Prospect Heights voters to decide between tax hike or fire district cuts

  • Prospect Heights firefighter/paramedic Mike Pacocha, right, works with partner Matt Dyer checking their supplies after responding to a call. Voters will decide March 20 whether to approve a tax hike to prevent staff and service cuts at the Prospect Heights Fire Protection District.

    Prospect Heights firefighter/paramedic Mike Pacocha, right, works with partner Matt Dyer checking their supplies after responding to a call. Voters will decide March 20 whether to approve a tax hike to prevent staff and service cuts at the Prospect Heights Fire Protection District. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Prospect Heights voters will decide whether to approve a tax hike that will cost the average taxpayer an additional $34 in property taxes for the fire protection district in the March 20 election.

    Prospect Heights voters will decide whether to approve a tax hike that will cost the average taxpayer an additional $34 in property taxes for the fire protection district in the March 20 election. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Prospect Heights Fire Chief Drew Smith says if voters reject a tax-hike referendum next month staff and service cuts will be needed.

    Prospect Heights Fire Chief Drew Smith says if voters reject a tax-hike referendum next month staff and service cuts will be needed. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 2/20/2018 5:33 PM

The Prospect Heights Fire Protection District is asking voters to approve a property tax hike March 20 that would allow it to avoid staff and service cuts, but cost the average taxpayer an extra $34 a year.

District officials say the increase is necessary to maintain current staffing levels, properly respond to service calls and replace emergency vehicles. If it's not passed, the cuts could cause property insurance costs to increase, officials say.

 

The proposed tax increase would help offset large losses in property values over the past decade, officials say. They say districtwide property values have declined $200 million, or 40 percent, since 2008.

"Our goal here is to maintain the status quo, to not have to reduce the number of on-duty firefighters any further, and put some money away for replacement of apparatuses," Fire Chief Drew Smith said.

Smith said the department will have to layoff one firefighter per shift without a tax increase. This would limit the fire department's responses, Smith said.

For example, firefighters wouldn't be able to respond to two serious incidents simultaneously. The ability to respond with a tanker truck would also be reduced, officials said. Responding with a tanker truck -- which transports water to fires -- is important in Prospect Heights because about 70 percent of the city doesn't have fire hydrants.

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Over the past five years, the fire protection district has cut about $500,000 in personnel to balance the budget, officials said. That included reducing the number of administration positions to two from five.

A reduction of on-duty firefighters could affect insurance service office, or ISO, ratings that insurance companies use to determine premium costs. Smith believes an increase in fire insurance costs would be greater than the tax hike.

"Would you rather pay $34 to maintain fire protection or pay more on fire insurance for less protection?" Smith said.

The fire protection district also plans to replace three aging emergency vehicles over the next three years, including a ladder truck, pumper and ambulance, as well as complete maintenance on the stations.

The fire protection district receives about 92 percent of its revenues from property taxes, 7 percent from ambulance transportation fees and 1 percent from miscellaneous sources.

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