Wood Dale fire district seeking voter support to increase taxes

Facing rising costs, Wood Dale Fire Protection District officials say they have no other option but to ask voters for roughly $1.5 million in additional property taxes.

They said the referendum question will appear on the March ballot. If approved, the higher tax rate would take effect in June 2021.

"We're just trying to maintain what we have," Chief James Burke Jr. said Wednesday. "We need to make some repairs to our stations. We need to replace some of our vehicles. We need to keep the staffing levels we have to provide service because our call volume is up."

Fire officials said the decision to pursue the ballot measure came when it was apparent that - despite budget cuts, using reserve money, getting grants and partnering with neighboring districts to reduce costs - "our operating expenses are going to outpace our ability to generate the needed revenues."

If the ballot measure is approved, the district's annual property tax revenue will increase to roughly $7.2 million from about $5.7 million.

The owner of a $250,000 home pays roughly $700 in property taxes to the district. If the tax hike is approved, that amount will increase by an estimated $200.

The district, which covers Wood Dale and a small part of Itasca, last had a referendum 2002.

"The goal is to maintain the current level of service that we have - that we've had in place for 20 years," Burke said. "I need $1.5 million to do this well into the future."

If approved, the additional money would allow the district to have eight firefighters working during each of its three shifts. More than 90% of the time last year, the district had a "minimum" staffing level of six firefighters per shift between its two fire stations.

Extra revenue also would allow the district to replace aging vehicles. The average age of the fleet is more than 11 years old, and the district is experiencing more breakdowns.

"I need to be able to replace these things as they age," said Burke, adding the district currently needs a new ambulance.

The district has two fire stations that were built in the early 1970s. Both are needed to properly respond to all areas of the district, officials said. But Station 69 at 411 Park Lane needs an estimated $450,00 in repairs, including a new roof and HVAC system.

Extra revenue also will help the district pay for rising administrative costs, including "double-digit" price increases for insurance and higher pension contributions.

In a letter to taxpayers, Wood Dale fire officials said the district has spent more than 80 years serving, protecting and helping residents.

"The district now needs, and respectfully asks for, your careful consideration on the upcoming March referendum so that we can continue to provide the highest level of service to our community," the letter reads.

The district plans to educate residents about the ballot measure during a town hall meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at the headquarters station, 589 N. Wood Dale Road.

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