Bartlett Fire District to step up referendum planning

  • Bartlett Fire Protection District officials are planning for a March 2018 tax-hike referendum to maintain current service levels after voters rejected a tax hike last April.

    Bartlett Fire Protection District officials are planning for a March 2018 tax-hike referendum to maintain current service levels after voters rejected a tax hike last April. Eric Peterson | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/20/2017 10:28 AM

Bartlett Fire Protection District officials will get more specific in August about their plans for a March 2018 tax-hike referendum to maintain services at their current level.

Fire Chief Michael Falese told district trustees Wednesday that his administration team would present a plan and timeline for such a referendum at the trustees' Aug. 16 meeting.

 

But board President James McCarthy said the probability is low that all the math necessary to determine the appropriate increase of the property tax levy would be done before the final quarter of the year.

Nevertheless, he said he believes efforts to educate the public about the need for an increase in light of the district's current financial forecast can begin before that.

Late last month, trustees gathered to discuss a plan to adapt the district's services and staffing levels in response to 59.5 percent of voters rejecting a requested 19.5 percent tax-levy increase in April.

But they felt the plan would have enough of a negative impact on the community that it was worth asking voters one more time for a tax hike that would avert it.

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The proposed plan entails losing one fire engine, as well as the three firefighters per shift who operate it, along with a rotating closure of one of the district's three fire stations.

Falese said that in comparison with other fire districts in the region, Bartlett's has a significantly increasing volume of calls coupled with an extremely low tax rate.

His proposed plan, outside of a tax increase, is to reduce the number of responders per shift from 14 to 11.

The three per shift that would be cut are the one "paid-on-premises" firefighter and two private contractors who provide a lower-cost supplement to the 10 more experienced union employees and battalion chief.

Because the district's three engines and two ambulances require a specific number of people each, the only way to reduce staffing effectively is to take a vehicle out of operation, Falese said. Otherwise, the district must pay overtime to fill the vacancies on the vehicle.

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