Glen Ellyn Volunteer Fire Company funding may include new property tax

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013 1:07 p.m. CDT

GLEN ELLYN – In an effort to provide the Glen Ellyn Volunteer Fire Company with a reliable source of revenue, village leaders are exploring the possibility of levying a new property tax for residents.

For a typical $425,000 home in Glen Ellyn, this would amount to an annual property tax increase of about $98.71, according to village records.

In the past, the Fire Company has relied on a fundraising model to support its operations, but donations have fallen short of covering the company's costs, leaving the firefighters with aging trucks.

"Their donation program, in many folks' eyes, has become no longer a fair and equitable approach to funding such an essential service," Village Manager Mark Franz said. "In order to sustain the Volunteer Fire Company, additional revenue and a more stable revenue stream appears to be needed."

The company currently has two 20-year-old trucks that are due to be replaced for about $500,000 each. One of the company's large ladder trucks will need to be retired in a few years as well and will cost about $1.3 million to replace.

Less than 25 percent of Glen Ellyn residents typically contribute to the Fire Company's annual fund drive, Fire Chief Jim Bodony said.

In addition to those donations, the Fire Company relies on funding from the village and from grants. But money that comes in has to go to operations first, and the company's capital equipment needs suffer as a result.

According to a village study, having a volunteer fire company saves Glen Ellyn more than $3 million each year.

The proposed property tax would generate $870,000 in 2014-15, bringing projected revenue totals for that year to about $1.3 million. Of that amount, $423,000 would go to operations and $850,000 would fund capital expenses.

In addition to equipment needs, capital expenses include a new downtown fire station, which village officials expect will need to be built within the next 10 years, and additional support staff to perform clerical work.

The fire chief is the only salaried position currently within the company. Firefighters who staff the fire stations during the work week receive a small stipend for a 12-hour day, and all volunteers receive $1 each year.

At a Glen Ellyn Village Board workshop Oct. 21, village trustees were in agreement that the Fire Company needs to be supported financially, but disagreed about how to fund the company.

Besides a property tax, a different option would be to attach a flat fee to residents' water bills.

"The one thing that you hear on the streets is 'taxes, taxes, taxes' in this town and I'd just hate to see this be a tax increase," Trustee Tim O'Shea said.

Village staff favored the property tax option because it's the most common way towns fund fire departments, it's efficient and it's directly tied to the properties being protected, according to village records.

However, Trustee Diane McGinley questioned whether it would make sense for bigger properties to pay more for the same service.

"It's not about not funding; you're going to get there," McGinley said. "It's just what's the fair way to do it."

Village staff will further examine the points brought forward by trustees in preparation for continued discussions at future board meetings.

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