Voters within the boundaries of the Bourbonnais, Grant Park and Limestone fire protection districts will be asked — again — to approve a tax increase.
It marks the third time since March 2020 that the districts’ voters have been asked the question through a ballot referendum. The measure was rejected in the March 2020 and November 2020 elections.
Leaders of the three districts say there’s a number of reasons they’re seeking the increase.
Unfunded state and federal mandates are among the reasons the districts say they are requesting the increase, including a state law that will increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025. Aging vehicles and equipment are also factors in the request.
Grant Park Fire Chief Matt Shronts said if the referendum does not pass for his district, cuts to service, such as manning of the station, are possible.
Cutting services would mean homeowners might face higher homeowner insurance bills.
The International Services Office company rates how well-equipped fire departments are to put out fires in that community. They provided the ISO fire score to homeowner insurance companies.
Insurers use the score to set rates between 1 and 10. The lower the score the more well-equipped your fire department is to put out a fire, the less likely your house is to burn down.
Currently, Bourbonnais is rated a 3 but Fire Chief Jim Keener said the department is a few points from moving to 2. Grant Park and Limestone are both rated 4.
Here is a look at each department’s referendum:
For a median house in Bourbonnais Township valued at $100,000, the owners would see their tax bill go up to $283.33 per year, from $135.33, a 107 percent increase.
“Our priority remains the same, to continue providing the highest level of service while keeping your taxes low. However, to meet the increasing demand of the community now and in the future, we need your support regarding this referendum,” Keener wrote in a news release.
The township’s fire district is its own separate taxing body and is not connected with the Village of Bourbonnais.
It covers 36 square miles and 36,000 residents. Last year, the district responded to 4,182 calls — the second-highest call volume in the county. Kankakee was first with 6,756 calls.
Since the new year, Bourbonnais has responded to 1,000 calls.
“It’s not going to get easier,” Keener said.
Keener said the department needs to expand the current seven members on a 24-hour shift by two or three to help with the increase in calls.
In the near future, the department will also need to replace a 20-year plus generator at the station and a 2008 ambulance.
Grant Park trustees are asking voters to approve increasing the property tax rate by 51 percent to 1.0367 from its current rate of .6867.
During a candidate forum sponsored by the Grant Park Chamber of Commerce, Fire Chief Matt Shronts said the district’s portion of a homeowner’s property tax bill is 7 percent.
“It does not affect your entire tax bill,” Shronts explained.
For the owner of a $100,000 single-family home in Grant Park, they would see their tax bill go up to $345.34 per year, from $228.67, a 66 percent increase.
Grant Park’s district covers more than 60 square miles and 5,000 residents.
Shronts said the increase will allow the district to address three critical areas of the department: apparatus replacement, maintaining staffing, and replacement of broken and outdated equipment.
Deputy Chief Austyn Bruno said the department lowered its proposed increase from .98 to .89.
“While this new rate doesn’t ensure our financial solvency after 10 years, as we believed the previous rate would have, it does help us secure desperately needed funding to preserve vital services and staffing for at least the foreseeable future,” the department said in a post on its Facebook page.
The district covers 42 square miles, including approximately 12 square miles of the Kankakee State Park and an 8-mile stretch of the Kankakee River.
For a median house in Limestone Township valued at $172,800, the owners would see their bill go from $338 to $521.64 per year — a 64 percent increase. The tax increase would expire in two years.
Shortly after last November’s election defeat, the district reduced staffing the firehouse on the weekends.
However, due to a $200,000 grant from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the department was able to reinstate staffing the station on the weekends.
When the grant money runs out, Bruno said cutbacks in staffing the station are a possibility.
Previously, the department liquidated a brush/rescue truck, a utility vehicle and a fire engine. They’ve reduced and eliminated tuition reimbursement for essential classes. The minimum staffing level has been reduced from three personnel to two. And, all salary raises have been suspended.
Would the new rate be forever?
After two years, the district leaders say, the increased rate requested in the referendum would expire. The rate would return to the previous level unless there was a change in the Equalized Assessed Value of the property being taxed.
The EAV is the product of the assessed value of the property (both land and improvements) and the State Equalization Factor, which is set by the Illinois Department of Revenue.
Property taxes and revenue from insurance companies for transporting residents to the hospital are the districts’ sources of funding.