East Joliet fire district facing budget crunch
BY TONY GRAF email@example.com December 11, 2012 5:52PM
Firefighters head out of East Joliet Fire Protection District Station 2 in Joliet, Illinois, Tuesday, December 11, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun Times Media
Updated: January 13, 2013 11:07AM
JOLIET TOWNSHIP — Firefighters in the East Joliet Fire Protection District have been told to expect staffing changes and that Station 2 on Zarley Boulevard will be closed effective Saturday, the president of the East Joliet Firefighters Association said.
During a public meeting Monday night, the district’s trustees discussed the budget crunch with concerned firefighters.
Matt Bowles is president of the association, which represents firefighters along with the International Association of Firefighters Local 3775.
Since Chief Robert Scholtes was ill, the district’s attorney, Tom Gilbert, gave a presentation and responded to questions from department members.
Gilbert said the district needs to come up with a plan to eliminate some $400,000 to $500,000 from its budget.
“The reason we need to eliminate that from our budget is because we’re going that much in the hole each year,” Gilbert said. “In the past, we’ve gone out and we’ve got tax-anticipation warrants, borrowing against Peter to pay Paul.”
The warrants are a form of borrowing in which governments take out a loan based on tax revenue that expected to come in later.
“And what you give as collateral on that money is you pledge your taxes — so that if we haven’t paid, then it comes right from the tax money,” Gilbert said.
That’s not an enviable situation, Gilbert said. Nevertheless, the district must find a way to get tax-anticipation warrants to cover its expenses after the first of the new year.
“That’s still up in the air,” Gilbert said. “I don’t have an answer for you. I can’t tell you if we have that money, because as of right now, we don’t have anybody who’s committed to do that.”
Gilbert said the district cannot go much past Jan. 1 without new money to pay its bills. But tax money will not arrive until May or June.
“That’s the reality, guys,” Gilbert said. “I’m not here to sugarcoat it.”
Gilbert commended the union for working with the district and being willing to make sacrifices for the good of the district.
“Everybody’s dedication to their district merited the trustees to feel that they should be completely open and honest with them about the financial state of the district,” Gilbert said later.
Bowles said firefighters received memos announcing the closure of Station 2. The memos also discussed reassignments of some staff to paid-on-call/part-time status, he said.
These moves leave the district with one station that is staffed for 24 hours every day of the week — Station 3 at 911 S. Briggs St., Bowles said.
And staffing will be reduced from six or seven firefighters per shift to four or five, Bowles said.
Bowles also expressed concerns about the time it will take for the district to respond to emergencies. If there is only one 24/7-staffed station, firefighters could get stuck waiting behind a train at a crossing, he said. The district has crossings at Mills Road, Rowell Avenue, Briggs Street and Spencer Road, he added.
“All this is cutting into your time trying to respond,” Bowles said.
Bowles said East Joliet firefighters have no ill will against the district, and said everybody is trying to work together to solve the problem. Bowles said the firefighters understand the budget crunch and the need for cuts.
But Bowles said the residents of the area near Station 2 have a right to know to expect delays in firefighters responding to their calls.