Troy Fire District voters face $763,000 question

If approved, the district’s annual property tax collections would go from about $5.5 million annually, to about $6.3 million

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Troy Township — The jump in prices for new and used vehicles has been one of the starkest signs of an unstable economic outlook for many consumers.

That sticker shock especially applies to emergency response agencies looking to buy new equipment.

Officials at the Troy Fire Protection District, which covers all of Shorewood, have run the numbers as they look to save up to replace their existing equipment: The cost for a new ladder truck runs close to $2 million; a new fire engine goes for around $800,000; and an ambulance could cost as much as $300,000, and that’s not even counting the equipment. All told, the department estimates that in order for the district to keep up its equipment, it will have to spend about $4 million over the next three to four years.

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Troy Fire District Chief Andrew Doyle said that in addition to increased equipment costs, the district’s call volume has gone up consistently by about 3% each year. Doyle estimates the district’s expenditures are rising by about 6% yearly, while revenues have gone up only about 2% each year.

That is why the district is asking voters to approve a tax increase in the upcoming June 28 primary election, which Doyle said was necessary to ensure his vehicle fleet is maintained to respond to the increasing call volume.

“We want to try to stay ahead of it,” Doyle said.

The chief said if the district didn’t secure the added revenue, he feared it would only cost more money as its vehicles reached the end of their prime usage years.

“Eventually, the equipment will get older,” Doyle said. “It will take longer to replace it. It’ll start costing us more, too, in maintenance.”

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In addition to the vehicles, Doyle said the district had to replace other needed fire equipment such as coats, pants, air packs and more as part of that $4 million figure.

And yet, if the referendum passes it’s not just equipment the extra revenue might be useful for.

Doyle said he wanted to convert three of the district’s 20 part-time firefighter positions to full-time roles. Officials hope that will shore up the district’s personnel. The district employs 36 full-time workers.

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Like other employers, Doyle said fire departments are having a hard time finding qualified workers. He said about half the district’s part-time positions were vacant because other departments were hiring, and firefighters often preferred full-time work.

“We’re struggling to fill those,” Doyle said.

District officials said maintaining the ability to provide service to residents is their utmost concern. They lauded the work of their firefighters to this point, and said it is vital to equip them adequately.

“Our taxpayers pay to have good equipment and good manpower,” said Robert Schwartz, a retired Troy firefighter and president of the district’s board of trustees.

That equipment is needed, even for a district only spanning 18 square miles with about 28,000 residents. Doyle said many of the more than 3,000 calls per year came from accidents along the stretches of Interstates 55 and 80 that his department covers.

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So what exactly is the district asking voters for?

Residents of the Troy Fire District are being asked to approve a new tax rate, specifically for emergency and rescue funds. Basically, if approved, the new tax will increase the existing tax rate on property owners from about 0.72% to 0.82%.

Doyle said the increase would result in a property owner paying about $33 more per $100,000 of assessed value.

If approved, Doyle said the district would be able to collect about $763,000 more annually in property taxes than it does currently. During the most recent fiscal year recorded, the district collected about $5.5 million in property taxes

This referendum also comes just more than four years since the district last asked for a tax increase to help fund its pension fund. Voters rejected that request by a margin of about two to one.

District officials said they understand how tricky it is to ask voters for more money, especially during a time of rising inflation.

“Your expenses increase and so do ours,” Schwartz said. “We got to match that [increase] to keep the services.”

Residents with questions can call the district at 815-725-2149.