ST. CHARLES TOWNSHIP – Fox River and Countryside Fire Protection District officials said they will seek a fifth tax increase referendum on the March 20 primary ballot.
But voters may also see an advisory question, asking if they would support closing one of the district’s two stations in order to cut costs, officials said at its Sept. 25 meeting.
With the failure of four previous requests for a tax rate increase – in 2006, 2009, 2015 and 2017 – board members said they did not have enough money to buy equipment or to pay its firefighters enough to keep them from leaving for other departments.
Board members did not determine how much to ask for this time, but said they would couple it with an advisory question asking if voters would support closing one of the two stations to save money.
“We keep saying bad things will happen if the referendum doesn’t pass,” fire district attorney Ken Shepro said. “Unless they are really insiders, [voters'] perception is [that] nothing has changed. The trucks keep rolling, these guys still show up.”
Fire Chief John Nixon said they keep responding to fires and heart attacks and that makes people think the district is doing well financially.
“We cannot go on like this forever,” Nixon said.
The district serves 25,000 residents in a 38-square-mile area that includes parts of St. Charles, Campton and Wayne townships and portions of Kane and DuPage counties, officials said.
Board President Bob Handley also suggested contracting with neighboring districts to provide firefighting services while the district would retain its ambulance service – which is 70 percent of its calls. Handley said doing that would reduce labor costs.
Neighboring districts to be contacted for fire service would be Elburn, South Elgin, Bartlett and St. Charles, Handley said.
“Or we could just dissolve the district and let it go wherever the state fire marshal puts it,” Handley said. “Ideally, we would pass a referendum and stay in business. Our problem is replacing our equipment and keeping our manpower. It’s a tightrope we have to walk. Unless we get the public nervous, they’re not going to do anything.”
Shepro said dissolving the district is not within the board’s authority.
“The district can only be dissolved by petition of the voters of the district and another referendum,” Shepro said. “In theory, the voters could say no, do not dissolve the district. But we don’t have the capability to maintain operations … [so] a judge comes in and decides what to do.”
If the district was dissolved, its assets and debts would divvied up to neighboring fire districts, Shepro said.
Officials have until January to set its referendum questions.