Passage of fire operating millage ‘crucial,’ chief says

From house fires to medical emergencies to car crashes, when folks need help, the local fire department is at the very top of the call list.

The Addison Township Fire Department is hoping voters will return the favor by giving it some help when they head to the polls for the Aug. 7 primary election.

On the ballot is a six-year, 2.25-mill tax request to fund the department’s operations. If approved, it would be levied from 2019 to 2024 and raise an estimated $788,865 in its first year.

One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.

Fire Chief Jerry Morawski said “it’s crucial” that voters pass this proposal.

“If we don’t get the millage, we’ll have to go back to the voters again or cease operations,” he said. “We need that money to operate.”

The operating millage pays for all the wages, equipment, supplies and upkeep associated with a department that has two stations, 11 vehicles and a 25-member staff (six full-time employees and 19 paid-on-call members).

“There’s 18 or 19 line items that we budget for every year (that come) out of that operating money,” Morawski said.

Things have been pretty quiet around Addison when it comes to this millage proposal.

“I have not heard anything, so I don’t know if that’s a good sign or not,” Morawski said. “I’m hoping that our residents understand what we do for them.”

This tax proposal is three things rolled into one – it’s a combination of three existing millages, it’s a renewal and it’s a slight increase.

Three separate, existing operating millages will be merged into one in an effort to simplify things and save money.
Morawski explained the department wants to do this so it doesn’t have to keep going to the voters every two years, like it’s been doing, constantly seeking renewals.

“People felt like every time they’d go to the polls, they were voting on a fire millage,” he said.

If approved, this six-year proposal would give the agency funding through 2024, at which point it plans to begin requesting the renewal of single operating millage every four years in conjunction with the presidential election cycle.

The proposal is both a renewal of the current operating millages and an increase. Addison is currently levying one fire tax at a rate of 0.7321 mill and the other two at 0.7295 mill each, for a total of  2.1911 mills. All of them expire this December.

Voters are being asked to renew that 2.1911 mills and increase the total by 0.0589 mill to get things back to the voter-approved rates. Each of the three operating taxes was originally approved at 0.75 mill. Voters passed them in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

Not included in this tax proposal is the fire department’s 0.7446 mill tax to fund capital costs. That will remain separate from the operating millages. Approved in 2016 at 0.75 mill, it expires in December 2024.

Morawski, who’s lived in Addison since 1985 and served as chief since 2009, stressed the fire department is very fiscally responsible and frugal, always striving to give residents “as much as we can for the dollars they give us.”

“That’s what (residents) expect and that’s what I expect,” he said. “We don’t waste any money here. I really can honestly say that as a taxpayer.”

Morawski noted the fire department is “the only government (entity) that actually can help save our residents money” in terms of their property insurance premiums via the community’s Public Protection Classification (PPC) from the New Jersey-based Insurance Services Office (ISO).

Due to the department’s efforts, effective Oct. 1, the majority of Addison Township will be upgraded from Class 5 to Class 3. The Village of Leonard is included in that, but it was already Class 3 and has been for 10 years.

When it comes to ISO ratings, the lower the number, the better. After collecting and analyzing data regarding a municipality’s fire-suppression efforts, ISO assigns a PPC grade ranging from 1 to 10.

Class 1 represents “an exemplary fire suppression program,” while Class 10 means an area’s fire suppression program “does not meet ISO’s minimum criteria.”

“Assuming all other factors are equal,” the ISO website states, “in  general, the price of insurance in a community with a good PPC is lower than in a community with a poor PPC.”

Overall, Morawski indicated the community has been very supportive.

“I hear a lot of good stuff about the fire department,” he said. “We’ve turned a lot of naysayers into yea-sayers, so to speak.”

He has no problem answering any questions Addison residents may have about the millage proposal or the department itself.

“Honestly, if someone has any doubts, they can come up here, have a cup of coffee and I can explain everything to them,” Morawski said. “They will see their money is being spent wisely. Come up to the station and find out what we do. We’re always here and ready to go.”

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