Barrington skeptical about fire district's proposal
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Barrington officials Friday said they didn't believe a proposal from the Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District to lease 18 firefighters for two years really addressed the village's concerns over the long-term pension and disability costs for these employees.
Such an arrangement would keep these firefighters village employees and such costs a village responsibility, Village President Karen Darch said.
"They don't really define what they mean by 'lease,'" she said of the district's proposal.
The offer has added another step to what had seemed the intended end of the village and fire district's long-standing contractual relationship on Jan. 1.
The district covers a 48-square-mile area outside of Barrington, but has always contracted its fire protection and paramedic services from the village's fire department.
The district's expansion plans — which include hiring seven more firefighters and planning for yet a further station — have brought what could be seen as a natural end to the cost-effective relationship the two agencies once had, Barrington Village Manager Jeff Lawler said.
The village provides twice as many employees to the district as the village's own jurisdiction requires. Though the district pays its share of these employees' costs, it is the village that remains on the hook for pension and disability payments whenever the district ends the contract.
Darch said village taxpayers shouldn't be responsible for more than the costs of the employees the village needs.
Even under the two-year lease arrangement the district is proposing, there's a potential risk of $160 million to the village if all 18 firefighters became catastrophically injured, Darch said.
This is based on a combination of their ages and future earning potentials. A catastrophic injury to a 26-year-old firefighter could cost the village $11.5 million in disability payments, she said.
Nevertheless, Darch said her village board would discuss the proposal on Monday and probably seek further communication with the district.
District board President Tom Rowan said further discussion was intended all along. He added that the proposal was necessarily sketchy as many details would need to be worked out mutually.
"If they want to talk more about it, that's a good thing," Rowan said. "I'm sure we would be willing."
The firefighters union is supporting the district's proposal, even if it requires further discussion, union President Eric Brouilette said.
"I think that's the main goal of the proposal — to get back to the negotiating table," Brouilette said.
The district opened bids from five private firefighter-paramedic firms this week, offering a first year of service for amounts ranging from $2.6 million to $3.9 million.
But these prices are based on the firms' costs and don't take into consideration the higher experience levels the district would like to retain from the firefighters it currently receives from the village.
This week's proposal seeks to combine 18 of them — who would otherwise be laid off by the village — with firefighters provided by the private firms.
"We spent a lot of money on training," Rowan said of the Barrington firefighters. "We know how good they are. And they know the area."
The district would not be in a position to provide pensions for any of its own new hires. They would have 401(k) retirement plans instead.
But district trustees are considering a tax-hike referendum to provide such pensions, which could appear on ballots as early as March 2014.
The district's jurisdiction includes parts of Barrington Hills, Lake Barrington, South Barrington, Inverness and unincorporated Cook, Lake and McHenry counties.
Barrington, meanwhile, has hired a consultant to recommend a new structure for its fire department after the anticipated expiration of its contract with the district.
The consultant's report is expected to be made to the village board on July 15.
"We want to get it right. We have once chance to do this," Darch said. "We want people to wake up on Jan. 1 and know that nothing has changed — unless it's for the better."
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