Endorsement: Antioch ambulance service: Yes
New taxes are never an easy sell, but extra care must be taken by voters when deciding ballot issues that involve public safety. Such is the case when voters in Antioch and Antioch Township will be asked separately April 7 to approve a tax increase to generate about $1.5 million a year to fund ambulance service to both areas.
If approved, the measure would cost the owner of a home valued at $172,000 about $142 per year in additional property taxes. It's the same question voters defeated in November. Village and fire officials say they believe it was rejected primarily because voters were unaware of the issue, and they have taken steps to correct that this time.
Despite the ballot redo, the issues remain the same. Currently, fire and rescue services in the village and in the unincorporated area are provided by the Antioch Fire Department with two full-time employees and a paid-on-call crew. There are dedicated funds for fire service, but officials from Antioch and the First Fire Protection District say no funding is dedicated for ambulance service -- it accounts for about three quarters of the 2,700 annual calls.
The department took on ambulance service last May after the volunteer Antioch Rescue Squad's contract was not renewed. Since then, officials have cut services and dipped into reserves to try to cover the costs. Another ballot defeat would put a greater funding strain on other village services, such as road repairs, as the money would have to be shifted from the general fund budget that pays for day-to-day expenses, officials said.
It would also result in emergency service cuts and a likely increase in ambulance response times, as one of three fire stations would remain closed. Whether the closed fire station was a factor in the death of an Antioch resident in a house fire last week remains an open question, but the tragedy did serve as a sad reminder of the need for a well-staffed, responsive fire and emergency services.
If the questions are approved, the tax revenue would not arrive until 2016. Village officials would continue using general funds and fire district officials said they would borrow until the money arrives. We recommend voters in Antioch and Antioch Township support the increase.