Election Article

Lincoln Rural Fire Protection District seeks new revenue via a referendum on the November ballot

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[October 02, 2020]   At the November 3rd, General Election voters living outside the Lincoln city limits in the townships of East Lincoln, West Lincoln, Broadwell and Chester will be asked two questions regarding for the Lincoln Rural Fire Protection District (LRFPD).

The first question on the ballot would be to approve a $0.33/$100 property value for Rescue and EMS, and the second question to approve a $0.66/$100 increase for fire fighter services, a combined 99 cents on $100.

Question one: (provided by the Logan County Clerk & Recorder)

Shall the Lincoln Rural Fire Protection District, in Logan County, Illinois, be authorized to levy a new tax for the costs of emergency and rescue crews and equipment purposes and have an additional tax of .10% of the equalized assessed value of the taxable property therein extended for such purposes?

Supplemental Information

(1) The approximate amount of taxes extendable at the most recent limiting rate is $776,065, and the approximate amount of taxes extendable if the proposition is approved is

(2) For the 2020 levy year the approximate amount of additional tax extendable against property containing a single-family residence and having a fair market value at the time of the referendum of $100,000 is estimated to be $33.

Question two: (provided by the Logan County Clerk & Recorder)

Shall the limiting rate under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law for the Lincoln Rural Fire Protection District, in Logan County, Illinois, be increased by an additional amount equal to 0.3000% above the limiting rate for the purpose of fire department operations for levy year 2019 and be equal to 0.89805% of the equalized assessed value of the taxable property therein for levy year 2020?

Supplemental Information

(1) The approximate amount of taxes extendable at the most recently extended limiting rate is $776,065 and the approximate amount extendable if the proposition is approved is $1,054,619.

(2) For the 2020 levy year the approximate amount of the additional tax extendable against property containing a single-family residence and having a fair market value at the time of the referendum of $100,000 is estimated to be $100.

(3) If the proposition is approved, the aggregate extension for 2020 will be determined by the limiting rate set forth in the proposition, rather than calculated under the provisions of the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (commonly known as the Property Tax Cap Law).


Lincoln Rural Fire Chief Chris Buse and LRFPD Board Treasurer Bob Pharis recently spoke about the need and what the additional funding will be used for within the department.

Voters will have the option to approve or deny one or both questions. If they choose to approve the first request funds would be directed to costs associated with the Rescue and Emergency Medical Services (EMS). If only that request is approved, the money received annually for the department would increase by approximately $108,000.

If question one fails and question two passes, the increased revenue for the department would be approximately $278,000.

If both questions pass, the department would receive approximately $386,000 new annual revenue, for a total of approximately $1.2 million.

All figures are dependent upon assessed values of property within the townships and are subject to change based on those values.

Both Chief Buse and Pharis spoke about the dire need within the department for the tax increases, noting that the department has not asked for a tax increase since 2006.

Pharis explained that in 2006, the department was occupying a small station on Woodlawn next door to the Dairy Queen. Because of its size, there was not enough space for the department to store all of its vehicles and equipment. Additional space had to be rented in other parts of the community. This caused difficulty for the department on major calls as there had to be trips to other locations in order to get all that was needed in order to effectively respond to a call.

In 2006, the department had the opportunity to purchase the land on North Postville Drive next door to the Logan County Paramedics Association. Seeking support from the community, a special tax referendum was put on the ballot and passed, allowing the department to purchase the land and build a new station. The referendum then included the issuance of bonds to cover the $1.3 million cost of the new station. That particular tax had a sunset clause that coincided with the pay-off of the bonds.

Pharis said that the members made a verbal commitment not to seek any new revenues from taxpayers until those bonds were paid off.

They made the promise and stuck to it. The final payment on the 15 year bond will occur next year. The 2006 bond tax will appear on the 2021 tax bill, but will not appear in 2022.

If passed, the funds being requested would begin in 2022.

Primer in property tax

The taxes that have just been paid in 2020 are on property assessment in 2019.

Skipping forward, the levy for the LRFPD building goes away with payments made in 2021.

If the referendum(s) to be voted upon this November pass, it would apply to the 2021 assessment to be paid for the first time in 2022.


In late 2005, the Lincoln Rural Fire Protection District announced that they would be placing a referendum on the early 2006 primary election ballot. The referendum would address the need to issue a bond for the construction of the new fire station.

At the March election, the referendum failed by only seven votes. After a lot of work by then Chief Dean Kukuck and the LRFPD Board, and assistance from Emergency Management Director Dan Fulscher, the referendum returned to the ballot in November of 2006 and passed 850 to 736.


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Left to right - Lincoln Rural Fire Protection District Chief Chris Buse is joined by LRFPD board members Crystal Bale, Bob Pharis, Steve Goodman and Tom Irwin.

