The fire protection districts covering much of Manhattan and Peotone said they think it would be best to consolidate to adequately maintain its services for residents while saving money in the long term.
The Peotone Fire Protection District announced its intention to combine with Manhattan’s fire district in a press release. District officials said their existing budget growth over the next five to 10 years do not support their ability to maintain adequate staffing, renovation or equipment needs without raising taxes.
“The communities we serve are better off over the long term with us operating as one district instead of two,” said Manhattan Fire Chief Steve Malone in the release. “We’ll be able to further reduce our administrative costs, eliminate duplicative costs and reinvest those dollars into hiring full-time firefighters and paramedics, upgrade our facilities and equipment, and ensure that our personnel have everything they need to serve the residents of Peotone and Manhattan proficiently and professionally.”
The two districts have already consolidated administrative functions, which effectively means Malone has been serving as the fire chief in both districts. The agreement, approved last year, saved the two districts approximately $600,000 in just the past year, according to the release.
Malone said cost constraints, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, have effected smaller districts like Peotone which rely on part-time firefighters. He said such districts are struggling to hire workers and turnover tends to be high.
“It’s hard to keep people,” he said in an interview. “(Firefighters) are always looking for a full-time job.”
Malone said if the consolidation goes through, Peotone would be able to benefit from Manhattan’s 15 full-time firefighters. The district also has 18 part-time firefighters.
To consolidate, the districts would need approval from the voters in Peotone’s district via a referendum question in a future election, which would likely be the primary next June. Malone said the referendum would likely originate in Peotone and Manhattan residents might be able to vote on it depending on how the question is worded.
Malone said the public will have opportunities before then to ask questions about the process.
“Our goal is to educate residents and share as much information about consolidation so that they can be informed about how essential public safety services are delivered and funded well into the future,” Malone said in the release.