Special Service Area Controversy Reignites at City Council Meeting
City, fire district spar over protection cost.
A public hearing on levying extra taxes for fire protection services in unincorporated Elmhurst Monday reignited a disagreement between the city of Elmhurst and Bensenville Fire Protection District 1.
The Special Service Area would establish a levy rate of 40 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation for homes in Country Club Estates, an unincorporated area serviced by Bensenville Fire Protection District 1, east of York Road and south of Grand Avenue.
Bensenville Fire Protection District 1 is a "paper only" district that doesn't have its own station. It contracts with the Elmhurst fire department to cover the homes in District 1 south of Grand and with Bensenville Fire Protection District 2 for homes in District 1 north of Grand.
The Special Service Area needs to be established, Elmhurst officials say, because the tax cap prevents the city from levying the full amount of the cost of services from residents in the portion of District 1 south of Grand. In February, residents of all of District 1, both north and south of Grand, failed to approve a referendum that would have increased their tax rate to cover the costs of maintaining fire protection service from Elmhurst.
"Elmhurst cannot provide services outside its borders for less than residents pay," City Manager Tom Borchert said.
Attorney Keith Letsche, representing Bensenville Fire Protection District 1, told the council that the establishment of the Special Service Area would result in double taxation for the almost 400 households in the district.
Paul DeMichele, District 1 secretary, told the City Council that the district has levied at the 40-cent tax rate every year, but the DuPage County Clerk, because of the tax cap, reduces the levy to the amount of the consumer price index. This has resulted in District 1 paying only 26 cents per $100 of EAV to the city.
Borchert told the audience that District 1 does not owe the city any money for service provided to this point, and that there is no requirement that any home in District 1 annex into Elmhurst.
District 1 President L. Donovan Heinz wondered how the city could say that a majority of residents in the proposed Special Service Area approved of the increased levy when the referendum was defeated in February.
Borchert replied that the city sent a letter about the SSA to the homes south of Grand Avenue in District 1 and that homeowners responded five-to-one that they wanted service from Elmhurst to continue. He added that the SSA would represent about 40 percent of District 1, only those homes south of Grand, but that the February referendum was asking for a tax increase for residents of the whole district, even those north of Grand who would see no change in service.
Pete Smith from the Maywood Sportsman's Club, located along County Line Road south of Grand Avenue, said his group was in favor of the SSA. The sportsman's club is technically in a second proposed service area because it is not contiguous with the District 1 area.
The public hearing process remains open for 60 days. The City Council will consider the special service area at its Dec. 20 meeting. City Attorney Donald Storino told the audience that anyone can file an objection to the proposed area if they obtain signatures from 51 percent of eligible voters.