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Fire District disconnection issue heats up

in Elburn/Lily Lake/Regional by

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.


DSC_1450 Benson said that residents were concerned about response times, and they wanted to know why Elburn was responding to their emergency when they could see the Fox River station from their house.

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.

Elburn passes resolution opposing Fire District disconnection

in Elburn/Lily Lake/Regional/Virgil & Virgil Twp. by

Fox River Fire District reps attend meeting to object
ELBURN—The Elburn Village Board on Monday passed a resolution opposing the disconnection of a portion of the Elburn and Countryside Fire Protection District (ECFPD), despite objection from Fox River and Countryside Fire Rescue District representatives in attendance.

A referendum question that asks whether the territory in question should be annexed into the Fox River Fire District will come before voters in the proposed disconnection area on the Nov. 4 General Election ballot.

Fox River District Board President Jim Gaffney and Fire Chief Greg Benson, along with attorney Ken Shepro, attended the Village Board meeting to protest board approval of the resolution.

Shepro told the Village Board that a governmental body should not expend funds on any public question. According to Shepro, the board’s passage of the resolution amounts to the board attempting to influence citizens to vote against the referendum.

“Clearly the purpose of this resolution is to influence the outcome of the referendum,” Shepro said. “Otherwise, why would you pass it?”

Village President Dave Anderson said that people will read the resolution and form their own opinion on the issue. He said that the resolution simply states that the board opposes the de-annexation, that it doesn’t get into politics and it doesn’t urge voters to vote in a particular way.

According to Gaffney, a group of citizens from the area in question, which is bound by LaFox Road to the east, Anderson Road to the west, Campton Hills Road to the south and Empire Road to the north, came to them saying that they weren’t comfortable with the service they were getting from the Elburn department. In response, he said, district officials helped them with a petition to detach themselves from the ECFPD.

The petition was signed by 128 residents in the area this summer, and 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.

Gaffney said the Fox River District can provide the same services to these residents, and at a lower rate. He said he thought the board was doing its residents a disservice by telling them to spend more money than necessary for fire protection services.

Elburn Fire Chief Kelly Callaghan attended a Village Board meeting last month to let village trustees know about the situation and to ask for their endorsement.

Callaghan told the board that the disconnection would mean a significant loss of revenue for the Elburn Fire District—the area in question is 10 percent of its square miles and 21 percent of its assessed value. The Elburn Fire District’s expenses would stay the same, and Callaghan said the disconnection would place a financial hardship on the district.

After listening to Fox River officials’ objections on Monday, village trustee Bill Grabarek said that he thought the disconnection could diminish Elburn’s ability to fulfill its obligations to protect the health, safety and welfare of Elburn residents. He asked that wording to that effect be added to the resolution.

The board then unanimously voted to approve the resolution. Trustees Ethan Hastert and Ken Anderson were absent, but Dave Anderson said they had participated in the decision to create such a resolution.

The Elburn Fire District is in the process of building a new station at Route 38 and Anderson Road. The district also opened a temporary station in the Lily Lake area on Oct. 1, while it continues to look for property for a permanent spot. Elburn Fire District officials say the Lily Lake station will allow them to respond more quickly to residents in that area.

Elburn welcomes Station No. 3

in Elburn/Lily Lake/Regional/Virgil & Virgil Twp. by

The Elburn and Countryside Fire Protection District on Wednesday opened it’s Fire Station No. 3 in Lily Lake. The station is functional 24 hours a day and features an advanced life support (ALS) engine, which means the station is equipped to handle both fire emergencies and medical needs. According to the Elburn and Countryside Fire Protection District, the presence of Fire Station No. 3 will reduce rescue response times to Campton Hills, Lily Lake, Virgil, Wasco, The Windings and the northern portion of the district.

Two injured in dirt bike, ATV collision

in Lily Lake/Maple Park by

MAPLE PARK—Kane County Sheriff Deputies on Tuesday afternoon responded to a report of a collision between a dirt bike and an ATV on Read Road, near the village of Lily Lake.

A preliminary investigation indicates that three males, all in their mid-teens, were riding off-road vehicles in the roadway. One of the subjects, riding a dirt bike, appeared to have stopped suddenly for an unknown reason and was struck from behind by a subject riding an ATV. The ATV came to rest on one of the males involved in the collision.

The third subject was not involved in the collision, but stopped to render aid.

The two males involved in the collision suffered head injuries and were airlifted out. There is no confirmation on whether they were wearing helmets. One of the injured was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.; the other a hospital in Rockford.

It’s in the stars

in Lily Lake/Regional by

Photo: During periods of particularly strong solar activity, Herman Zwirn can see the aurora borealis (seen on page 2B) from his observatory in Lily Lake. Though the aurora was visible earlier this winter, cloudy weather distorted the view. But in 2011, he captured spectacular shots (below). “The entire sky, the entire sky was the aurora,” Zwirn said. “We had run into a coronal mass ejection head on like a wave, and it just covered the entire sky. It was spectacular.” Photo by Cheryl Borrowdale

Lily Lake resident’s passion for astronomy burns bright
LILY LAKE—On a clear night, Herman Zwirn of Lily Lake can see distant nebulas or observe the icy rings of Saturn from his backyard observatory.

