(For immediate release Feb. 11) The Antioch Fire Department/First Fire Protection District Board of Antioch voted unanimously Thursday to raise the tax levy via referendum on the June 28 primary ballot.
Antioch Fire Chief Jon Cokefair said the need to increase the fire district levy rate will offset the overwhelming cost of construction repairs needed at the fire district’s three fire stations, as well as increase salaries for quality paramedics and EMT’s in Antioch.
“It’s not something we “want” to do. It’s something we absolutely have to do,” Cokefair said. “Fire station one is in extremely bad shape and additional repairs are needed at stations two and three. Things are rough and it’s not going to get any better without fixing it.”
If the tax levy referendum is approved by voters and the levy increases to .8 percent, the owner of a $200,000 home living in the fire district would see their taxes increase about $167 annually. Cokefair said the tax levy would increase to the highest amount allowed by law, but remain comparable to fire districts in Lake Villa, Lincolnshire-Riverwoods, Newport, and lower than fire districts in Beach Park, Grayslake, Long Grove and the Greater Round Lake area. He added the rate will not ever be allowed to change again as .8 is the highest allowed by state law.
Cokefair said repairs are desperately needed at all three Antioch fire stations, but station one at 835 Holbeck Drive is the worst. He pointed out sewage continues to back up in the basement of fire station one, there is consistent basement flooding, the three-story tall training tower is pulling away from the main structure to a point where ratchet straps have been installed to keep the structure from pulling away further. He added several garage doors do not open because the doors need to be replaced, asbestos remains in the tiles, and the building is not compliant with the Americans with Disability Act.
“The condition of the tower continues to deteriorate and critical repairs are needed,” Cokefair said. “Roof leaks are causing the tiles to fall and firefighters are occasionally wearing helmets when walking through the engine bay for their own safety. We don’t have the money to fix any of this.”
Additional revenue is needed to increase salaries, Cokefair added. He said emergency medical technicians are currently only making $15 an hour to start, while paramedics are earning a starting wage of $15.50 an hour.
“These salaries are so low we have a hard time retaining paramedics and EMTs,” Cokefair said. “It’s scary to think people suffering from a heart attack are being given CPR and paddled by a paramedic earning about the same as a crew member at Dunkin’ Donuts.”
Cokefair said things have become so desperate in Antioch that there is no answer but to increase the tax levy.
“If it fails this time, I’ll be right back out here in November asking for another levy increase,” Cokefair said. “It’s reached the point where we need additional funding to stay in business if people want to make sure an ambulance with experienced paramedics arrive at their home to take them to the hospital during their medical emergency.”