FOX LAKE – The Village of Fox Lake should not be in the business of negotiating for fire protection and ambulance services, Mayor Donny Schmit said, adding "there’s politics involved in it.”
A March 15 referendum will ask voters whether the village should join the Fox Lake Fire Protection District. If approved, the fire district — not the village — would assume the duty of taxing homeowners for services and the village would no longer be involved in contract negotiations.
“This would take politics out of it,” Schmit said.
In joining the fire district, village residents will pay slightly higher taxes for fire protection services than they currently do — about $60 more per year for a home valued at $100,000.
Fire district residents have been paying a higher tax rate than village residents since the district approved an ambulance tax increase about a year ago. To make up for this inequity, the village gives the fire district an additional $210,000 in property tax revenue, money that could be used to fund other village needs.
Passage of the referendum “will make all the ambulance and fire tax rates equal throughout the village of Fox Lake and the district,” Fox Lake Fire Protection District Chief Ron Hoehne said.
“If village residents approve this annexation, we would all be on the same page. We’d have one taxing body going forward, which would be the fire protection district," Hoehne said. "We would not have to negotiate contracts between the two of us and the village would not have to take additional funding out of their general fund [to make up for the difference in the tax rate].”
The fire district serves about 33,000 residents in all or parts of Fox Lake, Round Lake, McHenry, Ingleside, Lakemoor and Spring Grove, along with Volo, Grant, Burton and Antioch Townships.
Given that 55 percent of the fire district’s calls are in the village, “it would be a more equitable situation” for the village to join the district, Schmit said.
“That’s how our three district trustees and our department feels,” Hoehne said, noting the Village of Wauconda went through the same process in 2010 and is now in the Wauconda Fire Protection District. “It’s happened all around us — Wauconda, McHenry, Spring Grove, Lake Villa, Grayslake and Round Lake are in fire protection districts. Antioch is also trying to follow suit.”
If the referendum is approved, the fire district plans to add three additional firefighter/paramedics to its staff. Based on shift schedules, this would equate to one extra person on duty per day, all day.
“We definitely need to do that,” Hoehne said. “We are at a minimum some days.”
In addition, the fire district could get caught up on vehicle replacement.
If the referendum fails, “We’ll continue doing what we’ve got to do, but village residents would still be paying less than district residents and the village would have to subsidize the shortfall,” Schmit said.
The village could also place the question on the November ballot should it fail next month.