Why North Aurora Fire Department is asking residents to approve a tax hike
In 1963, North Aurora opened its first fire station to serve its 2,500 residents. Nearly 60 years later, the village's population is 10 times larger, but that original fire station designed to serve a smaller community and house what was, at the time, a volunteer fire department, is still in service.
That means multiple people, men and women, sleeping in the same room, snores and all. It means waking up even when you are serving on the engine that night when only an ambulance needs to respond. And it means trying to stay in shape to run upstairs with all your gear and carry people out of burning buildings in a garage with no air conditioning.
Given all that, Interim Fire Chief Mike Klemencic said his team provides top-notch service. But there's room to get even better.
"We pride ourselves on our service, our training and the level of care that we provide to the citizens," Klemencic said. "We are going to continue to provide those services, but the men and women that are servicing this community need a new facility to take care of their needs so they are better suited to respond. We want to get ahead of future growth. We want to maximize safety, efficiency and have the best conditions, so they are 100% on top of their game when they respond to these emergencies."
The department doesn't have the money to build a new station. It's managed to patch together some garages and office space at the fire station at 2 N. Monroe Street over the past six decades. But a recent assessment determined there is no more remodeling or additions that can be made at the 1.7-acre property to improve working conditions.
That's why the department placed a tax increase referendum on the June 28 primary election ballots. It seeks $10 million for a total rebuild of the current main fire station, including a 10,000-square-foot expansion. The station would be rebuilt either on the same property or on nearby land owned by the village.
For taxpayers, voting yes means paying an additional $40 of property taxes for each $100,000 of assessed valuation. The average North Aurora home has an assessed value of $250,000, meaning the average home would pay $100 in additional property taxes every year for the life of the 20-year bonds the district would issue.
Klemencic said he knows that's a big ask during a time of rising inflation.
The fire district began its path to the referendum before the pandemic. Back then, the costs of a new fire station, and the interest rates on bonds, were cheaper. But further delaying the project means spending good money on plumbing, electrical and overall building conditions to patch a structure that must still be replaced.
"We are at the point where we need to do something now or soon," Klemencic said. "There are certain things that are no longer working for us."
The department has saved $2.5 million on its own to help pay for the rebuild. If the tax increase doesn't pass, Klemencic said, the department will continue to put aside money to try to pay for the project on the taxes it already receives. But it will take 10 to 15 years of saving before he expects the department would sock away enough cash to go forward with the project.
If voters approve the tax increase, construction could begin as soon as spring or summer of 2023.