Fire departments, schools asking for more cash on Lake County ballot

By Russell Lisseu, Daily Herald

Photo: Fox Lake Firefighter Paramedic Rob Rand works with an ambulance the department had to take a loan out to purchase. The Fox Lake Fire Protection District will ask voters in unincorporated areas to increase property taxes to add paramedics, replenish reserve funds and establish a heavy equipment replacement fund.
2nd photo: On Election Day, Grass Lake School District 36 voters will decide the fate of an $11.6 million plan to build a new two-story school.

The future of ambulance service in the Antioch area and school improvement projects in Gurnee are among the ballot questions Lake County voters will face on Election Day. Depending on their address, they may also be asked about raising money for fire department services in the Fox Lake area or whether the decades-old Grass Lake School near Antioch should be replaced with a modern building.

Early voting ran March 23 through Saturday and gave Lake County voters a chance to share their feelings about these and other referendums. Tuesday is the last chance for anyone interested in voting to cast a ballot in the general consolidated election.

Here’s a look at some of the plans before voters.

Fox Lake fire

The Fox Lake Fire Protection District wants more money to add paramedics to stations in unincorporated areas, replenish reserve funds and establish a heavy equipment replacement fund. The plan would generate about $850,000 in new revenue to the fire district in the first year.

“We have had the same ambulance tax in the district since 1978,” Chief Ron Hoehne said last month. “We have never gone to the voters seeking additional revenue for the fire district. But, we just hit a point where we have to at this point.” If voters in the fire district’s unincorporated area approve the request, their property tax rate would jump up about 21 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation. The owner of a $100,000 house would see their property taxes increase about $72 per year, officials have said.

Antioch ambulances

Voters who live in Antioch and unincorporated areas of Antioch Township have been asked to approve a new tax to pay for ambulance service. The tiny Antioch Fire Department provides fire and rescue services in the village and in the unincorporated area. There are dedicated funds for fire service, but officials say no money is budgeted for emergencies requiring ambulances.

The proposed tax is expected to generate about $1.5 million annually. If approved, the plan would result in the owner of a house valued at $200,000 paying about $166 more in property taxes the first year. Voters rejected an identical request in November.

Grass Lake School

Also in the Antioch area, Grass Lake Elementary District 36 officials are floating an $11.6 million plan to build a new school that would replace the current 68-year-old facility. Officials want to borrow about $5.6 million to help pay for the work. The remaining $6 million will come from district savings and money specifically budgeted for this type of work. “The district has been engaged in strategic, long-term financial planning to address the aging Grass Lake School facility for the past five years,” Superintendent Terry O’Brien said.

The latest plans call for a two-story, 36,960-square-foot building. It could have 14 classrooms, a music room, an art room, science labs, a common area and other amenities. If voters greenlight the work, the owner of a house valued at $200,000 will pay about $318 more in taxes to the district the first year, according to district documents.

Woodland schools

Woodland Elementary District 50 school officials want to increase the property tax cap for one year to raise money for central air conditioning at Woodland Primary School in the Gages Lake area.

They also have proposed using the money to fund enhanced classroom technology, security enhancements and building repairs throughout the district, among other work.

If the measure passes, the owner of a house valued at $200,000 would pay an additional $114 in property taxes to the village in 2016. Whereas opposition groups haven’t surfaced to criticize the three other proposals, a tax watchdog group has said the Woodland projects are unnecessary and should be voted down.

• Daily Herald staff writers Lee Filas and Bob Susnjara contributed to this report.
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