Will cash-strapped Fox River & Countryside Fire District outsource service?
Taxpayers receiving fire and ambulance service from the Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District may soon see their emergency needs sold off to the lowest bidder.
District officials recently discussed how to address the bare coffers used to pay the staff and buy and maintain equipment. A failed tax increase request in April left few options. Problems collecting money the Kane County jail owes the district are adding to the financial pressures.
One option is to attempt another tax increase request. The April question to voters would have nearly doubled the amount of taxes flowing into the district -- which receives $2.43 million per year -- but more than 60 percent of the voters said "no."
With that poor track record, Ken Shepro, the district's attorney, said officials would consider requesting proposals from neighboring fire districts to cover all or part of the service area.
Every neighboring fire service charges more than double what the Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District does for fire and ambulance assistance. The hope is creating competition for the service area may at least see some lowering of prices.
Another option would be to maintain ambulance operations and contract with a neighboring district for fire calls. It's not clear if such a deal would be attractive to any other provider. Fire calls account for less than one-sixth of the volume of ambulance requests in the district.
Yet another option would involve returning to what worked in the past -- getting fire and ambulance service from St. Charles. The district divorced itself from the city several years ago over a price dispute. The city owns land on Red Gate Road intended for the construction of a new firehouse that would have catered mainly to Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District customers.
Fire district officials will try to collect debts already owed to help pay bills. Shepro said the district made $180,000 in emergency calls to the county jail last year. It collected about $1,000 of that total.
The county contracts with a private company for medical service at the jail. In an emergency situation, that provider calls the fire district. Shepro said the provider sends the bills for the ambulance rides to the inmates.
"Interestingly enough, most of the inmates don't pay," Shepro said. "The fact is that the people liable for the service bill are the people who call for the service. That's certainly the county's medical provider and maybe the county as well."
District officials will reach out to Kane County Sheriff Don Kramer and the county board members who represent the area the fire district serves for help in making good on the debt.
"Our residents are basically subsidizing everyone who needs an ambulance at the jail," Shepro said.
The $180,000 represents about 8 percent of the district's annual budget.