The police and fire departments here in Forest Park are in an unenviable position. A mandate from the federal government requires them to make a substantial investment in their communications equipment and, in typical federal fashion, it doesn’t look like there’s going to be any money coming from Washington.
On April 7, voters will be asked to add a $1 per month tax to their phone lines. This referendum is being proposed by the departments to help raise money for the needed upgrades. It’s not a lot of money for most users and the departments’ respective chiefs anticipate the tax will go a long way in paying for the needed equipment.
Regular readers of this newspaper will recall seeing a story on this issue on March 25. That report detailed how the new equipment is expected to benefit the general public in the event of a 911 emergency. It also made clear that if our first responders in Forest Park don’t make the needed improvements by 2013, they risk losing a radio channel on which to communicate with one another.
The story also revealed that the actual price tag for this project isn’t yet known. Federal regulators apparently have a long way to go, too, in deciding how wireless technology will be incorporated into the 911 system.
It is for these reasons – and that emergency crews have several years to make these improvements – that we’re recommending voters reject the $1 tax. We would also note that once voters decide to tax themselves, there’s little hope of seeing that tax ever reduced.
Without having a price tag presented to them, voters have every right to be skeptical of what it is they’re being asked to pay for. State law regulates how this money could be used, so it’s not a question of how the money might be allocated. The question is whether residents are being asked to pay too much, or too little. If the tax isn’t enough, there could be some hard feelings when the village asks for the right amount. If the tax goes too far, well, nobody likes to needlessly part with their money.
Until the police and fire departments can answer that question, voters should hang on to their money.
Our recommendation to the municipality would be to strengthen its proposal so that the 911 system can be assured it receives the proper funding, which provides voters with the same confidence in providing that funding.