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In Re Elk Grove Rural Fire Prot. Dist.

OPINION FILED JULY 18, 1986.

IN RE ELK GROVE RURAL FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT (ELK GROVE RURAL FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,

v.

THE CITY OF DES PLAINES, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Joseph Schneider, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE PINCHAM DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Respondent, the city of Des Plaines (Des Plaines), appeals from a ruling of the trial court that disconnection of Waycinden Park from petitioner, the Elk Grove Rural Fire Protection District (District) would materially impair the ability of the District to render fully adequate fire-protection service to the territory remaining in the District. The trial court ordered that Waycinden Park remain part of the District.

In 1982, Des Plaines annexed Waycinden Park, which was part of the Elk Grove Rural Fire Protection District. In turn, the District filed a petition against Des Plaines to prevent the annexation. The District's petition alleged that on August 2, 1982, Des Plaines enacted an ordinance which annexed Waycinden Park, and that the disconnection of Waycinden Park from the District would reduce the assessed valuation of the District to such an extent that the District's ability to render fully adequate fire protection service to the remainder of the District would be materially impaired.

The District's petition was filed pursuant to section 20 of "An Act in relation to fire protection districts" (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 127 1/2, par. 38.3) which provides, in pertinent part:

"Any territory within a fire protection district that is or has been annexed to a city * * * that provides fire protection for property within such city * * * is, by operation of law, disconnected from the fire protection district * * * after such territory is annexed * * *. Such disconnection by operation of law does not occur if * * * the fire protection district files with the appropriate court a petition alleging that * * * the loss of assessed valuation by reason of such disconnection will impair the ability of the district to render fully adequate fire protection service to the territory remaining with the district."

The petition prayed that Waycinden Park remain part of the District.

The trial testimony established that the District did not employ firefighters. All of the District's fire-protection services were provided on a contractual basis, beginning January 1, 1979, by American Emergency Services Corporation (American), a private corporation. The contract required that American also provide ambulance and paramedic service to the District.

James Sheldon, trustee and treasurer of the District, testified for the District. His testimony established that the District's assessed valuation at the time of the annexation was $100,236,674 and that Waycinden Park's assessed valuation was $7,980,426. The District levied taxes at the maximum rate established by referendum, which was 70 cents per $100 assessed value. Forty cents of this assessment was for fire service, and thirty cents was for ambulance service. With Waycinden Park included in the District as a taxable entity, this levy yielded $650,000 in revenue for the District. Sheldon testified that the disconnection of Waycinden Park would cause a revenue loss to the District of approximately $53,000 to $56,000, which would reduce the District's revenue to approximately $595,000 to $600,000. The District's total expenditures for fiscal year 1983 were $686,000, and American was paid $549,300 under its contract with the District. For fiscal year 1984, American was paid $587,000.

Next, Gary Jensen, president of American and fire chief for the District testified that American's contract with the District required that American have two paramedics, two firefighters, an alarm operator, and a shift supervisor on duty at all times. Five full-time firefighters (the initial-response team) were on duty at all times. According to Jensen, $587,000 was necessary to provide the same level of service in 1984 that had been provided to the District in 1983, but the same level of service might possibly be provided for $576,000. Jensen stated that if American was forced to operate on less than $576,000, American would have to lay off two or three full-time firefighters. Such a layoff would result in a reduction of American's initial-response team from five to four people 60% of the time. Jensen said that this would not allow American to provide adequate fire-protection service to the District.

Testifying for Des Plaines, Charles Gedroic, fire chief for Des Plaines, concurred with Jensen that a four-person initial-response team 60% of the time was inadequate. Gedroic stated that a six-person initial-response team would be adequate for the District, that a five-person team would "possibly" be adequate, and that a four-person team would be "marginally adequate." Gedroic defined marginally adequate as "not a situation [you] like to have, but sometimes you have to put up with, and you are willing to at times." Gedroic said that a four-person initial-response team, two people on an engine, and two people on an ambulance, is adequate for fires involving "unattached structures like cars or garbage cans, but for houses or anything else, more firefighters are necessary."

Edward Benjamin, a municipal consultant, testified next for Des Plaines. Benjamin proposed an alternative financial scheme for the District which he said would allow the District to provide fully adequate fire-protection service despite the annexation of Waycinden Park. Benjamin stated that the District's revenue without Waycinden Park was higher than the District alleged ($645,793 rather than $600,000), because the District had underestimated its total tax revenue and its prospective collection and that additional revenue was available to the District through unexploited statutory tax levies. Benjamin testified further that if American eliminated its profit margin and its employee fringe-benefits costs from its contract with the District, the District would not have to incur these costs and would save money.

Ruling in favor of the District, the trial court found that the loss of assessed valuation due to the disconnection of Waycinden Park from the District would materially impair the District's ability to render fully adequate fire-protection service to the District's remaining territory. The court ordered that Waycinden Park remain part of the District.

On this appeal, Des Plaines contends that the disconnection of Waycinden Park from the District, and the alleged resultant loss of assessed valuation to the District, would not materially impair the District's ability to render fully adequate fire-protection service to the District's remaining area. Des Plaines contends that mere financial impairment to the District is inadequate to prevent Waycinden Park's annexation. Des Plaines relies on In re Roberts Fire Protection District (1975), 61 Ill.2d 429, 337 N.E.2d 8, in support of its position. In Roberts, the supreme court determined:

"A disconnection by operation of law is to be prohibited when it will result in a material impairment of the fire district's ability to ...


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