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updated: 9/27/2012 12:09 PM

Barrington, fire district begin process that could end in split

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An exchange of letters between the Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District and the village of Barrington has kicked off a 15-month period in which the two agencies must either negotiate a new intergovernmental agreement or go their separate ways.

The mutual letters of intent to terminate the current long-running contract between the two governments stemmed from fire district officials' insistence that they need more control over staffing levels and the purchase of new equipment.

Fire district officials said whenever they ask to increase these -- even at the district's own expense -- the village says no.

"There's no flexibility. There's no cooperation," said fire district President Tom Rowan. "We just don't feel we can continue to spend the money we're spending with the village and get no cooperation."

While the Barrington Fire Department serves the village itself, the fire district serves a larger area surrounding the village. This area includes portions of Barrington Hills, Inverness, Lake Barrington, South Barrington and unincorporated Cook, Lake and McHenry counties.

Since the fire district was formed as a separate taxing body, its appointed officials have decided that the most cost-effective way to provide service is to contract with Barrington to supply its firefighters, paramedics and equipment.

But in recent times, whenever additional personnel or equipment is sought, the village refuses, Rowan said.

Barrington's recent letter of response to the fire district from Village President Karen Darch reiterates the argument that there is no need for the additional water tanker the district wants.

And the letter points out that the village alone remains responsible for retired employees' pensions, even if the district is willing to pay more for additional firefighters' salaries.

Rowan said that while he isn't an attorney, he felt there must be a way for the district to take long-term responsibility for the pensions of the employees it wants the village to hire.

The district is currently prepared for upcoming talks with the village to go in either direction, Rowan said. While there's hope a new agreement can be reached, the district is also talking with surrounding fire departments about starting new mutual-aid agreements with the staff the district would be hiring itself if there's a split.

Among the district's own properties are fire stations next to Barrington Hills village hall and in Lake Barrington's industrial park on Pepper Road.

As the village's letter makes clear, the current contract requires a "Meet and Confer" period between the two boards before either can give up all hope of reconciliation.

"There's always hope," Rowan agreed. "My hope is that we can work something out."

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