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DOWNS - The Downs Community Fire Protection District will start ambulance service as planned June 29, but a missed hearing means the district won't collect a new property tax for it until next year.

"We will have service and make it work, but it will be kind of tight without the funds," said James Adams, president of the district's board of trustees.

Besides cutting back on purchasing, district officials said they will use money previously carried over in their budget to help cover the shortfall of a little more than $264,000.

"We have been careful with funds over the years," Adams said, adding that the district might have to use some fire money for ambulance service.

"It won't affect service," Fire Chief Eric West said.

At the root of the problem is failure to hold a truth-in-taxation public hearing, required when tax levy growth exceeds 5 percent from one year to the next.

Both Adams and trustee Charles West said the failure was an oversight. "We misinterpreted the law," Adams said.

Voters in a November referendum approved a special ambulance tax of 30 cents per $100 equalized assessed valuation. District officials didn't realize that levying that tax on top of their existing tax triggered the need for a hearing.

The ambulance tax will cost the owner of a $200,000 house about $200 a year.

A public hearing that would correct the problem hasn't been scheduled, but it is expected within the next two months, said Charles West.

A tax Web site of the McLean County clerk's office indicates the district's total requested levy would have been $426,998, but it was adjusted to $162,772 because of the hearing oversight.

Despite the oversight, two emergency medical technicians will begin working full-time in the district, which currently doesn't transport patients, June 29.

Volunteers will take up any slack, said Eric West.

The June 29 startup will give the district time to assess its situation before Lifeline Mobile Medics, the countywide paramedic service, stops taking emergency calls Sept. 1.

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