Barrington, surrounding fire district examine a break-up

The long-standing relationship between the Barrington Countryside Fire Protection District and the village of Barrington is on the fritz, and officials are discussing the possibility of parting ways.

At a joint special meeting of the boards Monday, representatives from both sides used the often heated session to air multiple grievances.

For Barrington Countryside, which contracts its service from the village to serve an area more than 40 square miles around Barrington, frustrations stem from wanting more contractual flexibility to, on their own dime, hire more personnel and buy more equipment.

“Right now, we’re hamstrung,” Barrington Countryside President Tom Rowan said. “We can’t do that.”

The prime example fire district officials point to is their desire to purchase a tender, or a tanker that can haul and shoot water from a cannon. Rowan said Barrington Countryside’s current tender is unfit for use and being retired. Given the district’s absence of fire hydrants, the board wants the go-ahead to buy a replacement.

Village officials, however, say they already authorized the purchase of a smaller tender three years ago and that a bigger piece of equipment isn’t necessary given the district’s lack of fires and numerous mutual-aid agreements with neighboring departments.

“Our feeling was that there wasn’t any need presented,” Barrington Village President Karen Darch said. “There doesn’t seem to be any lack of service.”

Darch and her trustees said they have to run the fire department as efficiently as possible. And while the fire district pays at least its share of salaries, benefits, pensions and maintenance, village officials said there are unknown legacy and potential liability costs whenever manpower is added because the village acts as the employer.

Everyone agreed the next step should be for the fire district to draft a letter outlining its requests and reasoning behind them. The current intergovernmental agreement doesn’t expire until the end of 2013, though fire district officials want changes sooner.

If their demands aren’t met, both sides seemed prepared to end the relationship. For Barrington Countryside, that would mean starting its own department or finding another vendor.

“We want to run a department the way we feel it should be run: efficiently and thinking of the taxpayers,” village Trustee Robert Windon said. “If you guys don’t like that, that is perfectly fine. Let us know and at the end of this contract, we’ll all go our separate ways.”

Barrington Countryside covers portions of Barrington Hills, Inverness, Lake Barrington, South Barrington and unincorporated Cook, Lake and McHenry counties.

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