Danville mayor proposes monthly 'fire fee'

DANVILLE — The city of Danville wants to create a monthly "fire fee" that would be paid by residents and businesses and generate more than $1 million in additional revenue for the Danville fire department.

One alderman believes it's a reasonable fee while at least two others predict there will be a backlash from residents and businesses.

Mayor Scott Eisenhauer proposed the new $8 monthly fee during a special budget study session Saturday at city hall as a way to help the city pay for rising personnel and capital costs in the fire department.

Eisenhauer said he has lobbied for continued downsizing of a department with 52 firefighters, including command officers, since 2009. There have been reductions in the number of firefighters in the last several years, but the mayor has unsuccessfully pushed for more. Firefighters' salaries and pension costs have continued to increase, and the department has fire engines that need to be replaced, according to city officials.

So now, Eisenhauer said, he is taking a different approach — one that's been suggested in recent years by some aldermen — in proposing a revenue increase that would go directly to the fire department.

The mayor said the fee would be collected through the city's current sewer and solid waste billing process, so any resident, business or organization getting the combined sewer and solid waste bill would be charged the $8 monthly flat fee.

During Saturday's meeting, Eisenhauer also proposed reinstituting the positions of police chief and fire chief. Several years ago, Eisenhauer created the position of public safety director, a civilian job that oversees both the fire and police departments.

Retired Danville police officer Larry Thomason currently holds the public safety director's position. Eisenhauer said this proposal was not a result of Thomason's performance but has been a recurring suggestion from aldermen and members of both departments.

The mayor's calls for a fire fee and replacing of the public safety director position were both part of the city's budget proposal that aldermen and city officials reviewed at Saturday's meeting.

Eisenhauer said a resolution proposing the $8 fee will be brought to aldermen separate from and prior to the budget proposal, so it would be approved or defeated prior to the final draft of the budget.

City administration officials estimate there would be 10,816 residences and 1,125 commercial entities being billed the extra $8 a month. That would generate about $1,066,000 annually, they said.

Alderman Steve Foster believes it's a fair fee.

"You can't have something for nothing," he said, referring to the fire department.

Alderman Rickey Williams Jr. said he questions whether the fee addresses the most important issue in the fire department — the increase in salaries and pensions. Eisenhauer said this new revenue stream would not go toward fire pensions, which are paid by property taxes.

Whether it's a tax or a fee, Williams said, the bottom line is that it's an increase in what citizens will pay the city.

"I think this doesn't solve our problems, and people won't like it," Williams said.

Alderman Bill Black believes it's a reasonable idea but expects it won't be popular with everyone. Black said it's been his experience that the more money that goes into a department's operations, the more money that department will spend.

"I will keep an open mind on this," he said, "but I think there will be pushback."

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Gordon wrote on January 19, 2014 at 12:01 pm

This fee is a tax!  If the city needs 1 million more $ than man up and raise the property tax and dont hide behind a fee so you can run in the election as not raising property taxes. Property taxes would at least be based on evaluation and more fair.

EdRyan wrote on January 19, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Yes it is a regressive tax.  Someone with a small house close to the fire station would pay the same amount as somewith a mansion far from the fire station.

Lostinspace wrote on January 21, 2014 at 7:01 am

Right.  Or make "fees" deductible.

ssc wrote on January 20, 2014 at 8:01 am

I cannot support this "fire fee" of $8/month which equates to $96/year.  That is a lot of money for many people.  I live on a fixed income and my yearly increase comes nowhere close to covering all of the increases imposed by services.  The sanitary bill increases every year and the solid waste increase was pushed through.  I appreciate the service provided by the fire department but cannot support $8/month.  I could support an increase of maybe $4 but it's like everything else once it's instituted it is increase after increase after increase.  While I realize everything cost more today this is a bit much.  $8/month can make a big difference to a lot of people.  

alabaster jones 71 wrote on January 21, 2014 at 11:01 pm
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Ouch.  8 dollars is an entire hour of pay for most of the select few Danvillians who are actually employed.

LocalTownie wrote on January 23, 2014 at 9:01 am

Isn't that what property taxes are for? To pay for city services and infrastructure?

Skepticity wrote on January 23, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Danville's property tax base is low because much of the housing has extremely low assessment value.  The past exodus of middle class factory workers when the jobs went away left a lot of middle class housing that was bought cheap and converted to rentals, now decaying. 

Many areas have fire protection districts that provide fire services only if you pay the fees. 

In Champaign-Urbana we have sufficient property tax revenue (reasonably high assessments plus high rates) so fire protection is funded.  However, despite decades of property taxes to the sewer district, we are now subjected to a "rain tax."  The storm sewers need repair/replacement, and the regular property tax can't cover the cost.  They didn't set money aside for future needs. 

Government doesn't plan ahead, spends the money they get, and then finds new ways to raise money through supplementary fees or taxes. 

Whether it is fire or rain, we will always be forced to pay more money to government for basic services. 

Every taxing body acts with the confidence that they can continue to raise tax rates and/or add additional fees and taxes as needed.  Eventually what is asked will excede the benefits of living in the area, and people will move on.