Why the department now needs more money

Both Buse and Pharis said that the department has struggled to make ends meet and keep its promise of no new taxes for the last few years.

With a net take for operating expenses at approximately $776,000, Chief Buse said $577,000 is spent annually on personnel expenses. The department has six full time paid employees and 24 volunteers. In addition to making payroll, the department pays for all the training for all firefighters paid or volunteer. It also purchases equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) for all firefighters paid or volunteer.

Pharis noted that the workers compensation for the six employees is about $40,000 per year because it is a high risk vocation. In addition, policies similar to workers compensation are provided for the volunteers so that they are covered in the event of injury. Though essential, such insurance a very expensive investment for the department.

Buse said that right now, the department is not in a good place. The money brought in isn’t measuring up to the financial needs of the department. Pharis added that for the last few years, the department has had to borrow money to make it through their year.

Buse said overall costs have risen substantially since 2006, but in addition, in the last 10 years the number of calls answered by the department has doubled. In 2010 the department answered 468 calls. In 2015 they answered 713 calls. There were 875 calls answered in 2019, and this year to date the department has responded to 622 calls.

Each call (going to scene) costs the department money, most of which cannot be recovered from any other source. The department today is making twice the number of calls with its only budget increases coming from the change of assessed values of the property within its taxing area.

It was also noted that the taxing area has changed. Annexation of property into the city limits in the four townships have reduced the number of taxable acres within the LRFPD taxing district.

The LRFPD is part of the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) along with all the other departments within the county. As a member of the MABAS, the LRFPD responds to calls outside of the four township service area and offers assistance to other departments with large fire calls or accidents.

The MABAS system opens the doors for shared services and equipment, but the “pay back” is that when LRFPD needs assistance there are other departments standing at the ready to help out. There are no cash reimbursements for expenses occurred during a mutual aid call.

In Logan County there are only two departments that have full time paid employees, all the other smaller departments are volunteer only. Because of this, the LRFPD is called upon to work outside its given area in order to assist those other departments. Most of this is part of the MABAS program. Buse noted that the department does receive reimbursement from the Elkhart and Hartsburg communities for rescue services per a written agreement with those communities. The reimbursement is for EMS and rescue only, only during the week during daytime working hours. This is done because those departments are all volunteer, and manpower is down during the week when their volunteers are working their regular jobs.

Additional costs that are hindering the department’s financial wellbeing include state and federal “unfunded” mandates. This is not an uncommon practice, that the state or federal government will establish new rules or requirements for departments, but offers no financial assistance to help departments comply.

Not asking for new equipment

The cost of maintaining an aging fleet of vehicles and apparatus is continually increasing for the department.

Even so, Pharis and Buse were both quick to say that the tax is not being requested so the department can buy all new equipment. They are accustomed to working with what they have, and are not looking to spend all the new revenue on equipment.

At the same time, the department is working with an aging fleet and maintaining that fleet is getting more costly every year.

The department’s tanker truck is a 1991 – almost 30 years old and with 159,952 miles on the odometer. The small fire engine is a 2000, the ladder truck is a 2004, and their brush truck is a 2007 model. The departments rescue pumper that is used as the primary response vehicle for accidents and city fire calls is a 2005 with 108,431 miles on the odometer.

What Buse wants the public to know

Buse said that what he would like for the public to know, is that the money that is being requested is to go toward the daily operations of the department, not new vehicles or apparatus.

With only $776,000 in gross revenue, three-fourths of that money is going toward personnel expenses: wages - training - person protection equipment, and not just for the paid staff, but also for the volunteers.

That leaves just at $200,000 per year for equipment maintenance, building maintenance, utilities, insurance, vehicle fuel and other incidentals. Buse said that these are essential expenses that have to be paid, and cannot be reduced because the department cannot control those costs.

What it can control is personnel. Not a good place to be in, Buse said. If the department has to continue dealing with the rising costs of operation, then the only way to balance the budget is going to be to reduce staff.

Buse said that with only six paid employees, he already faces some big challenges in keeping personnel at the station 24/7. Reduction in staff would also mean a greater need for volunteers, and that is a challenge as well.

He noted that nationwide there is a shortage of volunteers and that Logan County is not immune to that.

He concluded that if he would make a statement to the voters of his four townships he would say, “We’re not doing this to try and get new equipment or sneak anything by. Right now, the department is not in a good place. We have tried to hold off this request as long as possible. But this is money that we really need.”

Chief Buse is available and welcomes questions from the taxpayers about the referendum. Taxpayers impacted by this referendum are invited to contact Buse by calling the station at 217-732-6697. Please call.

[Nila Smith]

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