Constantine seeks permission for first responder special assessments
CONSTANTINE — Police, fire and ambulance services are considered to be essential services to any community to keep people safe.
With rising expenses in recent years, however, one community is hoping residents will give them permission to let them get more funds for these essential services.
The Village of Constantine will have three separate proposals on the Aug. 2 primary ballot. They look to give the village the authority to set a special assessment for village-wide fire protection, police protection, and ambulance services.
Constantine Village Manager Mark Honeysett said these proposals only give the village permission to set the districts, which would be the entire village limits of Constantine and would only affect village residents. How much the annual special assessment is would be determined via future public hearings of the Constantine Village Council.
“That’s only done after a public hearing. It’s not done outside of the view of the public; the public are invited to attend and participate and ask all the questions they want,” Honeysett said. “That would be a part of the budget process.”
He said two public hearings would most likely be done: one to establish the district, and another to establish the special assessment rate. Honeysett estimated that a special assessment in the village of one mill would raise $36,000 per year.
Constantine is looking to create the special assessments, Honeysett said, due to tight budgets and rising costs of each of the three services over the last few years. He also noted there are some major expenses coming up in the near future, especially for the fire department, where they are hoping to build a new fire station at the site of the old D&S store on Washington Street.
“The big thing is, for the fire station and police department, they are always in need of new equipment. Cruisers for the police department, gear for firefighters and vehicles for the fire department, and the biggie is the fire department, which we’re told will cost about $2.5 million,” Honeysett said, adding that the equipment and gear would be what any potential special assessment funds would be used for once a special assessment is set.
“Obviously, $36,000 wouldn’t go a long way toward paying for a new fire station or buying a lot of equipment, but it does ease the strain,” Honeysett said. “Our costs are going up every year and sometimes significantly every year.”
According to Honeysett, the village currently spends approximately $450,000 on police services per year, around $200,000 for fire services per year (their share of the fire department, which is also shared between Constantine Township and Florence Township), and $36,000 for ambulance service per year as part of a new ambulance consortium between municipalities and townships in the county. One of the big reasons the village is going after the ambulance special assessment in particular is because the $36,000 per year for that currently comes out of the general fund.
“It is a completely separate part of the budget, but it comes out of the general fund and it’s something we have to pay for, which is a reason why we’re asking for a special assessment for that,” Honeysett said.
Because they are three separate proposals, there is a possibility that only some or none of the proposals get approved. Honeysett said the village would act accordingly if that is the case.
“People could vote to approve them all, or just one of just two of them, or none of course,” Honeysett said. “If it does pass, later this year, the council will have to meet to determine how much to assess for each of them, and then they’ll have to approve the purchases we make.”
While he acknowledged that people in the area may be wary to approve these kinds of proposals – voters in May turned down a millage proposal for Constantine Public Schools – Honeysett said the village is taking the step of asking the residents first to see if they would be okay with it.
“The council could have just done it. Of course, there would have been a large outcry if they had taken that action, but they thought this is a far better question to give to the community rather than just making it ourselves,” Honeysett said. “The council is very, very conscious of public input and public opinion. … I think had the council implemented it, the public would have had every right to put it on the ballot themselves to overturn it, but the council is not interested in imposing, and I could see a referendum in that circumstance if they took that route.”
If none of the proposals get passed, Honeysett said, the village would have to seek out more ways to help fund the new fire station, possibly through grants and USDA Rural Development loans.
Overall, Honeysett asked residents to “vote your conscience” on Aug. 2.
“Please get out and vote. Vote your conscience, obviously, I’m not saying please vote or not vote for this, but I’m saying please do get out and vote,” Honeysett said.