LIMESTONE — “Things are dire,” says Limestone Fire Protection District Deputy Fire Chief Austyn Bruno.
So dire, in fact, that the trustees of Limestone have announced they would close the department’s one fire station on weekends starting Nov. 7, if their new referendum is voted down.
That referendum is on the General Election ballot and seeks a 66 percent increase in the district’s property tax rate.
The district is one of three in Kankakee County seeking a tax levy increase through a referendum in the Nov. 3 general election.
Along with Bourbonnais and Grant Park, the districts said the move is the result of state and federal mandates that have increased costs.
All three districts saw voters in the March 17 primary election turn down their referendums seeking a tax rate increase. And they’re all asking the referendum question again during the General Election set for Nov. 3.
For Limestone, continuing operations at their current level is dependent upon the referendum passing. If not, the drastic measure of closing the station on weekends will be necessary, the district says.
If the station closes and there’s a call on the weekend, “the hope is that volunteers will come from home to respond to calls,” Bruno said. “However, volunteer turnout has been very minimal in recent years.
“If we do not get a sufficient number of volunteers to respond, we will have to rely on other jurisdictions to respond to our calls, if they are available,” he said.
In a press release, the department asked residents to be understanding to the fact that this closing will dramatically increase response times for calls that occur on the weekends. The district will do its best to respond to these calls in a timely fashion so long as volunteer members are able to respond from home.
“In the event that sufficient volunteer members do not respond, residents will be forced to wait for units from other jurisdictions to respond if available,” according to the press release.
Fire protection districts use property taxes and money from ambulance call billings to operate.
Limestone’s referendum is asking for a 66 percent increase in its property tax rate. The increase is only for two years and then the tax rate reverts back to the old rate, per state law.
For a median house in Limestone Township valued at $172,800, the owners would see their bill go from $338 to $564 per year — a 66 percent increase. The tax increase would expire in two years.
Since the defeat of the March referendum, the department has made several attempts to improve its fiscal situation. Those efforts include the liquidation of 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.
“These attempts, however, have fallen short and have left the fire district unable to continue to provide emergency services at the level we have done in the past,” the release said.
“I get it,” said Limestone Fire Protection District Chief Mike Whalen of the March referendum’s defeat. “We are taxed so much in this state. It embarrasses me to be asking for a handout, but we are at a critical point.”