Excerpts from the ChicagoTribune.com:
Bartlett Fire Protection District Fire Chief Mike Falese says that a property tax increase on the April 4 ballot would add about $33.49 a year to a home in Cook County valued at $100,000 and about $42.84 for a similarly-valued DuPage County and would prevent cuts to services and allow performance at a higher standard. He will address a community meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, March 20, at Fire Station #1, 234 N. Oak Ave.
While he said the board and fire district staff are not trying to scare voters, the reality now is that cuts have been made and maintenance has been deferred to the point that the situation is much more dire.
“We can perform well and have a good outcome, or we can perform in a way that isn’t as efficient and have a good outcome sometimes,” Falese said.
The questions asks voters to increase the property tax limitation from the state-mandated lesser of 5 percent or the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index 19.5 percent for levy year 2017.
Since 2014, the district has used reserve funds for operational expenses and the reserves will be depleted in the 2018 fiscal year. This year, the district already had to spend $50,000 of its reserves just to balance the budget.
To cut expenses, the district has eliminated an assistant fire chief, one full-time firefighter/paramedic position, and reduced the number of paid on-call personnel. Apparatus replacement has been deferred, but can no longer be put off without jeopardizing firefighters and residents.
“We have sold apparatus and reduced equipment to cut expenses. We have modified our health care plan four times to reduce premiums,” Falese said.
Turnout gear, fire hose, and breathing apparatus hasn’t been replaced, and the heat and air conditioning system at Station 1 has not been repaired since one of the three units broke down last summer.
The district covers about 40 square miles, and responds to 4,000 emergency alarms each year from three stations. It’s annual budget is $7.9 million with $6.6 million coming from property taxes and the remainder from ambulance billing. Of that, about $1.1 million is health care costs even though firefighters are picking up a larger portion of the medical insurance cost.
The Medicaid portion of ambulance billing has been dropping and will not increase, Falese said. “We have increased the ambulance fees, but are receiving less,” because of lower Medicaid reimbursements.
Emergency calls are quickly outpacing revenue and expenditure. A new industrial park and senior living residences have increased the call volume.
“If doesn’t pass — we don’t want to it sound like a threat,” Falese said, “we would have to start considering options for 2018 and this year. We will start to look at personnel and facilities to adjust and where we respond from, including the possibility of closing one of the fire stations and rotating crews through the remaining buildings.
“That would be a lesser level of service,” Falese said.