Fox River and Countryside fire chief after rejected tax hike: 'Where do we go from here?'

 
 
Updated 11/7/2018 4:39 PM
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  • Voters on Tuesday again rejected the Fox River and Countryside Fire/Rescue District's request for a property tax increase.

      Voters on Tuesday again rejected the Fox River and Countryside Fire/Rescue District's request for a property tax increase. Lauren Rohr | Staff Photographer

The Fox River and Countryside Fire/Rescue District's request for a property tax increase has failed yet again, leaving Chief John Nixon and the fire board facing what has become a recurring question: "Where do we go from here?"

Voters have a history of denying the district's attempts to bring in more cash, and Tuesday's election was no different. A binding referendum question seeking a 60 percent tax rate increase was denied in a 4,695 to 4,353 vote, according to unofficial tallies.

The cash-strapped district was hoping to use the additional $1 million or more per year to replace aging equipment, make crucial vehicle repairs and bring staffing up to safer levels, Nixon said. Without it, officials are forced to examine new ways to tighten their financial belts.

"Collectively, the board of trustees needs to meet and discuss the ramifications," Nixon said. "I want to get some clarity on the course of action."

The board already has cut several firefighter positions in the past two years, including three part-time posts in the spring. The reduced staffing levels have forced the district to occasionally "brown out" one of its two stations, board President Bob Handley said.

Additional budget cuts and station closures are among the various cost-saving measures that could be discussed. "All the options are still on the table," he said.

Fire officials for years have been debating how best to serve the district's 25,000 residents while operating on what they say is insufficient funding. In the past, they've even contemplated outsourcing services or dissolving the district.

In the spring, Nixon told trustees the most sustainable solution for addressing the revenue shortage is a property tax increase.

The referendum question on Tuesday's ballot asked to raise the district's tax rate from 27 cents to 43 cents per $100 of equalized assessed value. The measure was a do-over from the March election, when the tax increase was rejected by a roughly 30-vote margin.

Officials hoped the results would finally swing favorably this time around.

"In general, the people of the fire department that have dedicated themselves to serving the community are disappointed," Nixon said. "They realize the voters have had their opportunity to speak, and I'm sure they wait for further direction from us."

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