Residents group makes final push for Fox River & Countryside fire district tax hike
In the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 election, a residents group has been making its final push to spread the word about a proposed property tax increase for the Fox River and Countryside Fire/Rescue District.
The volunteers created a website, held informational meetings and increased their presence on social media. They handed out brochures during community events and communicated with homeowners associations.
Most recently, they've been walking house to house to distribute door hangers in neighborhoods near St. Charles. The goal, volunteer Doreen Anderson said, is to inform residents of the potential for reduced services if voters don't approve a 16-cent tax rate increase for the cash-strapped district.
A binding referendum question on the ballot next week seeks to raise the property tax rate from 27 cents to 43 cents per $100 of equalized assessed value. If approved, the measure would generate at least an extra $1 million to replace aging equipment and bring staffing up to "safe levels," Fire Chief John Nixon said.
Previous attempts by the fire district to raise taxes have been shot down several times in the past few years, most recently when a March 20 referendum question failed by a 32-vote margin. A Kane County judge invalidated the vote and ordered a do-over because a sentence explaining what the tax increase would cost homeowners was left off the ballot.
Residents now have a second chance to vote on the tax hike, which would cost the owner of a $100,000 house an additional $53 a year.
While talking to residents, Anderson said she's found most people who oppose the plan think their tax bills are already too high, and they don't want to pay more.
Fire district officials for years have been grappling with how to operate on their existing tax rate, which they say is the lowest in the area. The fire board decided this spring to cut three part-time firefighter positions, Nixon said, and a handful of full-time positions were eliminated two years ago.
If voters say "no" again, Nixon said, trustees will be faced with determining how to pay for necessary vehicle repairs, replace equipment and continue operating on what they say is insufficient funding.
That likely would mean cutting more positions and "browning out" one of its two stations on a rotating basis, he said.
"There's no room left in the budget anywhere except for staffing dollars," Nixon said. "That could potentially impact the community."
Anderson said she's been trying to stress to residents the importance of increasing the district's staffing levels. In a 38-square-mile district, closing one station at any point could significantly increase a crew's response times, she said.
"I'm not trying to scare anybody," Anderson said. "I'm just hoping the residents have a full understanding of what's happening."