July 18, 2012 - When Addison Township voters trek to the polls in November, they will be asked to simultaneously increase and renew one of their fire operating millages.
On Monday night, township officials voted 7-0 to place a five-year, 0.75-mill fire tax proposal on the general election ballot.
The current millage rate is 0.7473 mill and it's set to expire Dec. 31, 2013. It's one of three operating millages that support the fire department. The other two are both being levied at 0.75 mill and were approved back in 2008 and 2010.
A mill is worth $1 for every $1,000 of a property's taxable value. In this case, the request equates to 75 cents for every $1,000 of taxable value.
If voters approve this request, the tax rate will be increased to 0.75 mill – the rate voters originally approved for fire services back in August 2006 – and the tax will be levied from 2014 through 2018. It's expected to generate $207,019 in its first year.
The current 0.7473-mill rate is a result of when economic times were better and the state's Headlee Amendment rolled it back, so even though less millage was being levied, it was being collected on properties with higher values, meaning there was no loss in revenue for the fire department.
Unfortunately, property values have declined significantly over the last few years, meaning the fire department has been collecting less revenue now as it's been levying this reduced – or rolled back – millage rate on properties with lower values.
Fire Chief Jerry Morawksi indicated that without a return to 0.75-mill rate, he would have to trim his already lean staff.
"We're already at the bare minimum anyway, (with) only one person on duty . . . during the 24-hour shift," he said. "About 80 percent of our operating budget is payroll, (so) we'll be in big trouble if we (don't) have the millage renewed. . . we just won't be able to keep the doors open."
"We'll have to do some layoffs or something—that's fair to say," the chief noted. "(But) we're bare-bones anyway. If I laid somebody off, I just wouldn't have service during those hours."
"With our long (ambulance) transport time, it's pretty crucial that we get there in a timely manner to get somebody to a hospital (because) we're so far away," Morawski explained. "We're twenty minutes from the nearest hospital."
Pearson finds Morawski's request to be reasonable. "Looks like he's talking about a couple dollars per household," said township Supervisor Bruce Pearson. "(The chief) is right: he's been collecting less and less every year and he's not asking for an 'increase,' he's just asking to restore (the millage rate) to where it was."
"A good thing about the chief," the supervisor continued, "is that he has been frugal. He has kept his budget really tight, (so) when the chief comes and tells me that he needs to restore (the millage), I listen to him because he's always been forthright with us. He's never asked for more than he deserves."
What's more, the department has performed so well that homeowners have actually saved money while Morawski has been at the helm, Pearson claimed. "The fire department has been so successful in lowering everybody's ISO rating, and they're so well-trained that they've saved everybody hundreds of dollars on their home insurance and to keep that maintained we need to keep the fire department at its ultimate so that everybody can keep saving that insurance money," Pearson said.
As an illustration Pearson said "I saved $600 on my home insurance. We went from an ISO rating of nine down to a five, and I saved a ton of money, so I don't mind giving (the fire department) back $10 or $20."
Morawski anticipates voters will approve the millage renewal. "We have a pretty good backing from our town. . . . The only problem is that when you have to write 'increase' on the ballot, sometimes the best thing you have to do is to educate our people. We just have to educate them and let them know we already had that amount," he said.
Pearson is confident in the voters' wisdom. "I think that when (Morawski) speaks and the Board speaks, everybody knows that we don't put anything on for a vote unless we agree with it and it is necessary . . . . I think that they'll trust that the fire department has always been forthright in the past and they're being forthright now"