Morris fire district in final lap before referendum

Board president and chief give Coffee and Company presentation

Dave Bonomo, president of the Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District, finishes his presentation on the upcoming tax referendum on Thursday, March 8. The referendum asks for the first tax increase for the district in more than 20 years.

MORRIS – Dave Bonomo guessed he had given the presentation in some form or another about 20 times for clubs and organization across the Morris area. As president of the Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District Board of Trustees, he has been informing as many people as possible of the upcoming tax referendum for the district. The referendum, on the March 20 ballot, will ask to increase the tax rate in the district from .10 to .35, although Bonomo said the board of trustees has made a commitment to only increase the rate to .25

"We're leaving 10 cents for future use," Fire Chief Tracey Steffes said. "We don't want to run a referendum for 25 cents and three years from now need one cents or two cents on top of that."

For the owner of a $200,000 home in the district, the new tax for the fire and ambulance district would equal a total cost of almost $167 per year.

Thursday, at the Grundy County Chamber of Commerce's Coffee and Company event, Bonomo and Steffes gave the presentation to a collection of area business and community leaders. They laid out how the district's costs have increased, as well as the need to add services and pay the employees more. As of now, Bonomo said, the compensation for firefighters and emergency service personnel, is not competitive with other nearby departments.

"We know we're a stepping stone," he said. People will work in the Morris district for a year or two, some making $9.35 an hours with no benefits, before moving on to other departments. "We could not afford to operate a career department."

An immediate impact to a successful referendum would allow the district to run a third full-time ambulance. Currently it runs 2.5 ambulances, a situation that Bonomo said leaves the district understaffed at times.

The fire and ambulance district covers an area of 140 square miles, equal to about 32 percent of Grundy County and includes 22,000 residents, 11 miles of Interstate 80 and 26 miles of other highways.

"We see a boatload of accidents," Steffes said. In 2016, the district logged 6,155 calls. In the area, the service with the next highest volume was Troy, with 2,827 calls.

The district also plans on building a new station in downtown Morris. The current station is more than 70 years old, Bonomo said. The district does not take out bonds or loans, and none of the tax payers money goes towards interest, he said. He estimated a new station would cost about $3 million, and the district already has about half that amount saved.

An informational session will be held for the public at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 11 at Fire Station No. 2 at 2301 Ashton Road, Morris.