Tax for fire service discussed in Wauconda

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A question facing Wauconda voters on the ballot in November relates to fire and ambulance service, but village officials say the implications are much broader.

And, that's why they have been figuratively hitting the streets in a hard sell to explain the story behind the proposition to annex territory to the Wauconda Fire Protection District.

"We've had about six meetings with associations and clubs already. They understand it's a problem," Village Administrator Dan Quick said. Seventeen more groups are on the schedule heading into October, he added.

Village leaders will present their case to the general public at 7 p.m. Thursday during a town-hall meeting at the Wauconda High School cafeteria, 555 N. Main St.

Materials presented at these meetings ask voters what they want the village to look like - financially stable with the ability to maintain services, not require vehicle stickers, and pave roads? Or a town with an exponentially increasing deficit, no savings for emergencies and more reductions in staff and services.

Basically it comes down to a matter of money. The village is the only entity in the 50-square-mile Wauconda Fire Protection District boundary that contracts separately for fire and ambulance service.

"We're using our general fund money to pay the $2 million contract," Quick said. "There's no more dollars to do that."
Outside of town, property owners are taxed for the service, which appears as a separate line item on their tax bills.

The question being asked of voters is whether the village should annex to the district and share in its indebtedness, which means pay taxes for the service.

Owners of a home in Wauconda valued at $200,000 would pay about $269 each year. But village officials say they would cut by half the utility taxes, which have been used to pay the contract.

That offset would mean homeowners would pay about $159 more in property taxes each year for fire and ambulance service. The remaining utility tax revenue would be used to maintain other services and defray deficits.

The village budget deficit is estimated at more than $1 million in 2011-12 and increases to more than $4.3 million in 2013-14 if voters say "no".

Quick said during the last two years the village has: cut nearly a quarter of its work force, dropping to 66 from 86 employees; renegotiated health insurance, which saved $250,000; and taken other steps to address the financial situation.

Should voters disagree with annexing to the fire district, the village likely would contract with other providers, "which are less expensive but what about the service?" he asked.

"It's in the taxpayers' hands."