The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
Dear Editor and Residents of Oquawka, Oquawka Township, Rozetta Township, and Bald Bluff:
We are writing to tell you about some changes that may be coming to the Oquawka Fire Department, and to ask for your help with the process.
For approximately 127 years, the Oquawka Volunteer Fire Department has been providing life-saving services to those living in and around the Village of Oquawka. Each year of the 127 years it's been in existence, a group of dedicated volunteers has answered the call to serve their community.
Their help, at all hours of the day and night, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in all kinds of circumstances, has been only a phone call away. None of that is going to change with the information in this letter.
However, currently -- and historically - this dedicated group of volunteers has relied totally on the generosity of Oquawka area residents to provide the funding necessary to operate the department.
This has come partly though assessments that have been paid on an annual basis, and partly through additional monies that have been raised through fund-raisers, memorials and other voluntary contributions.
We are very grateful for these contributions, and hope that residents of our community will continue to give voluntarily to the fire department into the future.
However, while most area residents faithfully send in their assessments, and are generous in their support, it is also difficult to budget and to plan for the future when funding relies heavily on voluntary contributions and the generosity of the public.
Additionally, the process of raising the needed funds consumes a significant amount of the time of members of the department - time that can better be devoted to training and other actions more directly devoted to the mission of the department.
The department tries to operate on a "shoestring" budget. The trucks that the fire department currently operates were built in 1991 Chevrolet Kodiak 1800 Gallon Tanker, 1993 Ford Squad Unit, 2000 Freightliner Pumper Tanker / Rescue Engine and a 2007 Chevrolet Front Mounted Pumper.
While this apparatus is well cared for, nothing lasts forever. As vehicles age, they become more expensive to repair, maintain, and operate.
In addition, as we all know, everything has become more expensive. A new "air pack" that a firefighter must wear to battle a fire costs approximately $6000.00. As a community, we cannot ask our volunteer members - the husbands, wives, sons and daughters of our friends and neighbors -- to respond to emergencies and endanger their lives without the tools and resources that they need to protect themselves, and to safely perform the actions required to protect the lives and property of our community.
In order to address these and other needs, some time ago members of the fire department and the public began discussions about the formation of a fire protection district. A fire protection district is a unit of local government authorized by Illinois law. Fire protection districts have advantages over voluntary organizations like our current fire department, and fire protection districts are common throughout the state. In our area, for example, the fire departments for Biggsville, Gulfport-Gladstone, Media-Stronghurst-Terre Haute, and Raritan all operate as fire protection districts.
Last fall, a petition was circulated among area residents, asking that the formation of a fire protection district move forward.
As a result, on December 28, 2016, an order was entered in the Henderson County Circuit Court, placing the question of the formation of a fire protection district on the April 4th, 2017, ballot.
At that time, voters will have the opportunity to determine whether the Oquawka Fire Protection District should be formed. We hope that residents will approve the formation of the district.
We recognize that residents will have many questions about what the formation of a fire protection district would mean for the community.
We are planning on holding informational sessions prior to the election, to allow residents to ask questions about what the change would mean.
We are, of course, happy to answer questions at any time, and not just at these meetings, about the process and what passage of the referendum would mean for area residents. Please feel free to contact any of us who have signed this letter with your questions.
However, even if a majority of the voters agree to formation of a fire district, the district will not be formed immediately, and it will not receive any tax monies until the summer of 2018 at the earliest.
We recognize that an important question will be the financial impact on homeowners' tax bills if the referendum passes.
A fire protection district has the ability to collect taxes, based on the value of the real estate within the district.
No one can be certain about what future taxes might be.
However, if the district would levy taxes at the rate of $.125 for every one hundred dollars of assessed value (he fire protection district minimum), we believe that the new fire protection district would receive approximately $41,700. Someone owing a home assessed at a value of $50,000.00 would pay $62.50 of this amount, $25.00 per every $20,000.00 of home assessed value.
However, that same homeowner would no longer be required to pay the annual assessment to the fire department, so this would not be entirely a new expense.
In addition, the taxing process would guarantee that everyone would pay their fair share for fire protection services, and that no homes or property would be unprotected.
No one likes the idea of paying more taxes. However, we hope that area residents will agree that fire protection is an important community service that is required for us to live in a safe community.
No tax-payer money or operational funds of the Oquawka Fire Department were used to print this letter - preparation of this letter was paid for entirely by Oquawka area residents who support the establishment of the Oquawka Fire Protection District.
We hope that you will be among those supporters, and that you will vote "yes" on formation of a fire protection district when you go to the polls on April 4, 2017.
Members of the Oquawka
Volunteer Fire Department
Troy A. Jern, Fire Chief