Lakewood Fire Protection Switch from Woodstock to CL Draws Criticism

This email from Linda Wagner criticizes the Lakewood Village Board’s 3-1 vote to switch fire protection from the Woodstock Fire Protection District to the City of Crystal Lake Fire Department.

Voting favor were Jeff Iden, Paul Serwatka and Bev Thomas. In opposition was Gene Furey. Ken Santowski abstained. Carl Davis was absent.

Here is Wagner’s critique of the decision:

On Tuesday November 24, 2015 the trustees for the Village of Lakewood voted 3-1 to accept a proposal for fire and EMS protection with the Crystal Lake Fire Department (CLFD) effective January 1, 2016.

This in turn ends the agreement with Woodstock Fire Protection District (WSFD) that has been in place for the past several years.

The manner in which the trustees conducted themselves, as well as the lack of any concrete information as to why they believe the proposal from CLFD is superior to that of WSFD is disturbing.

Both proposals are available to view on the village website.

Village residents were not afforded an opportunity to discuss, debate or dialogue with the trustees in a public forum on the proposals prior to the vote.

It was communicated by multiple trustees there was a plan to “tee up” a public discussion prior to the vote and any remarks or questions about the proposals were not restricted or limited to the Public

Comments section of the meeting agenda. Sadly, the trustees did not follow through with this commitment therefore no public discussion actually occurred prior to the vote.

None of the trustees articulated specifics as to why they believed the CLFD proposal for fire and EMS protection was superior to the proposal from WSFD.

Trustee Serwatka did reference a perceived advantage to having more (4 v. 3) fire and EMS personnel available to the village in the CLFD proposal, yet he apparently did not understand that the CLFD personnel at the Bard Rd station are shared resources for the village whereas the WSFD staff at the Haligus Rd station are dedicated resources to the village (more on this point later). Rather, the trustees simply stated one after one, how difficult a decision it had been for THEM.

The decision on fire and EMS protection, which is a matter of safety, should not be an emotional one.

A decision can be reached using factual information yet the trustees did not reference anything factual – either operationally or financially — as to the reasoning for their decision.

Frankly, if the trustees were concerned about making difficult decisions, they should not have run for public office.

It is known that several of the trustees conducted individual due diligence sessions with representatives from both fire departments as well as individual tours of CLFD Bard Rd fire station.

In fact, one of the trustees contacted my husband requesting directions to Woodstock Firehouse #1 while in route to a meeting with Chief Ralph Webster.

The actions of the trustees appears to be a purposeful and concerted attempt to circumvent the requirements of the Open Meetings Act, leaving residents of the village in the dark.

It also appears there was a purposeful attempt to push the vote through during a holiday week, thereby reducing public engagement.

On November 16th I specifically asked one of the trustees when a vote on the matter was anticipated, and the response was that he “could not remember”.

Two days later on November 18th, a meeting agenda (for the meeting scheduled November 24th) was published on the village website, with a corrected and final agenda published at some point over the weekend of November 21st -22nd.

There is no apparent violation of the Open Meetings Act due to the timing for release of the agenda as only 48 hours is required, it is simply ironic the timing of the vote on such an important matter for the village.

Key Points from the Proposals

The initial costs in total to the village for fire and EMS protection are virtually identical, with CLFD being slightly less expensive year

1: CLFD: $743k WSFD: $750k

A Crystal Lake Fire Department Open House had engines parked outside City Hall.

A Crystal Lake Fire Department Open House had engines parked outside City Hall.

CLFD based their fees on the following formula:

The base rate is calculated utilizing the CLRFPD (Crystal Lake Rural Fire Protection District) tax rate against Lakewood’s Equalized Assess Valuation (EAV). In other words, CLFD is tying the cost of fire and EMS service to increases in property tax which is controversial on its own merit. Increases in cost for future years are tied to CPI (Consumer Price Index). The 4-year historical trend in CPI as noted in the CLFD proposal is:

  • 2012: +3.0%
  • 2013: +1.70%
  • 2014: +1.5%
  • 2015: +0.8%

The use of this formula does not appear to take in account any actual expenses for labor, equipment, gasoline, insurance and other hard costs.

Nor does the formula take in to account any savings Lakewood may realize by changing fire and EMS service to CLFD, such as rent for the shared use of the Public Works facility on Bard Rd.

Woodstock Fire Engine Number 01 headed south on Route 47.

Woodstock Fire Engine Number 01 headed south on Route 47 in Woodstock.

The WSFD proposal of a service fee takes into account actual expense required to maintain the fire house, personnel, equipment and other hard costs based on expenses realized in the prior agreement.

A modest 1.5% increase for years 2-5 is contractually guaranteed which based on the above CPI trends is less than what the village has actually experienced in the past few years.

Historical costs to the village for service from WSFD based on CPI changes were as follows, reflecting quite a bit of upward movement due to the noted CPI trends (hence another indication of higher costs in the go forward years of the CLFD proposal):

  • 2012: $620k
  • 2013: $765k
  • 2014: $800k
  • 2015: $830k

Note: The average annual cost of fire protection for the Village of Lakewood over the preceding 4 year period is $753k.

2. In regards to equipment, WSFD proposed to take ownership of the 2 Lakewood fire trucks and 1 ambulance.

Noting the age of the fire engine (1985), WSFD requested an additional $25k annual capital contribution each year for the sole purpose of investing in a newer (not new but newer) fire engine on behalf of the village.

