Residents overwhelmingly back change in fire service

Residents overwhelmingly back change in fire service

CHAMPAIGN — By a ratio of about 9-to-1, residents in unincorporated southwest Champaign on Tuesday said they are willing to pay a higher property tax rate for fire service from the city department.

For Rolling Acres residents, the cost of fire and medical service will more than triple — an extra $90 annually for the owner of a $100,000 home. It would nearly triple for Cherry Hills residents, too — an extra $85 annually for the owner of a $100,000 home there.

But Rolling Acres Fire Protection District trustee Bob Richardson said he's unconcerned with the higher rate — he's pleased with his neighbors' choice.

"I wanted the residents to choose," Richardson said.

The question was posed on those residents' ballots as their contract for fire protection from the village of Savoy is set to expire. City of Champaign officials had invoked an agreement which prohibited the village from providing any services to those residents.

The Tolono Fire Protection District offered fire service at a lower rate, but most residents effectively turned down that offer with their votes on Tuesday. Beginning April 1, Champaign firefighters from the nearby station 6 will start responding when residents call 911.

Richardson said he has spent the past weeks distributing neutral information and making sure his neighbors knew exactly what they were about to decide.

Resident John Olson, on the other hand, has spent the past few weeks trying to defeat the proposal. He said residents' choices have been narrowed too much by the city of Champaign, though he expected that a minority would agree with him.

"Looking at the numbers, we've got 26 people in our neighborhood that either didn't feel that Champaign would provide better service or weren't happy with the way the contracting was done with the city of Champaign," Olson said.

The arrangement will net about $71,000 in new property tax revenue annually, Champaign Fire Chief Doug Forsman said last month. He compared that to the cost of salary and benefits for one firefighter, which is about $100,000. Richardson said he is happy with his neighborhood's decision and the benefit of having full-time fire and medical personnel nearby will be worth the added cost to homeowners.

"I hope it was because we did our job presenting the facts about life-safety," he said.

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