Thank you to all who participated in our recent Coffee with the Chief events in Peotone and Manhattan. We held these events after both fire protection districts announced that they see clear financial and operational benefits by consolidating both districts.
In making this announcement, we intended to begin a dialogue with Peotone and Manhattan residents about how a consolidation of the two fire protection districts can improve fire service, reduce the burden on taxpayers and ensure that the delivery of critical fire and emergency medical service keeps pace with the growth that is taking place throughout our region.
During the conversations, we’ve had with residents both at the Coffee with the Chief events and elsewhere, residents have asked questions that point to a couple of distinct themes. They are, a) financial impact and b) how the resources will be shared between the two communities that would be served under one consolidated fire protection district.
We’d like to take this opportunity to provide additional information about these two issues.
Both fire protection districts are currently in a sound financial position. That position is significantly strengthened by an agreement where both districts share administrative costs. The shared services agreement has already delivered results in the form of enhanced emergency medical services, response capabilities and training programs. By sharing resources between the two districts, the partnership has generated approximately $600,000 in cost recovery and savings and has led to a more streamlined budget process.
Furthermore, based off Fiscal Year 2021 the Peotone Fire Protection District’s pension obligation is 132 percent funded. The Manhattan Fire Protection District’s pension obligation is 77 percent funded. If there is a consolidation, the new district’s obligation would be approximately 95 percent funded. And while that percentage would likely shift as the consolidated district hired additional firefighters, a consolidated district would remain in a very solid position from a pension obligation standpoint.
Despite the favorable financial position both districts currently enjoy, neither district can realize the full financial, administrative, and operational benefits without a consolidation. In Peotone, for example, budget growth in Peotone over the next five to ten years does not support the ability to implement more stable, full-time staffing models, renovate dated facilities, invest in modern equipment, or keep up with explosive regional growth without seeking tax increases.
Financial strength, as we all know, is never a guarantee. The key to our long-term financial health relies on a combination of short- and long-term planning. We need to responsibly plan in a way that ensures service levels are met not just today or next year, but over the long-term.
Some residents have expressed concern that a consolidation would divert resources from Manhattan to Peotone or vice versa. While we certainly understand that concern, residents need to know that neither Manhattan nor Peotone will face a diminished level of service in any way. In fact, a consolidation would allow for even greater resources serving both communities with the hiring of nine full-time firefighters and paramedics.
A consolidated district would continue to follow national standards to determine staffing levels so that we can respond to any incident in either community. We also currently deploy a “closest” unit/station response whereby units from neighboring communities lend support and assistance on major incidents. For example: if there is a structure fire in Peotone, first responders from Monee, Beecher, Manteno, and Manhattan Station 82 are initially dispatched to assist Peotone. For Manhattan, if there a structure fire, first responders from New Lenox, Frankfort, Wilmington, and Peotone are initially dispatched. A closest unit response would be maintained under a consolidated district.
And it’s no secret that Will County is in the midst of an economic boom. With new homes going up at a rapid pace, skyrocketing job growth in the region, increased truck and commuter traffic on our roads and momentum building for the long-anticipated south suburban airport, we anticipate a significantly greater demand for fire service over the long-term. If we weren’t looking down the road and anticipating how we need to grow and adjust as the region grows, we’d be falling short of the commitment we make to every resident we proudly serve.
Here’s the bottom line: A fully consolidated fire protection district will deliver top-notch fire and emergency medical services to both Peotone and Manhattan. Neither community will receive less service. Neither community will be “funding” service to another. If the voters decide to consolidate, the result would be one district committed to delivering the best possible service to both communities.
We have also received several questions pertaining to the process of consolidation.
In order for a consolidation to happen, voters will need to approve a referendum. Placing a referendum on any ballot is a citizen-driven activity and in order for a consolidation to occur, the voters of Peotone would have to place a referendum on the ballot of a future election.
Who is eligible to vote is an open question simply because there is no way for us to know at this stage what the language on the citizen-driven referendum will say. This is somewhat frustrating for us because we are not able to provide a clear answer to the residents we serve.
Our role is to educate residents about what we see as the benefits of a consolidation.
The best way to have your voice heard now is to get involved in the dialogue. We encourage you to attend future Coffee with the Chief events or share your views with the boards of trustees of each respective fire protection district.
And finally, in listening to your questions and concerns, we’ve learned that there are residents who are viewing a potential consolidation in terms that pit one community against another. We’d like to address this matter in an upfront manner.
If voters decide to place a referendum on the ballot of a future election and vote to approve a consolidation, the result would be one fire protection district serving both communities and residents in unincorporated areas of Will County equally. One fire protection district would be managed by one command staff and one board making decisions based on what is best for all the people we serve, regardless of what community they live in. One district would also be comprised of qualified men and women whose job it is to deliver critical fire and emergency medical services to everyone in the district regardless of what community they live in.
Both districts have a proven track record of working well together, be it on the scene of a major fire or medical emergency or at the administrative level making sure we are spending every dollar wisely and giving our firefighters and paramedics everything, they need so we can deliver on our mission.
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Two more Coffee with the Chief events are scheduled for Saturday, October 23rd. One will take place at the Peotone Fire Protection District from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm. Another will take place at the Manhattan Fire Protection District from 1:30 to 2:30 pm. Full details will be provided in the coming days via each district’s website and social media channels. We are hopeful that residents attend these events. We encourage all to attend and look forward to answering all your questions about how a consolidated fire district can represent both Peotone and Manhattan communities effectively.
For those looking for more information about the benefits a full consolidation can deliver to Peotone and Manhattan, we encourage you to visit our websites. (www.peotonefire.org and www.manhattanfire.org). We have a dedicated resource page under the “public information” tab.