LOWELL | There will be no fire territory in southernmost Lake County, at least, for now.
Councilman Craig Earley, D-1st, told the Town Council on Monday the committee made up of representatives from the towns of Lowell and Schneider as well as West Creek Township will no longer pursue creating a fire territory.
Earley said the decision of Cedar Creek Township Trustee Alice Dahl to not participate in this second attempt to establish a territory essentially sounded the death knell.
"The financial draft showed an increased tax rate of $.3251 for a territory excluding unincorporated Cedar Creek," Earley said. He said more than $500,000 would have had to been cut from the territory's proposed budget to keep the tax rate at $.2349, the rate proposed for the first go-round.
Dahl said earlier, "I don't believe we looked at all our options. The way the economy is now, another tax will hurt people."
The towns of Lowell and Schneider as well as West Creek and Cedar Creek townships applied to the state more than a year ago for permission to establish a fire territory which, it was said at the time, would boost a struggling ambulance service and address other budget constraints as well as maintain local control as there were concerns townships would be removed and fire and ambulance service would be run by the county. Daytime manpower also was an issue.
That application was rejected by the state because the interlocal agreement included nongovernmental entities — the fire departments and ambulance service.
Earley said Monday the committee expected state reviewers would balk at the greater tax rate that would be necessary for a smaller territory.
West Creek Township Trustee Harold Mussman said he couldn't afford to not support a fire territory. "There's not enough money in our budget to take care of fire and ambulance. ... Our levies are frozen. My hands are tied," he said.
Earley said he worries a tragedy might happen because there are frequently no daytime Fire Department volunteers available. While mutual aid pacts cover south Lake County, he said response time is crucial. A fire territory would have provided funds to staff daytime firefighters.
Earley said comments about a county option tax providing funds are not thought out. If such a tax would happen, it would be years away from implementation and would deliver only a portion, if any, for fire and ambulance service.
"For those opposed, give us answers," a frustrated Earley said.