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Rural Fire District in Menard County Considers 34% Tax Hike

Breaking away was supposed to be cheaper for taxpayers in the Petersburg Community Fire Protection District, but the district's trustees are now considering a major tax hike.

An official notice published last week stated the district would need to levy $103,081 for the current fiscal year - 33.87 percent more than last year's $76,997. Trustee Hal Schirding said that's only the backup plan, and the actual levy should be much lower.

Much of the controversy revolves around the reasons the fire district trustees chose to break away from a decades-long relationship with the City of Petersburg, which provided it with fire coverage. But after years of tense relations with the city, the final straw for the trustees was a $15,000 hike in their contract with the city for fire protection.

"There was no guarantee it wasn't going to continue to go up every year,"fire district trustee Hal Schirding said.

So the trustees struck out on their own to build a fire department they said would be cheaper and more under control of taxpayers. It has been in operation since Sep. 11.

But fire stations, trucks and equipment don't come cheaply either. The total budget published by the trustees comes $731,375 this year, though Schirding says it's actually much lower.

"Since you have to add in the money we borrowed, it just over inflates what our budget is," Schirding said.

Schirding said the district was realistically looking at a $90,000 budget and a five to 10 percent increase in its portion of property taxes. The 33.87 percent is a safeguard in case the taxes had to be raised higher, he said.

"And I don't have an example in front of me, but $15 or $20 would probably be the most if it goes up that much," Schirding said.

Petersburg Mayor John Stiltz said he was not surprised to hear about the potential tax hike.

"With the costs of fuel going up, the cost of maintenance and truck costs - it'll probably be there will be another tax," said Stiltz.

And whether it's a big or small tax increase, Chuck Ciesler, a Petersburg firefighter and a rural district taxpayer, is not excited about what service his taxes will bring him now.

"Petersburg Fire response time is usually five to seven minutes from call to on scene," Ciesler said. "It takes you five minutes just to drive out to their (the rural district's) fire house."

Nor is he excited about relying on the 32 volunteers of the rural district's department, of which he said many are untested. The trustees plan to follow through, though, and believe they'll eventually break even.

"And we have something to show for it, and we have a voice in it," said Schirding.

Not everyone in the rural district is excited about their new fire department either.

Stiltz said one surrounding community already wants to be annexed into the city so it can receive municipal fire protection, and disgruntled residents have been circulating a petition to vote for the fire district's trustees rather than have them appointed by the Menard County Board.

The trustees are holding a public hearing on the tax increase on Nov. 18, 2013 at 7 p.m. at the office of Grosboll, Becker, Tice, Tippey & Barr on 101 E. Douglas St. in Petersburg.

If you would like to speak at the meeting, contact David Leischner, President of the Board of Trustees: 49 N. Shore Drive, Petersburg, IL 62675 or by phone at (217) 632-3912.