Bloomingdale fire district seeks funds to provide better service

Facing equipment demands from hospitals, repair needs at three buildings and high-mileage issues with ambulances and fire trucks, the Bloomingdale Fire Protection District is asking voters for a tax increase on the March 20 ballot.

But before the proposed increase of $4.5 million potentially could go into effect, property owners will see at least a one-year decrease in the amount they owe the district, totaling roughly $40 for the owner of a $300,000 home, fire Chief Jeffrey Janus said.

A tax increase approved in the late 1990s, to build the headquarters at 179 S. Bloomingdale Road, expired in 2016. So 2017 property taxes, due this year, will reflect the decrease.

That's part of the reason the district is choosing this month's primary election to seek new money to buy hospital-required equipment for ambulances, make improvements to three stations and replace aging ambulances and engines, officials said.

The district, which covers 19.5 square miles and handles a yearly average of 4,500 calls, wants to spend $513,000 on equipment, $827,000 on facilities and $3.1 million on vehicles during the next 10 years.

The proposed tax increase would give the district roughly $518,000 a year to spend on those needs, accountant James Howard said. To borrow the $4.5 million at an estimated rate of 2.85 percent would cost an additional $750,000 in interest over the life of the loan, he said.

If voters approve the spending, the tax increase would go into effect on the 2018 bill, paid in 2019. It would add back this year's $40 decrease, so the owner of a $300,000 house again would owe the district roughly $661.

"The taxpayer won't see a difference between what they're paying now and what they'll pay if the referendum is approved," Battalion Chief Richard Kurka said. "We really didn't want to create a burden on the taxpayers. This is what they're used to paying."

Buying new equipment for ambulances will be the first priority.

"We'd like to provide that sooner because it gives us better service," Kurka said.

Equipment needs include new electrocardiogram monitors, which have more sensors to provide a better picture of how the heart is functioning; new video laryngoscope devices, which give paramedics a view while inserting an airway tube down a patient's throat; as well as new CPR devices and extrication tools.

Replacing vehicles is the next priority, especially a 2010 ambulance known as medic 21, which has 119,480 miles. The other two ambulances, from 2009 and 2013, aren't far behind at 88,130 and 74,665 miles, respectively.

Kurka said the district likes to replace ambulances every five to seven years, but has delayed some purchases because of budget constraints. Buying two new ambulances during the 10-year loan would cost $500,000. The district also wants to replace three fire engines at $600,000 each.

Upgrading equipment and buying new vehicles will help the district live up to the standards of its 40,000 residents, in Bloomingdale as well as parts of Addison, Glendale Heights, Hanover Park, Itasca, Medinah, Roselle and unincorporated DuPage County.

"Residents expect fire trucks and trained people to show up," Janus said.

Those "trained people" show up from two fire stations staffed 24 hours a day by 46 full-time employees, 10 paid on-call firefighters, one part-time administrative assistant and one contract accountant. Both of the stations are in need of repairs, as is the district's third facility, which is used for training but not staffed at all times, Janus said.

Station 22, built in 1969 at 6N480 Keeney Road, is the oldest and the location used only for training. It needs $350,000 in structural repairs.

Station 23, built in 1993, needs fixes to the garage floor where fire trucks and ambulances are parked, as well as bathroom and office upgrades worth a total of $215,000.

Station 21, the headquarters built in 2001, is mainly in good shape. But appearances hide issues with the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system that cause excess humidity, leading the district to add fans to prevent mold.

"The last thing I want," Janus said, "is for our firefighters to be getting sick."

The ballot question that authorizes the tax increase allows the money only to be spent on equipment, vehicles and facilities - not salaries, pensions, benefits or hiring new personnel.

The question asks: "Shall the Bloomingdale Fire Protection District #1, DuPage County, Illinois, for fire station repairs and improvements and the purchase of emergency response fleet and equipment, issue its bonds to the amount of $4,500,000 for the purpose of paying the costs thereof?"

DuPage County voters to decide several ballot questions in March

  Fire Chief Jeffrey Janus and Battalion Chief Richard Kurka, right, look over ambulance equipment at the district's headquarters at Station 21. Included in a proposal for a $4.5 million tax increase that's on the March 20 ballot is $513,000 for new equipment hospitals are requiring to be on ambulances. Bev Horne/
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