A routine agenda item in which Carpentersville officials paid off a significant amount of debt Tuesday has deepened the divide between the Carpentersville Fire Department and village officials.
Carpentersville officials announced their intention last week to lay off five employees, including two full-time firefighters, and to eliminate several positions as they work to close a projected $400,000 deficit in the upcoming budget. Officials expect to save at least $235,000 using those measures.
Other methods to fill the remaining balance gap have not been determined.
The union that represents the 32 full-time firefighters said it did not expect the cuts in the fire department, particularly after resolving a contract dispute with the village over scheduling issues less than two months ago.
Union leadership is expected to meet with village officials Friday to discuss the pending layoffs that affect the two firefighters with the least seniority. As it stands, their last day is March 28.
Tuesday, the village board approved paying off the remaining $565,000 in general obligation bonds it took out in 2004 for roadwork and related projects.
While the final payment wasn't due until December 2015, paying it off early saves $20,000 in interest, officials said. The money earmarked for that repayment can't be used for anything else, including personnel, officials said.
But before the vote, Chris Scholl, a Carpentersville firefighter and resident, asked the board to rescind the layoffs until it has time to consider their potential ramifications to the village.
Not only has Scholl created a blog critical of the board and of Village Manager J. Mark Rooney, but he has circulated an online petition calling for Rooney's immediate removal over what he calls Rooney's "poor management of village affairs."
"When looking at a $400,000 deficit that the manager has claimed ... it appears very likely that that deficit is caused by the payment that you will be voting on tonight," Scholl said. "Paying a debt that isn't due and laying off employees to offset the deficit that it will create while claiming an economic hardship, doesn't seem to be an honest way to do business."
Retired Carpentersville Fire Chief John Schuldt publicly took sides at Tuesday's board meeting by sitting with the six firefighters in attendance. He hugged several firefighters before the meeting started but did not address the board.
Schuldt, who retired last year in the middle of an investigation into whether he inappropriately touched two female village staffers, declined to comment to the media.
Union President Lt. Rick Nieves said Schuldt, fire chief from 1996 until 2013, attended Tuesday's meeting without being asked.
"I think it's pretty telling having him here," Nieves said.
Meanwhile, Rooney said he couldn't decide whether Scholl's budgeting knowledge was "a little suspect to say the least" or if he's intentionally trying to confuse the public.
Rooney also said the language in the firefighters' contract does not protect the two on the verge of being let go, something Nieves disputes. Several firefighters at the meeting also shook their heads and chuckled as Rooney spoke.
"They freely entered (into) that agreement," Rooney said. "The village has every right to examine the needs of operation over the village and make these decisions, ... but this campaign to misinform the public and claim something that is contractually allowed as something nefarious, it's just not true."