Financial struggles burden Fox River fire district trustees, residents

  • Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District Chief Carl DeLeo, right, will be at the forefront of any changes brought on by financial challenges the district is facing. Trustees Terry Jeglum, left, and John Gamboa are part of the team who will decide if and how to ask taxpayers for more money.

      Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District Chief Carl DeLeo, right, will be at the forefront of any changes brought on by financial challenges the district is facing. Trustees Terry Jeglum, left, and John Gamboa are part of the team who will decide if and how to ask taxpayers for more money. James fuller | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted10/27/2015 5:40 AM

The difference between the tax increase Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District trustees can put in place on their own, and the tax increase only voters can give them, boils down to survival. Trustees tentatively locked in one increase Monday night. The big request may come as soon as next month.

Trustees got their first look at the new tax levy plan Monday. That levy goes after the maximum tax increase allowed under tax cap law. It comes down to a 1.67 percent increase over the current levy. It will raise the property tax bill of a $300,000 home in the district by about $4, assuming no change in the value of that home next year. The increase would net about $40,000 in new income for the district.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Though that may not be enough for the district to survive. The levy will earn a total of about $2.52 million, which represents 94 percent of the district's income. The budgeted expenditures for the current year are about $3.5 million. Coming into the year, the district had a reserve fund of only $48,000. Trustees sold off a parcel of rental property for a one-time boost of the reserve fund. It now stands at about $1.7 million. With aging equipment, that piggy bank won't stay full for long.

As a result, new district President Bob Handley urged fellow trustees to decide in November if the district will ask voters for a tax increase. It's most recent request, which came just this past April, failed by a 3-to-1 margin. Trustees have not yet decided how much money to ask for or what format the tax increase would take. The April question would have phased-in a tax increase over five years. The vote next month seems to be a mere formality.

Trustees have already begun very early discussions about what to do if another tax increase request fails. There are only two options on the table.

Handley broke it down into a succinct scenario: "Do we dissolve, or do we hobble along and just provide fire service?"

In the first scenario, the district would cease to exist. Fire and ambulance service would then, most likely, be provided by a neighboring fire district or department, all of which have higher tax rates than the Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District. In the second scenario, the district would still exist. It would only offer fire service and advanced life support via the fire engine crew. However, it would not be able to transport any patients to the hospital. That service would have to come from outside the district.

Trustees will discuss the details of how that setup could work, vote on whether to ask voters for a tax increase and lock in the tax levy increase for next year at their next meeting on Nov. 23.

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