Northwest Homer Fire Protection District looks to raise tax rate
The Northwest Homer Fire Protection District is seeking an increase to fire service fees during the March 15 general primary election to help pay for building maintenance and new equipment.
The fire district is comprised of two stations — located at 16152 W. 143rd St. and 13010 W. 143rd St. — that serve 10 square miles in Lockport, Homer Glen, Lemont Township and unincorporated Cook County. It is requesting a temporary 9-cent increase to raise the tax rate from .491 percent to .5796 percent for four years.
If the referendum were to pass, a homeowner with a house valued at $100,000 would see an approximate tax increase of $30 per year, according to a Northwest Homer Fire Protection District release.
“We’re hoping it generates [at least] $325,000 over the next four years,” Fire Chief Ken Vrba said.
The fire district is requesting additional revenue to replace overhead garage doors for 15 bays, both stations’ windows, a water tanker and the stations’ generators, according to a Northwest Homer Fire Protection District release. The fire station also needs new roofs, new furnaces at Station One, and new A/C units at both stations within the next five years.
“The roofs were replaced 20 years ago,” Vrba said. “They’ll be due to be replaced soon.”
Deputy Fire Chief Todd Fonfara said the building and equipment’s age is why so much maintenance is needed. The water tanker, which transports water to neighborhoods without fire hydrants, is roughly 33 years old, and many of the parts are no longer manufactured, he said. The estimated cost to replace the tanker is $230,000.
“Now we’re at the point where we can’t do everything else,” Vrba said.
Vrba added several vehicles are also aging and that the fire district has already pushed back their replacement dates.
“We don’t want to provide people with old equipment when we’re taking them to the hospital,” Fonfara said.
While a referendum has not passed since 1980, this is the third time the fire district is attempting to increase fire service fees since 2007, according to Fonfara.
Vrba said the recession impacted the referendum in 2007 and may have prevented it from passing.
“We lost dramatically,” he said. “Unfortunately, there were three other referendums on the ballot … The economy was starting to take a turn. Every ballot in the spring failed.”
Because past referendums have failed, lack of funding left the fire district unable to renovate the building and replace equipment, according to Vrba. The tax rate of the Northwest Fire Protection District also is significantly lower than surrounding areas’ fire districts, he said.
According to a Northwest Homer Fire Protection District document, the Homer Township Fire Protection District, which encompasses 20 square miles, has a tax rate of 1.1093 percent. The Lockport Township Fire Protection District, which serves 42 square miles, has a tax rate of 1.2328 percent. The Lemont Fire Protection District, which covers 40 square miles, has a tax rate of .899 percent.
“We’ve had our numbers very tight,” Vrba said. “We’re half of what Homer Township spends, but we’re accused of being fiscally irresponsible. So that’s not true.”
Firefighters plan to walk door-to-door to advocate for the referendum on Feb. 20, according to Fonfara. The fire district also has posted information on its Facebook page and website at www.nwhomer.org.
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