some very tough issues and important issues before them," Keim said of the village board.
Nixon and Keim agree there is a need for voter education on the issues. Both entities can provide information, but neither can advocate for or against the question.
"It's not an easily understood situation to have a core service not have a level of funding," Keim said. Nixon said Antioch was the only department in Lake County that doesn't have a real estate tax for emergency medical service.
"We can't rely on donations to survive," he said.
He added there were misconceptions before the last vote that will need to be clarified.
The department has no plan to convert to full-time firefighters, as that would require pension payments and other expenses, for example. He also said there is no legal requirement that ambulance service be provided. If the referendum request fails again, ambulance service could be curtailed or eliminated, officials said.