Fox Lake fire district seeks tax increase April 7
Citing concerns about aging equipment and adequate manpower at fire stations in unincorporated areas, Fox Lake Fire Protection District officials are going to voters next month with a tax-increase proposal.
At issue, Chief Ron Hoehne said, is a need to add at least three full-time paramedics to the ranks and to boost funding for the district's vehicle maintenance fund in response to an 8 percent rise in emergency calls last year.
Hoehne said the district currently staffs two full-time paramedics per work shift at fire stations on Molidor Road in Ingleside and on Main Street in Spring Grove. Each station operates three work shifts with paramedics working 24 hours, then taking 48 hours off, he said.
To bring staffing to a minimum level, the district needs to add three paramedics -- one per shift -- to the Molidor Road station, he said. Staffing at the Spring Grove station would not be affected.
"It would be three full-time employees to start, just to get us back to minimum staffing levels," Hoehne said. "But we could add more depending on our call volume and revenue in the future."
The referendum question on the April 7 ballot asks voters to more than double the property tax rate to the fire district for ambulance service from .133 to .350 per $100 equalized assessed value, marking a 21.7-cent increase.
If it is approved, the owner of a $100,000 home would see their property taxes increase about $72 per year, Hoehne said. It would generate about $850,000 in new revenue to the fire district in the first year, he said.
Because of a three-year contract in place, voters in the village of Fox Lake are not a part of the referendum. He said the fire district covers 33,000 residents over 30 miles, but the question is only for the 22,000 residents living outside of the village limits.
The new money would be used to add paramedics, replenish reserve funds and establish a heavy equipment replacement fund, Hoehne said.
"We have had the same ambulance tax in the district since 1978," he said. "We have never gone to the voters seeking additional revenue for the fire district. But, we just hit a point where we have to at this point."
Officials said there is no organized opposition to the ballot issue so far. However, Hoehne said, he understands why people are against paying more taxes.
"We have really debated going to the voters for a few years," he said. "We just don't have a choice right now."
Similar to other areas in region, home values in the district have dropped, and that has translated into falling tax revenues since 2008, Hoehne said. The district's equalized assessed value fell from $580 million in 2008 to $396 million in 2013, he said.
In addition, the emergency call volume has increased throughout since 2013, he said. The district responded to 3,282 calls in 2013, and saw that number rise by 265 calls in 2014, he said.
"We had to dip into our minimal reserves to get through last year," Hoehne said. "We are operating a break-even budget now. But if anything catastrophic happens or if there's a big-ticket break down with our equipment, it would really hurt."
The district currently has a fleet of 26 vehicles, including fire engines, ambulances, pumpers, dive boats and fire brush trucks. The cost of maintaining that fleet is becoming more expensive, especially as the vehicles become older and see more use because of increased emergency calls, Hoehne said.
If voters approve the increase, the Fox Lake fire district's ambulance rate would be in line with what those in Fox River Grove, Long Grove, Lake Villa Township and Lake Zurich pay for similar services, he said.
Grant Township Supervisor Kay Starostovic said she is concerned about staffing levels at fire stations that serve the township.
"I feel like this is a necessity because I would hate to see anything happen because of a lack of personnel," she said.