Burlington fire district seeks voter approval of new tort tax
Burlington Community Fire Protection District is seeking voter approval April 4 of a new tax rate for tort liability, workers' compensation and risk management purposes.
The district -- serving 2,500 residents within 49 square miles in Kane and DeKalb counties -- does not have enough funds available to cover these costs and a rejection could affect its ability to provide adequate emergency services, according to the fire chief.
The district collects $587,761 in yearly taxes, and supplements expenses with grants. The proposed tax would be for 0.145 percent of the equalized assessed value of all taxable property within the district, increasing the total amount levied to $689,942. A property owner with a home valued at $200,000 can expect to pay roughly $96 more annually.
Voters last March rejected the district's request for a new tax aimed at replacing aging equipment and balancing operational deficits.
Fire Chief Craig Whyte said without the new revenue the district had to cut salaries across the board by 10 percent and eliminated personal days and reduced vacation time for its two full-time firefighter/paramedics. The district has about 30 part-time employees.
"If it fails again this time, we will probably have to eliminate the two full-time positions and replace them with part-time positions," said Whyte, who has served as part-time fire chief since 2004. "We do cover the ambulance 24/7. We will still maintain the same level of service, but right now we are relying very heavily on our neighboring communities -- Pingree Grove, Hampshire, Sycamore and Fox River and Countryside -- for assistance."
The fire department, which started as a volunteer service in 1939, added ambulance service in 1974. Emergency calls have increased 25 percent in the past four years, and last year the district responded to 375 calls, Whyte said.
"The calls are definitely on the increase. Budgetwise, we are working on the same dollars today as we did 10 years ago," he said. "We are now diverting money from gear, tool, and equipment replacement, maintenance, vehicle replacement and training ... to offset the $80,000 for insurance."
Once those funds are freed up, the district can start saving up for replacement equipment and gear as it has no money in reserves, Whyte said.
"Front engines should be replaced every 15 years," Whyte said. "Our two fire engines are both over 20 years old. The cost of those replacements is over $700,000. Ambulances should be replaced every 10 years. Ours are going on between 15 and 20 years old. Those cost $250,000 a piece."
National Fire Protection Association guidelines require firefighters' gear to be replaced every 10 years. A complete set of gear costs $5,000.
A public Q&A session on the tax request is set for 6 p.m. March 29 at the Burlington fire station, 154 South St.