In 1954, the Grant Park Fire District was incorporated as a fire protection district. Over the past 65 years the fire district has experienced many changes. Over the course of these years, the department has experienced many successes including developing one of the first paramedic ambulance providers in Kankakee County, providing staffing in a fire station on an exceptionally low budget, constructing a fire station and obtaining many items off of grant funding to help enhance and maintain the level of service to the community. Although the department has experienced many successes, today we are faced with challenges that we always hoped would never become reality.
Today, the Grant Park Fire District is tasked with challenges such as replacing apparatus in an extremely outdated fleet much of which requires significant repairs, staffing issues, and equipment replacement mandates. Our current fleet of trucks averages 27 years of age, whereas fire apparatus is scheduled to be replaced no later than 25 years of age. Due to the general wear and tear on the equipment that we rely on to protect our community, the department has experiencing an extremely high increase in maintenance costs to keep our fleet running. Now we are being tasked through state and federal mandates to replace equipment whether or not we have the financial means to do so in order to remain operational. Next, we are operating in a staffing crisis with critically low levels of firefighters due to the reduction of interest in the volunteer fire service, which is an issue that is seen across not only all of Kankakee County but further across the state and nation as well. Staffing was once heavily supported by volunteerism especially in small communities. However, the impact of stagnant population with minimal growth in numbers as well as the financial draw for firefighters to go to departments that offer a higher paying career has directly impacted how many people are willing and able to spend their limited free time volunteering to serve their community in the fire service, which directly impacts the department’s ability to safety staff the station to sufficiently protect the community. Additionally, with the increased minimum wages coming forth in the near future, we are challenged to meet these funding requirements with our current financial budget. What does this mean? This means that we are tasked with 3 major issues on an already extremely taxed budget while being challenged by a significantly increased call volume. This raises concern for our future ability to protect the community if we don’t act now and address this problem immediately.
Because of this crisis we are faced with, the Board of Trustees approved at their November board meeting to ask voters to approve a property tax increase on the March 17, 2020 ballot. For a median house in Grant Park valued at $180,000, the homeowner would see their bill increase to $623 per year, up from $415 – a total of $207 annually or $17.33/month. If the referendum passes, the department would see an increase of $260,000 allowing the budget to address all 3 aspects of the department which are in crisis: apparatus replacement, staffing, and equipment replacement.
The Grant Park Fire District plans to hold town hall meetings to explain our situation to the public as well as sitting down with community leaders and groups to help the community understand our needs to continue to serve the residents of Grant Park. Our department works diligently to be there in your time of need and now we are asking for your help to continue the level of service that you not only want and expect, but deserve!