CHAMPAIGN — A Tolono Fire Protection District trustee wants residents of unincorporated southwest Champaign to know that there's another option for fire service before they head to the polls.
Voters in the Rolling Acres and part of the Cherry Hills subdivision today will decide whether they want to contract with the city of Champaign for fire protection. Response times will be faster, Champaign officials promise, but it will also be more expensive.
For Rolling Acres residents, the cost of fire and medical service would 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.
On the plus side, if residents approve the referendum, they'll be able to take advantage of the nearby Station 6, which is roughly 2 miles away and staffed with full-time fire and medical personnel.
Denny Davis, a Tolono fire district trustee, said he has a cheaper offer: Starting at $72 per year, regardless of the value of the home, residents can sign contracts with the Tolono fire district. The fee would rise $2 every year until the fifth year of the contract, when it would be capped at $80 per home for years five through 10, he said.
But residents who sign with the Tolono district would have to wait a little bit longer for the fire response: the Tolono department is 12 miles away.
It's also staffed with volunteers, but Davis said that alone should not make a difference. Volunteer and professional firefighters go through much of the same training and have the same skills, he said.
"The difference between professionals and volunteer: Professionals are paid," Davis said.
For years, residents in the two neighborhoods had been receiving fire service from the village of Savoy, until Champaign officials invoked an agreement that prohibited Savoy from providing fire service to those areas.
That gave residents a decision to make: Either sign a contract with Champaign or search elsewhere for fire service. With Savoy out of the picture, Tolono was the only other viable option.
Today's referendum will ask those residents if they want their fire protection districts to sign a long-term contract with the city of Champaign. If a majority votes no, then residents will need to sign contracts individually, and they'll have a choice between the more expensive, closer Champaign department or the cheaper, farther Tolono department.
Residents' fire service agreement with Savoy expires at the end of this month. If voters say no to the referendum, the city of Champaign has already agreed to provide service for one year at the old tax rate while residents look for individual contracts. If residents vote yes, the agreement with Champaign will be extended, and the tax rate will rise.