Village mulls fire protection

LAKEWOOD – Lakewood residents will get superior fire protection coverage for less money under a proposed agreement with the Woodstock Fire Rescue District, officials said.

“We are going to provide service better than what you are getting right now,” Woodstock Fire Chief Ralph Webster said.

Lakewood Village Board members discussed the proposal for a five-year contract with the WRFD at a meeting Tuesday. No action was taken, but the board is expected to vote on the agreement next month.

Lakewood established a privately staffed fire department in 2007 run by American Emergency Services. Having the WFRD take over the operation would save about $100,000 a year, officials said.

“This works out as a much better model for us. I think at some point the village should – and this is just a personal opinion of mine – probably join a fire protection district,” said board member Gene Furey, a former firefighter. “We’re not that big of a municipality to field our own fire department.”

For now, Lakewood plans to contract with the WFRD for service. In the future, it would be up to voters to approve joining a fire protection district via a ballot referendum, Village Manager Catherine Peterson said.

If Lakewood joined a fire protection district, village residents would pay taxes to the district for service. Board member Blake Hobson asked if that would mean higher taxes for residents.

Peterson said she hoped that the village would be in a position to lower the property tax rate when village residents consider such a move. That way, any property tax rate increase due to joining a fire protection district would be offset by a decrease in village taxes.

“It would be, essentially, a wash,” Peterson said.

Under terms of the proposal, the WFRD would operate out of the Haligus Road fire station starting Jan. 1, 2011.

For the first year of service, the village will pay $595,000, with an estimated 10 to 15 percent overage built in that will go to the district if not needed for operating expenses. The second year, the payment increases by 5 percent and jumps to $765,000 the third year, covering the cost of additional employees.

The Village Board is set to vote on an intergovernmental agreement with the WFRD at a meeting set for 7 p.m. Dec. 14, at RedTail Golf Club, 7900 RedTail Drive, Lakewood.

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