The observatory—a small building with a roof that rolls off to allow unobstructed views of the sky—features a large telescope, as well as a refractor, which Zwirn can use with filters to observe the sun during the day.

His telescope is powerful enough to observe surface features on the planets.

“With Jupiter, you can make out the swirls in the atmosphere, you can make out the loops and the details of the storms,” he said. “Saturn, you can see the rings pretty well and see the storms on the surface.”

Faded star charts line the observatory’s walls. He put them up when he first built his observatory in 1989, but they’re mainly decorative now. Computer programs that show the location of objects in the sky replaced them years ago.

He spends just about every clear night outside in his observatory, often accompanied by one of his collies, who like to lie nearby while he is staring into the heavens. For Zwirn, it’s all about the wonder.
“I think astronomy is one of those things. When you start doing it, there’s a wonder to it. Just opening up the telescope, there’s so much beauty to see. I watched the sun today, and there’s a nice bunch of sunspots. It makes your brain tickle, like classical music. It just takes hold of you,” Zwirn said. “The wonder never goes away. It just gets more wonderful and challenging.”

Zwirn’s passion for astronomy brought him to Lily Lake in 1987. He had been observing the sky from an observatory he’d built at his house in Lisle, Ill., before that, but when a car dealership went up nearby, the lights from the parking lot blotted out the night sky. He moved further west in search of darkness, even though he worked on the north side of Chicago for many years and had a two-hour commute.

Nearly three decades later, development is once again encroaching on Zwirn’s view, with light pollution from new stores and gas stations making it harder to see the stars. Air pollution is also making his view hazier, with fine particulate matter making it more difficult to get clear views.
Aurora lily Lake110704
That’s why Zwirn now trains his telescopes mainly on the brightest objects in the night sky, the moon and the planets, while in Lily Lake. He and his wife, Mary, now spend much of their summer on a farm in north-central Iowa, where they have a second observatory and a darker night sky—dark enough that he can photograph Andromeda.

“I like to do the planets and the moon, because that’s what’s best to do here,” Zwirn said. “But when I’m out further, I like to go deep sky. You can see the Milky Way. Even out here, you can see it faintly, but we’re rapidly approaching Chicago.”

He regularly consults charts created by cleardarksky.comto determine which nights are the darkest and will have the best sky transparency—both important for astrophotography, one of his favorite astronomical pursuits.

“If you’re just looking through a telescope, it’s not that critical,” Zwirn said. “But if you’re taking images, it is. Astrophotography can be something that is remarkable.”

Zwirn’s passion for both astronomy and photography began in high school, when he lived on the south side of Chicago and joined his school’s astronomy club. His father cut a hole in their garage roof so Zwirn could observe the sky better, and he still has pictures that he took of the moon as a teen. The more he learned about astronomy, the more serious he became about it.

He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he studied fine art painting for a few years until he got drafted in the Vietnam War. Stationed in Thailand, where the Air Force ran operations into North Vietnam, Zwirn learned computer skills and became fluent in Thai—and when his service was over, he returned to Chicago to work in information systems.

The shift from art to science was a natural one, he said.

Herman-Zwirn-2 “One of the reasons I enjoyed working in systems so much was that it was just as creative as art. We were making new things up, and we got to see them work,” he said. “Most scientists have some artistic bent—music, painting, photography. I think they go together.”

Astronomy and astrophotography can be solitary hobbies, but Zwirn enjoys sharing his interest with others, particularly children. He’s a board member for the Fox Valley Astronomical Society, which meets at Peck Farm in Geneva. And he likes to attend the public star parties and work with area schools.

“In many cases, (the schools) don’t have any equipment at all, so we’ll go out with the kids and set up the telescopes. One of our best times was at a middle school, and it was cloudy, so the kids decided they were going to do a little dance and make the rain go away—and the sky cleared,” he said. “These are just wonderful experiences, and you just hope that these kids have the chance to make a choice (about entering STEM fields).”

His passion for astronomy has also taken him all over the world to observe total solar eclipses.

Remarkable things happen during an eclipse, Zwirn said, as the natural world reacts to the sudden disappearance of the sun. While he was eclipse chasing on a ship in the Sea of Cortez, off the western coast of Mexico, dolphins came up to observe the sky at the moment of total eclipse.

“They got up on their tails. It was like they knew they couldn’t look at it until it was total,” Zwirn said. “They were like little dolphin astronomers.”

From the deserts of Libya, where he joined 15,000 fellow eclipse chasers who arrived to view a seven-minute total solar eclipse, to the Bolivian altiplano, where he camped at 14,000 feet above sea level and in the middle of a llama path, viewing eclipses is “just an overwhelming experience,” he said.

He also rents time on telescopes around the world. To see the southern sky, he uses large telescopes in Australia that he can control remotely, viewing stars and other celestial objects that aren’t visible in the northern hemisphere.

“I haven’t been out a lot this winter because of the weather, but I’m out whenever I can,” he said. “Most of my life, I’ve been fascinated by math and science, and I can’t imagine not having that knowledge.”

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