Harvard’s fire district has aging equipment and no full-time chief. It’s asking voters for a tax increase.

Question is on March 19 primary election ballot; the fire district last sought increase in 1990s

The Harvard Fire Protection District responded to a crash Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, where a U.S. Postal Service struck a tree in the 16400 block of McGuire Road east of Harvard, seriously injuring the driver, a fire district spokesman said.

The Harvard Fire Protection District is asking voters on the March 19 primary election ballot to increase the district’s property tax levy, saying the additional funding is needed to purchase equipment and to hire and retain staff.

The last time the district, which covers about 108 square miles, went for a tax increase referendum was the mid-1990s, fire chief John Kimmel said. “Both failed,” Kimmel said of those attempts. “We have had the same tax levy for 30 years with no increases.”

The referendum asks voters if they will approve “an additional [tax levy] amount equal to 0.17% above the limiting rate ... equal to 0.498360% of the equalized assessed value of the taxable property therein.”

In simplest terms, the new tax levy would bring the fire protection district an additional $545,000 a year in property taxes. For at home valued at $100,000, the increase would raise the portion of the property tax paid to the district by about $170, officials said.

Kimmel has been fire chief at Harvard for the past two years. As a part-time chief, he also works for the Marengo Fire Protection District. As Harvard’s chief, one of the things he had to do was cut payroll. “Our payroll was too high. We didn’t have the opportunity to do what we needed to do” to fix equipment because of payroll costs, Kimmel said.

The department has one fire station, at 502 S. Eastman St. It is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with either two or three personnel, Kimmel said. But residents often notice when it is a Woodstock or Marengo ambulance showing up to their calls.

“I hear concerns from citizens, including the school district” when it is not a Harvard crew responding to a medical call, Kimmel said. If that ambulance is out at a call ”we only have three people” on shift to respond, he said.

Harvard appreciates its neighboring departments’ willingness to step up when there are more calls for service than there are available crews, said Scott Logan, president of the fire district board. “We get that help from Marengo and Woodstock, but we never have the man power to send out our equipment when they need help,” Logan said.

He also appreciate’s Kimmel’s willingness to work two jobs. “We cannot afford a full-time chief, who is going to want a lot more in ways of benefits. We don’t have the money,” Logan said.

One of the problems Harvard – and other departments around the country – have is hiring and retaining firefighters. Kimmel and others have reported problems attracting people to the fire service. Harvard also has to compete with larger departments offering higher pay. “We have got to have at least one paramedic and two EMTs at the same time,” Kimmel said in a discussion with the Northwest Herald in November. “The problem we are seeing now is smaller departments are always a training ground for larger.” Once the firefighters are trained, they often move to departments with better pay.

The age of the department’s fleet of equipment is also a concern, he said. The department’s newest fire engine was purchased, used, from the Algonquin Fire Department. “We could not afford brand new,” Kimmel said. Currently, Harvard Fire has two ambulances, with another on order. The one on order will have a new chassis, but the portion of the truck used in treating patients is reused, he said.

A volunteer group working with the Harvard Fire District has created a website with more information about the referendum at harvardilyes.wordpress.com, and a Facebook page, facebook.com/SupportersOfHFPD.