Fox River Fire Chief: Facts Show Disconnect Would Increase Public Safety, Lower Tax Burden
- The following is a guest essay from Fox River & Countryside Fire Rescue District Chief Greg Benson.
This reply is in reference to a Kane County Connects posting of Oct. 15, 2014, regarding the public question for disconnection of certain areas from the Elburn & Countryside Fire Protection District to Fox River & Countryside Fire/Rescue District.
The letter is typical of other “opinion” pieces that have been printed in other outlets. Writers have displayed a lack of knowledge concerning the facts and resort to inaccurate or misleading statements rather than sticking with facts. Contrary to the writer’s suggestion, the disconnection was initiated by area residents, not the Fox River District. Our district is happy to meet face-to-face with all residents to provide factual information about the disconnection.
Fox River and Elburn both have state-of-the-art equipment and well-trained personnel. Just as important, residents should understand the extent of apparatus and equipment sharing many fire departments utilize on a routine basis. Fox River is well-equipped for rural operations and has established aid with departments such as South Elgin, Pingree Grove, Burlington, etc. In addition, Fox River is a member of Mutual Aid Box Alarm System Division 2, providing access to specialized assets from around the state.
Fox River has two Advanced Life Support ambulances stationed at Station #1 on Route 64, and 22 of our fulltime firefighters are also paramedics. Fox River’s ALS capability is comparable with area departments and has been proven numerous times during responses to critical Emergency Medical Service incidents.
Fox River currently has two permanent stations, with district owned property already acquired for a third. Elburn is currently constructing a new main station at a reported cost of over $12 million. Elburn’s temporary substation, which was rushed into operation only after underserved residents filed for disconnection, contains one fire engine with no transport capabilities.
Rather than follow Elburn’s model of accumulating millions of dollars of budget surpluses each year, Fox River has instead borrowed to acquire capital resources such as fire stations and apparatus. While the total debt outstanding is $4.5 million, annual debt service costs are budgeted first every year to maintain a balanced budget and do not pose a threat to the district’s future financial position.
Borrowing in this fashion is common for local governments’ capital needs and has allowed the district to add critical resources sooner rather than forcing large budget surpluses and excessive reserves through years of high tax rates. An example of this tax-swelling effect is Elburn’s construction of their new $12 million station with tax money extracted over 10 years. Fox River’s borrowing to construct and staff two stations for millions less in a shorter timeframe allowed the tax rate paid by residents to remain lower. Elburn’s debt-free philosophy has actually resulted in a much higher cost to the taxpayer for over a decade. During tax year 2013, Fox River’s rate was $0.27 compared to Elburn’s $0.79. Saving could range from $300 to $2,000, depending upon the value of the home.
Organizations who objectively analyze fire district capabilities recognize that Fox River is comparable, if not better than Elburn in critical areas. Fox River has received an ISO protection class code of 3/6, to reflect areas covered by hydrants versus rural unhydranted areas. Elburn currently has a lesser rating of 4/8b. Fox River’s better rating can drop homeowners’ fire insurance costs by up to 20 percent, according to leading insurance underwriters in the area.
Fox River utilizes Kane County Emergency Communications for 911 dispatch services. Currently, 911 calls in the disconnect area are initially answered by Kanecomm before being transferred to TriCom for reprocessing prior to dispatch. Up to 90 seconds can be added to the process during this additional step. Disconnection would eliminate the additional step and reduce response times.
The writer also inaccurately states that Fox River charges an hourly rate for equipment called to a scene. Fox River does not charge an hourly rate for routine responses. Fox River has established a rate schedule consistent with state allowances for purposes of cost recovery on a hazardous material or illegal activity resulting in response. To date, Fox River has never invoiced or collected such a fee.
These are both prudent and fiscally responsible to ensure that taxpaying residents do not suffer extreme costs due to illegal or malicious acts. Both departments bill for EMS response with Elburn anticipating $375,000 in revenue and Fox River $280,500 in the 2014-15 budget year. These amounts are shown in current appropriations ordinances adopted by the respective districts.
The writer did get one fact correct, Fox River fire station property did show up on the delinquent tax list last week. Taxes are not paid on property owned by a unit of government. The delinquency listing appears to be the result of procedural error.
Letters to notify the county of the issue are available the Fox River & Countryside Fire / Rescue District’s FAQ webpage. The writer’s conclusion that the properties risk going to tax sale is groundless.
Response time is a critical component of providing emergency services. It has become even more important with the changes in fire dynamics and behavior resulting from newer building materials and synthetic materials in our homes.
Flashover, or simultaneous ignition of all contents in the room, can occur within three and four minutes of fire ignition. The American Heart Association continues to emphasize a response time of four to six minutes for victims in cardiac arrest. Survivability drops dramatically beyond six minutes.
The most important component of response time is a resident’s distance from the fire station. Fox River has not only demonstrated that it can serve the petition area with equally competent personnel and equipment, but that it can do so more quickly than Elburn and in many cases with a dramatic drop in response time. If the proposed disconnection is approved by the voters in the petition area, the resulting change will provide increased public safety and a lower tax burden to the residents.
This is not speculation, merely the facts.
Fox River & Countryside Fire Rescue District
- Kane County Connects welcomes your opinions. If you have an opinion that is different than the one stated here or would like to submit a letter to the editor on another topic, please send an email to Community Outreach Coordinator Rick Nagel at firstname.lastname@example.org and include your name, address and telephone number for verification. All letter must be signed with the first and last name of the letter writer. For more information on the ground rules, see this article.