Algonquin-Lake in the Hills fire district ask voters for tax increase

 
 
Updated 12/30/2015 12:19 PM

Citing health insurance costs and aging apparatus, the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Protection District will ask voters for a property tax hike on March 15.

The fire protection district wants to levy a new tax for equipment purposes and emergency and rescue crews at a rate of 0.1 percent of taxable property value, as per state law.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

If voters approve the additional tax during the March 2016 election, a home with a market value of $200,000 would pay an additional $67 in property taxes per year, Fire Chief Peter Van Dorpe said.

From the district's roughly 40,000 residents, the tax would generate about $900,000 in additional revenue -- money that Van Dorpe said may be vital in future years.

"If we don't act now, we're just going to be in trouble down the road," he said.

The fire district is facing a $600,000 hole in its nearly $10 million budget, Van Dorpe said.

Though the district formerly operated a commercial fire alarm system, which generated $400,000 per year, a recent federal decision to prohibit such systems forced the district to shut down the operation.

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Additionally, Van Dorpe said the district will soon have to provide health insurance to its nearly 20 part-time employees, which will cost about $200,000 per year.

Van Dorpe added that property values within the district have declined 34 percent since 2010 -- "a significant hit," he said, because the village's main source of revenue comes from property taxes.

To save money, the district has already cut its administrative staff by 40 percent and reduced the number of firefighters in the station from 19 to 15 per day, Van Dorpe said. An assistant chief position has been civilianized, and all information technology work is being contracted out.

"We've taken some significant steps to keep our budget balanced," Van Dorpe said. "We've done what we can do to reduce operating expenses, but it's just not keeping up."

In addition to filling the hole in the budget, the new tax would go toward capital improvement projects, such as purchasing new apparatus. A new ambulance, for example, costs roughly $260,000, a fire truck is $600,000, and a rescue ladder truck is upward of $1 million, Van Dorpe said.

"If we're not preparing to replace those things as they need to be replaced, then (we'd be) running around in unreliable apparatus," he said. "Right now, we're not in trouble. Our response times are decent, and our fleet is in good shape. We just want to be able to keep it that way."

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