Kadner: Dixmoor to disband fire department
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org November 20, 2013 9:16PM
Updated: December 23, 2013 2:36PM
Financially struggling Dixmoor has decided to dissolve its fire department at the end of the month.
In a letter dated Tuesday, the village attorney notified the union representing fire department employees “that this shall serve as notice that the Village will be moving forward with implementing the dissolution of the Fire Department. The final effective date shall be December 1, 2013.”
Earlier this year, newly elected Mayor Dorothy Armstrong said Dixmoor was facing a budget deficit of more than $1 million. Armstrong said it was costing the village $773,000 a year, a third of its revenue, to maintain its fire department, which had 20 firefighters.
I tried to reach Armstrong for comment but was unsuccessful. However, several village employees confirmed that the fire department was being disbanded Dec. 1.
“The new mayor has been trying to do this for three years, going back to the time when she was a trustee,” said Tim McDonald, president of Local 73 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents the employees. “The village board passed a resolution during a special meeting this week to disband the department and didn’t even allow for public comment before the vote was taken.
“When she (Armstrong) called for a vote, trustees asked if they could comment, and the mayor told them they could comment after the roll call. This is a joke, and this is why Dixmoor will always be looked on as a joke by serious people.”
McDonald said that even before the village board voted to dissolve the fire department, it had laid off six of the 12 full-time firefighters. The village also employs about a dozen part-timers.
A firefighter who said “we’re not allowed to talk publicly about this” told me that Dixmoor is planning to have the Harvey Fire Department provide fire protection for the village and to pay a private ambulance service to provide paramedics.
“I called the Harvey clerk, and they (city council) don’t even have a meeting scheduled until Dec. 9, so I don’t know what Dixmoor is going to do after Nov. 30, the last effective date our guys will be working,” McDonald said.
Dixmoor is one of the smallest and poorest suburbs in the Chicago area, with a population of 3,644, according to the 2010 census. It showed that the median household income was $38,817 and 35.6 percent of Dixmoor residents live in poverty.
The village has a history of political scandals. For a time, it had a park district police force of more than 100 part-time officers and a full-time police chief — even though the park district owned only one park.
No one mowed the grass at the small park, the cyclone fence was rusting and all the playground equipment was broken or unusable. A bond issue of more than $100,000 had been sold to build a fieldhouse, but no fieldhouse was built.
A former park board president and several other park district officials eventually went to prison for stealing the district funds.
In another scandal, Donald Luster, who was elected mayor in 2001, promising to “Bring the Luster back to Dixmoor,” was sentenced to two years on probation for fraud and failing to file an Illinois income tax return. He had collected unemployment insurance during 1999 while earning more than $9,000 a week.
As recently as last year, former Dixmoor Mayor Keevan Grimmett was accused of living in his village hall office. Grimmett was kicked off the election ballot last spring because the local election board found that he did not live at his registered address.
A year ago, Trustee Michael Smith resigned after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of stealing gasoline from the town.
And in February, news reports revealed that only three of Dixmoor’s five police cars had gas, and the fire chief complained that his staff wasn’t being paid.
The union spokesman told me said Dixmoor firefighters are paid “about $12 to $13 an hour, so they’re by no means highly compensated. They’re basically out there risking their lives for their community for 28 grand a year.”
McDonald told me that Local 73 won a grievance against Dixmoor for back pay for firefighters but had not yet collected.
“We were being nice guys and weren’t asking the village to pay up,” he said. “But we don’t have any reason to play nice any more if they’re going to get rid of the fire department.
“They owe about $12,000 to each fire department employee because they gave raises to the police department and didn’t compensate the fire department personnel.”
McDonald said the Local 73 contract with the village that requires that its members get pay raises if the compensation of any other village workers is increased.
I’m not sure if it makes sense for a small village such as Dixmoor to have a fire department when it’s struggling to survive financially (due to falling revenue, incompetence and graft).
I suggested as much to McDonald, who replied, “The people of the village deserve their own fire department. What’s going to happen to the people in Dixmoor if a neighboring fire department is off fighting a fire in its own area and can’t respond?
“And if this village is struggling financially, where is it going to come up with the money to pay our people the money they are owed? It makes no sense.”
It’s nearly impossible to find a government official in Dixmoor who’s willing to comment about anything on the record. Given the village’s sorry political history and resulting bad publicity, maybe that’s understandable.
But I’ve been warning folks for years that there are a number of south suburbs facing financial collapse. Dixmoor is one of those.
Dissolving the fire department might be the right decision, but I wouldn’t blame the residents if they questioned the credibility of their elected leaders.
As poor as many of the residents are, they still pay taxes for village services.
The fact is, they haven’t had much to show for their money over the years.