Pingree Grove Fire District board won't put referendum question on April ballot

A motion to place a bond referendum question for the Pingree Grove & Countryside Fire District on the April election ballot - for what would have been the fourth time - failed after the board was deadlocked and the trustee who could have cast the deciding vote was absent.

Trustee Gerry Regan attempted to attend the Thursday special board meeting via phone because he's in a rehabilitation facility after a hospitalization. On the phone, Regan repeatedly said he supported placing the referendum question on the ballot, but after about half an hour - and before the board took a vote - he said he had to go because he wasn't feeling well.

The plan on the table Thursday, proposed by Fire Chief Mitch Crocetti, was to ask voters to borrow $7.5 million to replace two of the district's three fire stations. The district also would have used $2.6 million in reserves and any proceeds from selling the old stations, Crocetti said.

Board President John Payson and Trustee Jim Cartee voted "yes," while Trustees Todd Harris and Karel Jones voted "no."

Voters previously rejected requests to borrow $8.5 million in November 2018, March 2018 and April 2017.

The plan has been to sell Station 2 on Rippburger Road and Station 4 on Plank Road and build new stations on Highland Avenue just east of Coombs Road and on Dittman Road about one-third mile south of Plato Road. The land on Dittman Road was purchased last year.

However, last month Harris obtained an estimate from Dewberry Architects showing higher-than-anticipated costs, with building and site work for the Dittman Road station up to $10.85 million, or even more, according to a second opinion.

Crocetti, Payson and Cartee said they were surprised at the figure and questioned whether actual costs would be that high.

Crocetti said he consulted with officials from the South Elgin and Countryside Fire Protection District who told him that bids for two new fire stations planned in that district are coming in under $10 million.

"How can one station here be as much as two in South Elgin? That, I don't understand," Crocetti said.

Others speculated it could be because South Elgin has municipal water, not well water like Pingree Grove, or due to differences in proposed building height.

Crocetti said that under his plan, until now endorsed by a majority of board members, the two new fire stations would be in optimal locations based on response times, increasing calls for service and population growth.

Deputy Chief Jeff Childers said Thursday that would be ideal "if money was no problem," but most important is to build the station on Dittman Road to address the needs of the southwest corner of the district.

Another referendum question could go on the ballot no earlier than the spring 2020 election, Crocetti said. The board rejected his proposal last year to obtain architectural plans before the referendum. He plans to pursue that again in order to narrow down precise costs, he said.

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