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St. Charles considers fire, ambulance stations

Published: Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010 5:30 a.m. CDT

CAMPTON HILLS – The St. Charles Countryside Fire Protection District announced to a standing-room-only crowd Wednesday morning that it plans to decide by February whether it will proceed with opening its own fire and ambulance stations once its contract with the city ends April 30.

Residents said they felt ambushed by the announcement, not only because it happened the morning before Thanksgiving, but also because the advisory referendum results indicated support for a 10-cent tax increase and opposition against a reduction in service.

Many said they view the proposed change as a reduction.

Others would rather the district wait a year before making a decision rather than cramming preparations within mere months.

“It’s pretty obvious this thing was sprung upon us,” said Dennis Marquis, a resident of unincorporated St. Charles who supported the tax increase.

Board of Trustees President Jim Gaffney said the board’s decision to explore these reforms stemmed from a desire to better serve the growing population and to keep the district financially sustainable. Projections indicate that the district would be insolvent by 2013 even without further increases in its contract obligations, he said.

“We have to look at what is highly efficient for the community,” Gaffney said. “It’s nothing against the St. Charles Fire Department.”

The St. Charles Countryside Fire Protection District – soon to be renamed Fox River and Countryside Fire/Rescue District – is a paper district that contracts fire and rescue service from the City of St. Charles and ambulance service from Tri-City Ambulance.

Gaffney said the district would save money by ending those contracts and hiring another contractor with staff not covered by high-cost union contracts.

Plans include a three-man company east of the river – a temporary station is planned for Gilbert Street near the Stearns Road Bridge – and a five-man company on the west side, perhaps in Wasco, Gaffney said.

Campton Hills Village President Patsy Smith said in a written statement that the village’s zoning ordinance prohibits a fire station in the commercial area of Wasco, but the village would consider amendments allowing a station with the full protections of a special-use permit.

“While I believe that many citizens support the concept of a fire station and emergency services being located at a location to better serve our village, it is hoped that the trustees of the  St. Charles Countryside Fire Protection District … will move cautiously to assure that adequate back-up services remain available to support any new fire station,” she said in the statement.

Because the proposed stations are near the district’s borders, those living closer to the river protested the sites, since the response time to their homes likely would increase.

Gaffney responded by saying the stations would have good accessibility to main roads, and response times should improve for those currently experiencing long waits.

Residents wanted to know the cost of various aspects. The trustees were unable to provide them because, they said, they are still researching.

However, Gaffney said, the district would not go to a referendum this spring to pay for it. Rather, he said, the district would go for bonds and grants to pay for the initial capital outlay.

He noted Standard & Poor’s recently awarded the district an A-plus credit rating.

“They are fully aware of the path we are trying to take right now,” Gaffney said.

Gaffney said information from  Wednesday’s meeting should be posted online at www.sccfpd.org after the holiday. He stressed nothing is finalized.

“We have not closed the door on anything or anybody,” he said.

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