ELBURN—Signs for and against disconnection from the Elburn and Countryside Fire Protection District can be seen throughout the area, especially in the territory where residents will soon make that choice.
Last summer, 128 residents from the area, bordered by LaFox Road to the east, Anderson Road to the west, Campton Hills Road to the south and Empire Road to the north, signed a petition to disconnect from the Elburn and Countryside Fire Protection District (ECFPD) and to join the Fox River and Countryside Fire Rescue District.
The petition ended up in court, where a Kane County judge determined that the question should be put to the voters. Approximately 3,000 residents live in the area that would be affected.
Representatives from the ECFPD have been meeting with homeowners associations to inform residents of the possible disconnection and what it would mean for them.
They are also planning a walk-a-thon for this weekend, in which they will go door-to-door to talk to residents about the issues.
“A lot of people don’t know (about the possible disconnection),” ECFPD Lieutenant Lisa Schopp said.
Schopp, in her role within the Fire District Association, is coordinating the effort to get the word out.
“We want to inform them about the election, so they can make an informed decision,” she said. “Hopefully, they’ll go out and vote.”
According to Fox River Fire Chief Greg Benson, the Fox River District went operational on May 1, 2011, with its first station located on Route 64 in Wasco. Prior to then, residents had been served by the St. Charles Fire Department.
With the Fox River station positioned on the border between the Fox River and Elburn districts, Benson said that residents in the surrounding area have had questions about their fire service since the station opened.
He said that in early May, when the tax bills came out, people also had questions about the differences in the tax rates between the two districts. Elburn’s tax rate is $0.786 and Fox River’s is $0.266. For a $288,430 home on Farm View Road, this meant a tax bill of $708 in Elburn’s district, as opposed to $240 had it been in Fox River’s district—a difference of $468 for this year.
The Elburn district has since opened a third station at 5N276 Wooley Road in Lily Lake, which Elburn Fire Chief Kelly Callaghan said will provide shorter response times to those residents in the northern quadrant of the district. The station went operational on Oct. 1.
According to Callaghan, the district had been looking for several years to purchase property in that area when this location became available for rent.
Callaghan also said that, although Elburn’s tax rates are higher than Fox River’s, Fox River has a significant amount of debt, while Elburn operates with no debt.
Elburn village trustee Bill Grabarek said that through careful management of its money, the ECFPD was able to pay for its new station on Route 38 without borrowing money.
“I applaud them for that,” Grabarek said.
Fox River District does have $4.4 million in debt, which Benson said is in general obligation bonds, payable over the next 10 to 18 years. He said the money was used to acquire facilities and equipment.
Although Elburn has raised the concern that Fox River will raise its rates in order to pay off its debt, Benson said that the district can’t raise its rates by more than 5 percent or the consumer price index without voters’ approval through a referendum.
Benson responded to Elburn raising concerns about Fox River’s debt with a question of his own.
“Why do they (Elburn) have $13 million in the bank?” he asked.
There was also a concern raised by one of the Elburn Herald’s readers regarding the Fox River District being delinquent in its property taxes. This turned out to be in error, as governmental bodies are exempt from paying property taxes. The district had not yet completed the paperwork to obtain that exemption when the delinquency notice was published.
Elburn’s signs refer to additional fees that Fox River would charge residents for service. Although both districts charge for ambulance services, Elburn representatives have pointed to an ordinance on Fox River’s website showing fees that the district could charge for fire services.
Although the wording of the ordinance is confusing, Benson said that those fees listed for fire trucks and other services would only be charged in very specific situations, such as in the case of arson or a hazardous material spill.
“We don’t levy fees for fire alarm response (fire alarms in homes or businesses) or structural fire responses (home fires),” Benson said.
Since the disconnection was proposed, both Elburn and the Fox River Fire districts have made and disputed claims about one other.
“This whole thing has become political and emotional,” Benson said. “It has taken away from the idea of what the fire service is supposed to be.”
Both districts have stated that the safety of their residents is the top priority.
Benson said that his firefighters are well-trained and educated in all the latest industry knowledge.
Elburn’s Fire District Board President Tom Reynolds emphasizes the history that Elburn has in the area.
“The Elburn district has served the area well for 132 years,” he said. “We have more experience and we have better equipment.”
Grabarek also mentioned the history the Elburn fire district has with its residents. Grabarek himself had a heart attack four years ago, and he said he was grateful for the quality of their service.
“They kept me alive and they got me to the hospital,” he said.
Appreciative of the quality of their service and the careful fiscal management of the district, Grabarek said their “care, quality and viability depends on tax dollars.”
If the disconnection goes through, the Elburn district stands to lose about $1.1 million in revenue. Grabarek said he is concerned that this loss in revenue “could negatively impact the health, welfare and safety of our residents.”
Voters in the territory slotted for possible disconnection will be asked for their answer to this question on Nov. 4. A ‘yes’ vote is a vote to disconnect from Elburn and join the Fox River district; a ‘no’ vote is a vote to stay with the Elburn district.