The potential end of the long-running relationship between the village of Barrington and Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District is now an issue in the race for Barrington village president.
Write-in challenger Mike Kozel said maintaining the relationship, which could end at the end of the year, should be a top priority and one he could do a better job at than incumbent Village President Karen Darch.
Darch said the relationship already is a top priority, and that a final breakup between the local governments would be unthinkable.
"The village board is very united in understanding the issue and trying to seek a solution," Darch said. "We will have a new intergovernmental agreement with the fire protection district. The only question is how will it be structured."
But fire district board President Tom Rowan said that while the channels of communication between the district and village are still open, they aren't being used.
The only kind of intergovernmental agreement that seems likely at this point is the same mutual aid agreement that exists between most independent fire departments near one another, he said.
"There are no formal talks going on right now," Rowan said. "We are proceeding as if we're going off on our own Jan. 1."
While the Barrington Fire Department serves the village itself, the fire district serves a larger area surrounding it that includes portions of Barrington Hills, Inverness, Lake Barrington, South Barrington and unincorporated Cook, Lake and McHenry counties.
Ever since the fire district was formed as a separate taxing body, its appointed trustees have decided the most cost-effective way to provide service is to contract with Barrington to supply firefighters, paramedics and equipment.
But fire district officials last year initiated a process to end their contract at the end of 2013, citing frustration with what they described as a lack of control over staffing levels and the purchase of new equipment.
By last fall, the fire district was meeting with leaders of surrounding departments in preparation for being an individual player in the region's fire protection.
Nevertheless, the current contract calls for a "Meet and Confer" period between the two boards before any final severance.
Though the fire district has ended that period, it expressed interest in continuing talks more informally, Darch said.
But Rowan said even informal channels of communication have been fruitless so far.
"We were getting nowhere, in our opinion," he said.
Darch said the way the village completely surrounds some unincorporated neighborhoods served by the fire district clearly makes a continued relationship in the best interest of both boards.
"When I say we're linked geographically, I really mean it," Darch said. "We're going to have a relationship with the district. There's no way we wouldn't."
During this period of uncertainty, Kozel said he's heard that morale in the shared fire department has deteriorated.
"I see a failure here to work with other people," he said. "I see no effort to compromise. The purpose of the village board is public safety."
Kozel believes new leadership could help salvage the relationship, though he admits it won't be easy.
"When six (trustees) and the village manager are of one mind, it's going to be hard to go in a different direction," Kozel said. "I'm easy to work with. I'm not a big ego guy. If someone has a good idea and can substantiate it, that's what we should do."
Rowan said he doesn't know whether a change of village president in Barrington would make much difference -- especially coming in May at the earliest. The fire district expects to have its own interim administrator in place by May 1.
"I don't know (Kozel) at all, so I couldn't say," Rowan said.
Darch said she recognizes there is uncertainty in the department right now, but added that it's inevitable.
"At the end of the day, the important goal is to have a good agreement," Darch said. "We think our department does a great job."