Mail-in ballots likely to determine Oswego Fire District referendum outcome

OSWEGO -- The fate of the Oswego Fire Protection District referendum now rests with a handful of mail-in ballots.

At the moment, the district’s ballot question seeking a property tax increase is down by just 10 votes after the June 28 primary election.

Unofficial totals show 4,115 ballots in favor of the referendum with 4,125 no votes to the proposition.

In the Kendall County portion of the district, the referendum led by a margin of only three votes, with 4,111 in favor and 4,108 against.

However, the sprawling district extends into a tiny portion of Will County, where 17 voters cast ballots against the referendum and 4 voted yes, resulting in what appeared late Tuesday to be a 10-vote defeat.

Kendall County Clerk Debbie Gillette said there are 121 mail-in ballots from voters in the fire district yet to be returned.

As the ballots come in, the elections office will open them and make verification, Gillette said.

On July 12, the additional ballots will be tabulated and added to the totals, Gillette said.

Based on past experience, a majority of the outstanding ballots are likely to be returned, but to receive all of them would be “highly doubtful,” Gillette said.

Fire Protection District Chief John Cornish was remaining optimistic.

“We’re still holding out hope that the mail-in ballots will put us over,” Cornish said.

Cornish said he was in contact with Will County election officials and that there are handful of outstanding mail-in ballots there too.

The chief credited the Friends of the Oswego Fire Protection District organization for getting the district’s referendum message to the public.

The fire district is seeking a 0.10% increase in the district’s property tax levy rate.

Currently, the owner of a home valued at $300,000 pays about $600 in property taxes to the fire district. If the referendum is approved, that same homeowner would see a increase of about $99 to the annual tax bill

The referendum was the second attempted by the fire district over the past 14 months. Voters narrowly rejected the district’s tax hike request in an April 2021 referendum.

Prior to Tuesday’s balloting, Cornish attributed the fire district’s need for additional tax revenue to the population growth that has occurred in the district over the past two decades along with sharply rising equipment costs.

The fire district’s boundaries encompass a 53-square-mile area of northeast Kendall County and northwestern Will County and includes all of the village of Oswego and unincorporated Boulder Hill, along with portions of Montgomery, Yorkville and Plainfield.

Cornish said that when voters last passed a fire district referendum in 2002 the agency was serving approximately 27,000 residents. Today the fire district is serving about 75,000 residents.

The fire district provides emergency ambulance and fire service from four stations: two located within the village of Oswego, one in Montgomery and one in Plainfield.

The population growth, Cornish said, has served to swell the number of calls for service the fire district receives.

In 2002, he said the agency responded to about 2,000 calls but that number had increased to more than 6,000 calls in 2021.

Call volume has increased by 65% since 2008, the chief said.