Palos Fire Board Vows Transparency, Clashes on Methods
After a recently passed referendum that will add $1.9 million to the district's annual budget, trustees of the Palos Fire Protection District debated the best methods to improve financial transparency.
In light of a narrowly approved referendum, Palos Fire Protection District trustees reiterated their promise on Tuesday to keep the public apprised of how its money is being spent but disagreed at times about how and when to do it.
The first Monday meeting of every fiscal quarter will be televised from the Kaptur Administrative Center in Palos Park so that a summary of district expenditures can be seen by those unable to physically attend.
“I think that it behooves us to have as many meetings here as possible,” Board Secretary Addison Woodward said. “It’s open to the public and it’s televised and it doesn’t hurt us.”
Though the decision to televise meetings four times a year was unanimous, Board Treasurer Gene Adams offered a few words of dissent—in contrast to numerous and direct demands from residents, one of whom accused the board in December of operating behind closed doors.
“Well, we’re not going to be getting the money for a year and a half, so, I mean, we’re going to be strapped until we get the money, so I don’t think the public wants to hear how strapped we are,” Adams said.
Further, he said he was worried that making the chief give quarterly updates on how referendum money will be appropriated would conflict with the chief’s budgetary duties. Historically, meetings near the end of the first and second fiscal quarters are devoted to preparing and agreeing on an annual budget.
Adams later clarified his disagreement as a concern for timing and “the paperwork involved,” noting, “We got to approve the budget before we can tell the people what’s happenin’.”
Renewing his own vows of transparency, Fire Chief Steven Carr said he would work around whatever time frame the board gave him. But because he isn’t long for retirement, he wondered out loud whether it wouldn’t be prudent to hold successive chiefs and board members to the same goal.
Before the night ended, Carr read from a proclamation, penned in part by Woodward, thanking the community for its support and vowing to be actively open about its finances in the future. One financial projection showed the district penniless by April 2014, and the referendum that passed by only 72 votes in March was considered by some a desperate shot in the arm.
Trustee Russell Miller took issue with adopting the proclamation because the board had supported the referendum as individuals, not as a group.
“That’s my personal opinion,” he said, “but I think we may be crossing the line here as far as endorsing a political agenda as opposed to a governmental agenda.”
As a result, the proclamation—and its promise—was not adopted. But it was read into the public record.
Todd Thielmann, the district’s newest appointed trustee, who was sworn in Tuesday, was not present during these discussions due to a perennial engagement. Meetings were moved to Mondays for his accommodation.
Also New to the Tax Roll
The board annexed residential property at 10355 W. 131st Street which district attorney Thomas Courtney said has been receiving fire services but has paid no taxes, likely due to a mapping error when the district formed in 1953.
Courtney said the home—which is bordered on the east by Cook County Forest Preserve and sits across from Peace Village, itself across from Palos Fire Station 2—may not have been built in 1953.
He said the homeowners brought it to the attention of the district once they learned they weren’t eligible to vote in the recent referendum.
No one spoke during the public comment portion of the fire district meeting.
- Palos Fire Referendum: How the Money Would Be Spent
- Palos Fire Referendum: Call Volume Over The Years
- Palos Fire Protection District: Salary Increases Over 5 Years
- Palos Fire Protection District: Employee Salary Chart
Updated May 3 at 5:20 p.m.