Updated: February 10, 2013 6:02PM
Ever heard of the Homewood Acres Volunteer Fire Department? Neither had we until this newspaper’s story last week on some guys in a tiny pocket between Country Club Hills and Homewood trying to play firemen.
The volunteer force hasn’t fought a fire in several years. Some of its firefighters are not certified, and the department lacks state certification. Nonetheless, the fire department has a $40,000 annual budget, funded by leasing a cellphone tower that’s next to the lone fire station and brings in about $3,200 per month.
Who fights fires in Homewood Acres? Hazel Crest’s fire department under a 1995 mutual-aid agreement. But the village manager says Hazel Crest trustees are rethinking that arrangement in light of the Homewood Acres fellas being unable to fight fires. The “mutual” in the aid deal is kind of lacking.
What’s more, the nearly 300 residents of the one-square-mile area can no longer vote for the board that runs the department because the board changed its rules last year to only allow its members to vote on the board members.
So to summarize: Homewood Acres has a fire department that collects $40K a year in rent to not fight fires because it’s not certified, and there’s no public oversight because residents have no say in its operation and board members can ensure that they stay in control. Only in Illinois.
The fire chief says he’s using the rent money to train his men so the department can be certified by June and, in preparation, has spent $60,000 on new equipment. And he and the board seek an April referendum to turn the FD into a fire protection district financed by a property tax on homeowners.
That’s a really bad idea. There’s absolutely no need for this fire department to exist. Illinois has far too many little taxing districts that waste money by duplicating services that another government could provide.
Homewood Acres homeowners should vote instead on eliminating their volunteer force and contracting with Hazel Crest or another fire department, using the rent cash to help cover the cost.