The St. Charles Countryside Fire Protection District is moving forward to terminate its long-standing relationship with the City of St. Charles and Tri-City Ambulance. This is being done in order to establish District-administered fire stations, equipment, and staffing. The City of St. Charles is concerned about the planning and execution of this initiative as well as the potential for operational and financial impacts for the residents and businesses of the City of St. Charles. We are also concerned about the impact on public safety services for the residents of the District.
Below is the text of an open letter that Mayor DeWitte sent to the Kane County Chronicle in response to an editorial from Jim Gaffney, President of the Board of Trustees for the Fire Protection District.
For decades, the St. Charles Fire Department and Tri-City Ambulance has provided the residents of the St. Charles Countryside Fire Protection District with professional, responsive, and comprehensive paramedic and fire suppression services.
Through service agreements, district residents have enjoyed the advantages of intergovernmental cooperation to obtain a very high level of service at a very low cost.
These services are currently provided to the district at a cost that is irrefutably the lowest in the region. The tax rate of $.19 per $100 of equalized assessed valuation (roughly $190 for a home with a market value of $300,000) is 33 percent less than the Batavia Fire Protection District, also a paper district operated similarly.
For additional comparison, South Elgin is $.56, Pingree Grove is $.65, Maple Park is $.49, and Elburn is $.62. This proves that lack of revenue, not costs and expenses, is the reason for the district’s reported financial challenges.
In addition, the district over the last several years, has maintained capital reserves in excess of $1.3 million. St. Charles has implored the Fire Protection District to either increase its tax rate or spend down those reserves to pay St. Charles for its “fair share” of overhead and services. The district has refused to do either.
It is true that the district has changed dramatically since the original agreements were negotiated. The area has expanded significantly, and the number of properties has exploded over the last 20 years.
More residents have chosen to live in a more rural environment. In doing so, they accept that emergency services may not be provided at the same level as those within a city.
However, it has always been the policy of the St. Charles Fire Department to respond with the same or higher levels of staff and equipment than is provided to residents of the City of St. Charles, given the lack of a water supply in rural areas.
It is our opinion that service quality will detrimentally change for the residents of the Fire Protection District, if the board moves ahead with its plans to establish a standalone fire department on May 1, 2011.
Over the last several years, a cooperative venture to construct an additional City of St. Charles fire station at Red Gate Road has been discussed, with district residents being the primary beneficiary.
That opportunity would no longer exist with the Fire Protection District’s two station east/west configuration and subsequent loss of assistance from the St. Charles Fire Department. After all, if the district moves forward with this plan, St. Charles will have no obligation to respond to calls outside of our city, including the numerous elementary schools, and recreational areas.
In September of this year, discussions regarding ambulance and paramedic service with the District were suspended to allow the voters to share their views on non-binding referenda regarding a tax increase to maintain the current level of services.
This action was followed shortly by reaching an agreement of terms with the district for fire suppression services for the current budget year. With the outcome of the referenda demonstrating support, we believed that the district was planning to move forward to provide sufficient funding to St. Charles.
To our disappointment, we were notified within days of the Nov. 5 result that the district had already made its decision to sever our relationship, had placed orders for new equipment, and was in the process of securing facilities to establish stations.
We believe the Fire Protection District Board should reconsider this approach and re-establish discussions with St. Charles regarding the continuation of our long standing, successful relationship, including the joint-venture construction of a Red Gate Road station.
This will ensure the continuation of high quality emergency services that the residents of the St. Charles Countryside Fire Protection District have come to expect.
In closing, we believe there is nothing the district will be able to provide its residents on its own, that will be any improvement over what we currently provide to those same residents together. Should the Fire Protection District move forward with its shortsighted plans, we believe the board will have disobeyed a rule that we all learned as children – never play with fire.
Unfortunately, the only people getting burned will be the residents of the St. Charles Countryside Fire Protection District.