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Expenses Down in New Tentative Fire District Budget on Public Display

It can be found at the fire district administration center and includes money for three new firefighters.

Updated Wednesday, Nov. 16

A tentative Orland Fire Protection District budget, on display now at the , sets revenue and expenditures for 2012 at $29.15 million and $29.33 million, respectively.

While revenue fell about $115,000 and expenditures fell about $800,000 in the last year, the latest figures represent an overall increase of about 30 percent since 2006.

Fire district revenues hit their peak in 2011 at $29.5 million, while expenditures hit their peak in 2009 at $35 million.

Board president Jim Hickey, who joined the district in 2009, attributed increases in recent years to federal mandates that came without sources of funding, cost of living rises in union contracts, and poor long-term planning for major expenses like fire trucks and building repairs.

Former board president Patrick Maher responded to Hickey's claim by describing a program specifically designed to make sure trucks would be replaced when needed and capital projects could be funded.

"I set up a vehicle replacement program and a capital and grounds program which, if followed, would make sure that we always had money in the budget for these items," Maher wrote in an email.

The tentative 2012 budget is the result of in which trustees met with the heads of each department to discuss each department's expenses line by line, followed by a subsequent closed door discussion. After the final public workshops, expenses were slated at $6,000 above the 2011 budget.

As for the further drop in costs since the last workshop, Hickey credited the district "chiefs, lieutenants and firemen who ... kept looking at ways to cut back and save every penny, and say, 'Hey, do I really need this right now?'"

Ten percent of the district's variable costs - meaning those outside of salaries, benefits and other fixed costs - were reduced in this 2012 tentative budget, wrote Finance Director Kerry Sullivan in a letter accompanying the budget document.

"The budget is a framework and it gives us general guidance in moving forward," Acting Fire Chief Raymond Kay said on Friday. "But we know things are unforeseen and we’ll have to adjust."

A possible added expense in 2012 depends on when IDOT will begin widening LaGrange Road, and how many traffic lights they will replace. The signal control systems, allowing fire engines and ambulances to change the traffic lights, are all owned by the fire district, and the financial burden will fall on them to spring for reinstalling, Kay said.

But others believe expenditures could drop as much as another $1 million dollars. Hickey said the fire district has given its lobbyist a list of items that are eligible for state and federal grants.

Besides operating revenue and expenses and capital improvement projects, the new budget also includes money for three new firefighters who would alleviate overtime costs, "but that's subject to change," Sullivan said. "It's a board decision that needs to be addressed."

Robert Buhs, of the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association, is expected to present a 100-page report about Orland’s staffing needs and offer various "options and scenarios" rather than outright recommendations at the next board meeting, Hickey said.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled Dec. 13. Trustees are tasked with approving a new budget by the end of the year.

As of Friday morning, the tentative budget was not posted on the district website. For a line by line peak at the fire district's various departments, visit the administration center lobby.

Editor Ben Feldheim contributed to this report.

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