Since 2015, the Marengo Fire Protection District has lost 18 employees, Fire Chief Bob Bradbury said.
Uneven wages have limited available revenue for equipment for the second-largest district in the state, which covers 106 square miles.
“Typically in this business, your [employee] wages should only account for 65 percent of your budget,” Bradbury said. “We account for
Because of that, the fire district said it is difficult to remain competitive with departments such as Cary and Hampshire, which may have similar roster sizes and call volumes but also offer health insurance plans, pension packages, sick days and vacation time for their employees.
Therefore, the Marengo district is making its case for the approval of a referendum for a property tax increase that will appear on the ballot in April’s consolidated election.
Unlike the Woodstock/Fire Rescue District’s referendum – which is geared toward addressing staffing levels, capital improvements and emergency vehicle needs – Marengo’s referendum only would provide benefits for personnel at the Marengo and Union stations.
Marengo Deputy Fire Chief John Kimmel said firefighters and paramedics make about $46,000 a year without benefits. In comparison, members of the Cary Fire Protection District make more than $81,000 a year with full benefits, while Hampshire Fire Protection District members make about $56,000 with full benefits, Kimmel said.
Cary Fire Chief Brad Delatorre said full-time staff receive health insurance and downstate pension fund options. Permanent part-time employees – who work less than full time but still are on a consistent schedule – have opportunities to participate in health care, and part-time employees don’t receive benefits but get an annual stipend based on how long they have served.
According to the Huntley Fire Protection District’s collective bargaining agreement, a probationary firefighter can make more than $66,000 in fiscal 2019.
Depending on service time, a firefighter can make $90,644 and lieutenants can make more than $104,000 in the same fiscal year.
None of the Marengo Fire Protection District’s 50 employees receive benefits, Bradbury said.
If the referendum passes, a Marengo homeowner with a home valued at $100,000 could see a property tax increase of about $45 a year, Kimmel said.
For a Union resident, the increase would be about $19 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home.
The tax increase would go toward both the Marengo Fire Protection District and the Marengo Rescue District, which when combined cover
24 percent of McHenry County.
The districts operate from three stations: two at 120 E. Prairie St. and 110 Telegraph St. in Marengo and one at 6505 Main St. in Union.
Bradbury said by offering benefits, the district can provide incentives for well-trained firefighters and paramedics to join.
This, in turn, would lower costs for training, which can be as high as $10,000 for paramedics.
Despite current constraints, Kimmel praised the work of Marengo firefighters and paramedics, whose attitude and service to the community is as good as the work of any other district, he said.
“We’re just as good as Huntley or Schaumburg fire, with a quarter of the manpower,” Kimmel said.
To go over the referendum in greater detail, the Marengo Fire Protection District will hold a meeting for the public at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 132 E. Prairie St.