How Fox River & Countryside fire tax bills could double in April
Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District customers would see taxes paid to the district nearly double if they approve an April referendum trustees voted to put on the ballot this week.
The district's finances demonstrate the need for more money. It has less than one month's worth of operating reserves. It has no cash saved to replace aging equipment such as fire engines and ambulances.
The tax increase question comes as trustees have considered the consequences of involuntarily dissolving the district because of the cash shortage. The district collects about $2.5 million in taxes yearly. Staffing costs are about $1.62 million. District officials anticipate about $3.73 million in future equipment replacement costs.
The owner of a $300,000 home would see their taxes increase by about $258 if the increase passes.
The district's last attempt at passing a tax increase got clobbered by a 3-to-1 margin in April 2015.
The district has since cut costs by reducing staffing and moving to a partial part-time mode. It kept operations in the black by increasing service fees.
A tax increase would pump another $2.43 million into the district each year. That money would allow the district to double the number of fire engine personnel on duty at any time, allow ambulances to run with two paramedics and add a second medical crew to handle situations when multiple calls for service must be dealt with simultaneously. Those improvements will add about $750,000 in operating costs.
Ken Shepro, the district's attorney, said operations are not the problem.
"We can continue operations, theoretically, indefinitely," he said. "But at some point, you face the problem that you don't have equipment that works. Right now, the district couldn't afford to buy a new vehicle even if it wanted to."
Shepro said the number of service calls and wear and tear on vehicles and equipment surpassed anything expected by district trustees when the district split from the St. Charles Fire Department to form its own service in 2010.
Three of the five trustees behind that decision have since left the board, including former president Jim Gaffney. He has been a vocal critic of recent financial decisions made by his former colleagues. He is supporting new candidates James Wegman and Michael Safranski for board seats.