Lakewood looks for long-term solution for fire protection services

LAKEWOOD – A long-term solution to the village of Lakewood's fire protection services is a topic of conversation as the expiration date for the village's agreement with the Woodstock Fire/Rescue District approaches.

Escalating costs have sent the village from option to option over the past eight years, first ending a decades-long agreement with the city of Crystal Lake to hire American Emergency Services to operate a village fire department and then contracting with the Woodstock Fire/Rescue District in 2011.

A five-year agreement with the Woodstock Fire/Rescue District is set to expire at the end of the year.

“There is a philosophical discussion happening internally about whether we should continue to have a contractual relationship with a provider for this service or run a referendum so that our fire service is provided by another unit of local government through a fire district,” village President Erin Smith said.

Trustee Gene Furey sees it as an inevitability.

“At some point, we have to [go to referendum],” Furey said. “With the size of the village, it’s hard to support fire protection services.”

The village pays for fire protection services out of its general fund, an unusual practice in McHenry County where most areas are served by a separate fire protection district that passes its own property tax levy and has its own governing board.

Maintaining a separate identity had been important to the Village Board in the past but is less of an issue now, Furey said. The Woodstock Fire/Rescue District employees that operated out of the village-owned Haligus Road station used to wear uniforms identifying them as with the Lakewood Fire Department and still use village-owned equipment.

To join a fire protection district or to create its own, voters would have to pass a referendum, something that has happened in the past, Village Manager Catherine Peterson said. Voters had OK’d joining the Crystal Lake Rural Fire Protection District, but for reasons Peterson doesn’t know, the decision was never acted upon.