Voters in the Palos Fire Protection District narrowly passed a referendum Tuesday night that will increase the district's taxing rate and bring in additional revenue for the financially struggling department.
In a nail biter, unofficial results put the count at 1,886 yes votes, and 1,814 no, according to the Cook County Clerk's Office. That is a difference of less than 2 percent
The district has been operating with a budget deficit of about $350,000 and operates from one of its two stations on most days. Cuts in staffing, aging equipment and a lack of any reserve funds were all offered as reasons why a tax increase was necessary.
Passage of the tax hike means the rate for the district will increase from .557 to .807. In real terms, that equates to $82.50 more in yearly property taxes for every $100,000 of fair market value for your home. That number could be less with homeowner and senior deductions.
The Palos Fire Protection District covers Palos Park and portions of Palos Heights, Orland Park and unincorporated Palos Township. The borders are the Cal-Sag Channel to 135th Street, and 76th Avenue to Will-Cook Road. The district provides both fire and ambulance service to that area.
"I want to thank the residents for taking an active participation in the process," said Fire Chief Steven Carr. "They cared about it enough to find the facts, and vote based on the facts.”
Carr went on to thank the various municipalities and community groups that invited him to present the issues surrounding the referendum. In April 2011, a similar referendum failed by 264 votes.
It is estimated that the increase will bring in an additional $1.9 million to the district each year.
A large portion of the money will be used to balance the budget deficit, restore cuts in part-time staffing and begin replacing the district's aging fleet of emergency vehicles.
While the actual revenue increases won't be seen until November 2013, Carr plans to take quick action in restoring some of the cuts in service that have been made in recent months.
“I will immediately do whatever I can to reinstate services as rapidly as possible in anticipation (of getting) those funds," he said.
Some of those actions could include opening both stations again and reinstating cut part-time positions.
At last week's board meeting, Board President Kevin McCurrie said the increased revenues have very specific uses. He maintained that firefighter salaries and extra expenses were not the goal of the effort.
"The next negotiation is in two years and we will again try to maintain salaries and give an increase with regards to the economy and cost of living," McCurrie said.
After the votes were tallied, Carr vowed to maintain open lines of communication with district residents about how the added revenues are being spent.
“I also promise to continually provide ongoing accountability for the use of these funds," he said.
At last Tuesday's board meeting he discussed the idea of posting or releasing ongoing quarterly financial statements that detail how the referendum money is being allocated.
- 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
- Palos Fire Referendum: Area Taxing Rates