WSFD cannot dispose of any of the Lakewood equipment without written consent from the village. \

WSFD will also assume all expenses for the maintenance and upkeep of the equipment.

Conversely, CLFD will not take ownership of the equipment nor did they request any capital contribution, as they will simply use current CLFD equipment.

Under the CLFD proposal, the village can dispose of the existing Lakewood equipment as they see fit.

As there is minimal resale value in a fire engine dated from 1985, any proceeds from the disposal of the equipment will simply result in a one-time financial bump for the village.

Lakewood Fire Department

Lakewood Fire Department

3. WSFD will continue to man the fire house on Haligus Rd with 3 trained fire and EMS professionals each and every day 24×7.

In addition, they will maintain the current fire and rescue equipment consisting of 2 fire trucks and 1 ambulance (see above for requested capital contribution).

The 9 firefighters and EMS professionals (3 per daily shift) are 100% dedicated to the village. In other words, the Village of Lakewood does not ‘share’ fire and EMS support with other calls in the larger area for which WSFD serves.

Furthermore, when the fire and EMS team at the Haligus Rd station goes out on a call into the village, the station is and will continue to be backfilled with another WSFD team and equipment.

Therefore the residents of Lakewood will never be exposed to a gap in protection under the WSFD proposal.

4. The CLFD proposal provides fire and EMS personnel plus equipment supporting the village primarily through the Bard Rd station.

Please keep in mind, Lakewood will be sharing support from the Bard Rd station with other calls from that station – including the entire area in which CLFD serves.

According to data shared by the CLFD Fire Chief at the meeting, the Bard Rd station runs approximately 1300 calls per year. With the addition of the Village of Lakewood, the Bard Rd station will add another 300 calls per year on average, accounting for 25% of all the calls run throughout the entire CLFD fire service area.

When the fire and EMS team from the Bard Rd station is out on a call, the station will not be backfilled with a replacement team in case a second and subsequent call comes in.

Given the math reflecting 3.5 calls per day from the Bard Rd station (based on pre-Lakewood volume) that simply shows how frequently Lakewood will be unprotected.

Response times into and around Lakewood from other CLFD fire stations will clearly increase, leaving Lakewood residents unfairly and unnecessarily exposed to additional risks.

I want to be very clear – my comments and position on the above fire department proposals are in no way a negative reflection of CLFD.

CLFD is a highly qualified fire department with men and women who work tirelessly and selflessly every day.

However, it is glaringly obvious that residents in the Village of Lakewood, under the CLFD proposal:

Will be paying more for fire and EMS protection without any accounting for actual expenses realized.

Starting in 2016, Fire and EMS protection for the Village of Lakewood will be provided by shared resources with the broader CLFD territory.

The vote count on the CLFD proposal:

  • Trustee Davis was absent from the meeting and did not cast a vote.
  • Trustee Santowski abstained after failing to secure enough votes in a prior motion to delay the vote for accepting the CLFD proposal to a future meeting.
  • Trustee Furey voted NO to accepting the CLFD proposal.
  • Trustees Iden, Serwatka and Thomas voted YES to accepting the CLFD proposal.

Please join me in expressing your displeasure with the decision of the trustees to contract with CLFD as of January 1, in addition to their complete mishandling of any communication on the matter with village residents.

Contact information for village officials


Comments

Lakewood Fire Protection Switch from Woodstock to CL Draws Criticism — 4 Comments

  1. Woodstock is lucky to have escaped the burden of servicing Lakewood at discount pricing.

    The drop in contract fees from current levels and low annual price increases indicated make it a losing proposal for Woodstock tax payers.

    No mention was made of liability for servicing Lakewood tif district.

    With new development to include at bare minimum a new 100 + unit low income housing project, costs of adequate liability coverage should soar.

    The possibility of job loss for some Woodstock firefighters is awful, and must weigh heavily on the Chief.

    But Woodstock taxpayers are already being burdened with paying 35 years of all education costs for Lakewood tif schoolchildren (while all tif property tax dollars go to developers chosen by Lakewood managers).

    Subsidization of Lakewood fire and rescue services is more than Woodstock taxpayers should be required to bear.

  2. I was a little surprised to hear this.

    Wan’t there a huge kerfluffle over Lakewood breaking with CLFD a few years back?

  3. It looks like the annual fee under the new agreement is totally disconnected from the actual cost of services to be rendered.

    The annual fee will now be directly related to Lakewood’s EAV every year.

    Based on the contract’s formula (EAV/100 x $0.4938), it seems to me that you wouldn’t want to set your base costs to a village EAV ($150.7 million) that currently stands at its lowest point in more than a decade.

    The contract also sets a “Minumum Rate” of 0.49, so even if Crytal Lake’s EAV increases and CL’s limiting rate goes down (below 0.49), Lakewood is still stuck with the 0.49 minimum rate.

    Given that EAV’s are beginning to recover, Lakewood’s future costs under this agreement will necessarily increase based upon the overall improvement of the housing market driving higher assessed values and new growth added to the village.

    The village’s EAV on 12/31/11 was $182.3 million and has fallen to $150.7 million by 12/31/14.

    If the village’s EAV returns to where it was in 2011, Lakewood would have to pay a minimum of $893K/yr.

    The fee is even worse if one looks at pre-recession EAV levels.

  4. Tif eav is not included in rate setting eav, and the way I read it, will not be included when calculating fees.

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