Fox River & Countryside fire district seeks $13M to secure future
A 10-year financial plan is on the primary ballot for the Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District.
The $13 million question would provide money to pay off existing debt, purchase new vehicles and equipment and fund a third fire station at the intersection of Crane and Bolcum Roads in St. Charles Township.
The district has long operated on a shoestring budget with a property tax levy as low as one-third of what neighboring districts charge for emergency fire and medical service. Still, officials managed to keep average response times for emergency calls to between seven and eight minutes.
The response times of the 38-square-mile district are faster on the east and west ends, which is also where the existing two fire stations operate. Residents in the center of the district have the slowest response times, but Fire Chief Bert Lancaster said the third station would provide equity in responses throughout the district for the first time.
"We are coming from so far away from the center of the district," Lancaster said. "And that's that person that is not breathing or a structure fire. When that happens, 10 minutes is a long time to wait."
Lancaster said the third station could improve response times by three minutes. Those response times are key as the district's population grows over the next decade. The district's call volume is already up 50% over the past 10 years.
But even the additional station (at a cost of $5 million) isn't the district's most pressing need. The plan doesn't call for the construction of the third station until 2025. In the meantime, district officials would put $5 million of the referendum money toward new vehicles and updated equipment. The district currently has no reserve fire engine. If one of the district's two main engines breaks down or is out for repair, the district must rely on borrowing an engine from another community or relying on a response coming from much further away.
The remaining $3 million from the referendum would be immediately spent to pay off the debt the district incurred to construct the existing two fire stations.
That $13 million overall price tag translates into $37.88 of additional property taxes for every $100,000 of assessed property value. In other words, the owner of a home with an assessed value of $300,000 will pay $130.27 in additional property taxes if voters approve the tax increase. That additional tax will stay in place for 10 years, after which district officials said the debt will be paid off.
District President Kristin LeBlanc said the additional taxes she will pay as a district resident are a small price to pay for feeling her family is protected in the event of an emergency.
"The residents and calls are growing, and we are not able to grow without this additional funding," LeBlanc said. "If this referendum does not go through we will struggle on a day-to-day basis. We are going to have to make cuts. Is that in the best interest of the community? Absolutely not. If you really feel passionate about protecting your family, it's important for you to go out and vote and tell us that."
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