Fox River fire district examining alternative to tax hike
Another failed tax increase request would be the worst outcome from efforts to maintain the financial solvency of the Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District. So to avoid that, district trustees may not ask voters for a tax increase at all.
Trustees met with the district's fire and ambulance service provider, Maryland-based Public Safety Systems Inc., on Tuesday to find a way to cut costs.
"Everybody would love to do the referendum, but it was 3-to-1 against it last time," said district President Bob Handley. "We know the chance of success is slim. Like any organization, our biggest line item is personnel. So we're going to look at staffing, but we've got to keep the safety of the guys in mind."
A month ago, trustees introduced the idea of cutting ambulance service. But fire calls represent less than 20 percent of the district's workload. That makes a change to staffing far more likely, said Ken Shepro, the fire district's attorney.
One option that may make sense is staffing engines and ambulances entirely with a part-time staff. Shepro said several other local departments, including Pingree Grove, use that model and more may be headed that way.
"I think it's a model that you're going to see more and more departments move toward," Shepro said.
The viability of that model for the district, and its ability to at least defer a tax increase request will be key aspects trustees will weigh in the decision for if and when to hold a referendum. Aside from personnel, the district has some major capital replacement costs looming, including the replacement of a 30-year-old fire engine.
District trustees have until Dec. 28 to put a tax increase question on the March ballot. They will meet Dec. 14 to make a decision.
If trustees don't put a question on the ballot in March, Shepro said, it's unlikely voters would see a tax increase question until 2017 at the earliest. Conventional wisdom says most taxing districts should avoid tax increase questions when presidential races are on the ballot, he said.
Those elections tend to have higher voter turnouts with more people voting "no" on tax increases regardless of how much they know about the ballot question.