Fox River fire forgoes March referendum, battles with former president

 
 
Updated 12/14/2015 10:19 PM

March and, perhaps, the Ides of March were on the minds of Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District trustees Monday night. A decision on a possible spring tax increase referendum and a combative encounter with the district's former president provided a behind-the-scenes peek at issues surrounding the district's future.

The fire district barely mustered a quorum, with three trustees in attendance, to make the decision not to hold the March referendum. When Jim Gaffney, who resigned as president of the district in October, walked into the room with a tape recorder, it quickly became clear he wasn't there for a friendly chat.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Gaffney took notes as the trustees terminated a contract with the district's fire and ambulance service provider, Public Safety Systems, Inc. Fire Chief Carl DeLeo and the trustees confirmed the district will convert to a part-time fire and ambulance staff. A similar operating model exists in other nearby departments like Pingree Grove and Huntley. DeLeo said the fire district can save up to $300,000 a year with the change.

Gaffney audibly grumbled, to no reply, that he'd like to see where the savings is coming from. If the savings are true, trustees said they may forgo their next shot at putting a tax increase question on the ballot next November.

Trustees and Ken Shepro, the district's attorney, debated a resolution opposing the pending drug and alcohol treatment center that wants to be at the former Glenwood School property just outside of Campton Hills. Shepro told trustees he expects the facility will generate "a couple hundred ambulance calls" a year. That would be a burden not anticipated for the district's aging equipment.

"We really have received nothing in offers to mitigate he burden," Shepro said. When trustees indicated they did want to officially oppose the project on those grounds, Gaffney could no longer bite his tongue.

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"To me, that sounds like arm twisting," Gaffney said. "I don't like that as a resident of the district."

Gaffney said he'd support putting the property back on the tax rolls. He insinuated Shepro was trying to win points with Campton Hills residents by opposing the treatment center because Shepro is running for Kane County Board chairman.

The two exchanged verbal jabs. Shepro said he found Gaffney's views on the pending treatment center interesting because when he was still district president, Gaffney directed him to draft a letter opposing a previous version of the treatment center project unless an undisclosed financial agreement between the developer and the fire district was officially recognized by Campton Hills.

"I guess people change their mind when they are no longer in a position of responsibility," Shepro said.

Gaffney denied any quid pro quo.

"Nobody was twisting arms," Gaffney said. "We never put any parameters on it that we wouldn't support something unless we get something in return."

Gaffney said the calls from the new treatment center would fund the purchase of a new ambulance if the emergency call volume hit Shepro's expectations. That's a good thing, Gaffney said.

At that point, Bob Handley, the new district president, urged an end to the exchange and the meeting. Trustees said they planned to attend the public hearing on the treatment center with the Kane County Zoning Board of Appeals later Monday night.

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