Openness crucial in Barrington fire district talks
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Government finance and the Great Recession of 2008 have provided new challenges to municipalities and first responders in our mission to guarantee public safety.
In many communities across Illinois, fire protection districts and municipal governments are discussing fire department consolidation to provide fire services in a fiscally prudent manner without affecting the standards of life and property preservation. The village of Barrington and the Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District have been ahead of that curve for decades by consolidating delivery of emergency services.
Recent developments involving the village and the fire protection district appear to have evolved in a universe parallel to the rest of Illinois. At issue is the desire of the district to increase funding for firefighting resources while, simultaneously, the village appears to be resisting.
I use the phrase appears to be resisting because the village has conducted its meetings cloaked in secrecy and behind closed doors. The village has commissioned a private, taxpayer-funded study to determine the impact of a split from its mutual protection agreement with the Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District.
However, the contents of the study — which will have a definite impact on life and property of Barrington residents — have been kept secret. For the benefit of citizens, this suppression of information and the subsequent intent of the village board must cease.
These critical questions must be addressed by residents and answered by Barrington village officials:
• What is contained in the consultant's report?
• Why have the contents of the report been kept under lock and key?
• If the district ends its fire protection agreement with the village, what will be the financial impact on taxpayers?
• What residual financial impact will occur, such as homeowners' insurance rates?
But the most important question, the one that overrides all other considerations, is how might the creation of separate fire services threaten public safety in the village of Barrington?
The debate in Barrington is unique in Illinois. In fact, legislation pending in Springfield would ease the consolidation of fire departments, particularly among local government jurisdictions where services could be delivered more efficiently through cooperative efforts.
The Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois has been working closely with lawmakers, local government officials and local fire departments to examine all aspects of fire department consolidation. The overriding consideration has always been how consolidation would affect life and property.
Public safety is the primary obligation of government service.
Village President Karen Darch has said she believes an agreement can be reached between the village and the fire protection district. Her public statements are admirable. What is troubling, however, is that the negotiations — and the consultant's report — have been draped in secrecy.
The citizens of Barrington and the Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District deserve to be personally involved in this important matter. The public's safety depends on the outcome.
• Pat Devaney is president of the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois.
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