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updated: 3/10/2013 6:52 AM

Barrington Hills hopefuls debate spending, police pension

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  • Fritz Gohl

      Fritz Gohl

  • Colleen Konicek Hannigan

      Colleen Konicek Hannigan

  • Michael Harrington

      Michael Harrington

  • Kelly Mazeski

      Kelly Mazeski

  • David Stieper

      David Stieper

 
 

While agreeing that protecting the environmental character of Barrington Hills is of paramount importance, the five candidates vying for three village trustee seats have different perspectives on the village budget and the extent to which spending and taxes can or should be reduced.

Incumbent Fritz Gohl is running in cooperation with newcomers Michael Harrington and Kelly Mazeski, while Colleen Konicek Hannigan and former plan commission chairman David Stieper are running independently.

Stieper, who ran unsuccessfully for the board two years ago, has been on the board of trustees of the Barrington Area Conservation Trust for four years. But he identifies the budget of the environmentally conscious village as his No. 1 issue.

Stieper finds particular fault with the amount of the village's legal fees, which he said have fluctuated between $740,000 and $1.3 million in recent years. He also noted that while the village's number of households hasn't measurably grown, its operating costs have increased by five times the rate of inflation.

"Why has village spending exploded in recent years?" Stieper said. "Why hasn't there been a concerted effort to reduce spending?"

Hannigan also questioned the amount of the village's legal fees.

Though she agrees with her fellow candidates that the village should oppose neighboring East Dundee's consideration of an Insurance Auto Auction site -- Barrington Hills sees it as a potential threat to the region's aquifer -- she questions whether the point was made in the best way.

Hannigan suggests that Village President Robert Abboud's confrontational approach to East Dundee might not have been as effective as a more diplomatic stance. And if legal fees do need to be spent, she questions why other neighboring villages whose wells also depend on the aquifer are not being asked to pay their fair share.

Hannigan said a reduction in the village's legal fees could help better fund the village's self-managed police pension system.

Harrington said legal fees make up 9 percent of the village's budget, which he finds an acceptable level for Barrington Hills. He also defends the funding level of the police pension system as reasonable for its young age.

Nevertheless, he believes the village should hire an independent actuary to review the plan.

He also said the threat from the IAA proposal in East Dundee is one of the top issues in Barrington Hills, and one worth spending money on.

"I think protection of our water supply is a justifiable use of government resources," he said.

Gohl, who's been on the board for 12 years, said the police department's transition from a state-run pension system to a self-managed one makes sense in the long run, even if costs have been temporarily higher.

He said the police chief foresaw several years ago the mess currently unfolding in Springfield and that the village would be better off outside it. But the pension fund is currently 47 percent funded and investment returns are already back at higher, more normal levels, Fritz said.

While the village needs to be flexible in its approach to the budget, attention must be kept on where and how to make any cuts, Fritz said. A 10 percent reduction to the public safety budget he currently supervises would mean the loss of $300,000 -- inevitably affecting the number of patrol officers or radio room staff, he said.

"The biggest thing affecting the village is the budget and will be the budget," Fritz said. "We have to be open-minded in a lot of ways to make sure our costs don't get out of control."

In response to a Daily Herald questionnaire, Mazeski said, "Spending in Barrington Hills has been at a constant level for the past several years. The last time there was a significant increase in the budget was due to an extremely underfunded road maintenance program that barely existed. The bulk of the current budget goes to police protection/public safety, road management and land use protection. ... As a village trustee, I will act as a fiscal watchdog in protecting the taxpayers and how their money is spent."

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