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Calls for tax increase to assist North Palos Fire Protection District

By Joe Boyle

Palos Hills Ald. Mike Price (1st) listened to an overview presented by Paul Mackin, fire chief of the North Palos Fire Protection District, during last Thursday night’s committee meeting and had a question.

“If the referendum doesn’t go through, will there be more reductions for the fire department?” Price asked.

“Yes, there will be reductions,” Mackin replied. “We have made reductions already. We used to have five (firefighters) at a station and we are down to four at each station now.”

The referendum will appear on the Tuesday, April 2 election ballot. The referendum question that will be posed for voters is: “Shall the extension limitation under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law for the North Palos Fire Protection District, Cook County, Illinois, be increased from the lesser of 5% or the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index over the prior levy year to 20% for levy year 2019? For the 2019 levy year, the approximate amount of the additional tax extendable against property containing a single-family residence and having a fair market value at the time of the referendum of $100,000 is estimated to be $52.20 in Cook County.”

Palos Fire District officials estimate that is $104.42 a year, or 29 cents a day.

Mackin told the board that operating and essential costs continue to outpace the tax caps. District operations are primarily funded through property taxes and ambulance fees, Mackin said. He added that tax monies are capped every year under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Lawn (PTELL) to the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

“We’re at a point where we need it,” Mackin said.

The North Palos Fire District, formed in 1952, is a separate organization and taxing body and relies on property taxes to fund its operations, Mackin said. He added that the district provides all day and night coverage of 30,000 residents from three staffed fire stations covering 14 square miles.

“We handle more calls than any other district around,” Mackin said. “We handle more calls than Palos and Palos Heights combined.”

In 2018, North Palos responded to 5,485 calls. Palos received 3,046 calls while Palos Heights responded to 2,292, according to statistics provided by North Palos.

Mackin said there has been a 17 percent increase in calls since 2009. Mackin said North Palos has already made reductions, with daily staffing reduced from 16 to 13. Three part-time firefighter positions, a full-time administrative assistant, and a deputy chief appointment have been eliminated. Cuts critical to service and equipment upkeep are the only viable options, Mackin added.

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett mentioned that North Palos has not called for a referendum since 1995. The last time before that was 1975.

The Village of Worth is also served by the North Palos District. Although Worth residents will not vote on the referendum, they would see a tax hike if the measure passes.

Ald. A.J. Pasek (3rd) voiced his concerns stating that he believes Palos Hills is paying for Worth’s fire protection. Bennett countered that is not true, that the fee is taken out of their general fund.

“They have some concerns,” Bennett said about Worth. “I have talked to Mayor (Mary) Werner and they know the challenges.”

Bennett did mention to Mackin that state legislators are considering the possibility of consolidating some fire district services. Mackin said he is aware of that but emphasized that to continue the services the public has had in the past will warrant higher taxes.

“We are working within a budget, but it is a cash flow situation right now,” Mackin said. “The banks have understood in the past but how long can that go on?”

In the city council portion of the meeting, City Attorney George Pappas said that the lawsuit against the owner of Valley Plaza will continue with a scheduled hearing for Friday, April 5. Pappas said the owner has not returned repeated calls and refuses to clean up the property.

Ald. Joe Marrotta, who heads the building and licensing committee, wanted an update on the owner of a home at 7820 W. 102nd St. Pappas believed that the owner had been complying with cleaning up the property after receiving a series of citations. Marrotta said despite the fact the owner has put up a stilt fence, the property has not been cleaned up.

“Well, we can file a lawsuit,” Pappas said.

“Absolutely,” Marrotta responded.

The board approved the purchase of a school bus for $2,000 to replace a vehicle that is beyond repair.

“We are replacing a 20-year-old van with a new one that should last us for many years,” Bennett said. “I want to thank the board for voting for this.”

Ald. Ricky Moore (4th) said that it will cost $825 for a season pass to play at the Palos Hills Municipal Golf Course. Two part-time employees are being considered for the summer. He added that the golf course has some drainage issues that have to be dealt with.

Ald. Pauline Stratton (2nd) reminded the board and residents that the Senior Spring Fling will be held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, April 5 at the Palos Hills Community Center, 8455 W. 103rd St. Food, entertainment and bingo will be offered. The cost is $10 per person. More information can be obtained by calling (708) 430-4500.

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