Why Dundee fire agencies won't share a chief anymore

The East Dundee and Countryside Fire Protection District is terminating its shared chief agreement with West Dundee to help fill an anticipated hole in next year's budget.

But West Dundee leaders fear their neighbors' decision will stunt future consolidation efforts among Dundee-area departments.

Chief Randy Freise started overseeing both fire agencies on Jan. 1, 2017, in a move officials believed would save money and improve efficiency. After grappling with an unbalanced budget for weeks, however, East Dundee fire board members voted Friday to give the required 90 days' notice to opt out of the deal.

"It was either eliminating the shared chief's position, or we'd have to eliminate one of our full-time firefighters," board President Mark Guth said. "This is the only solution we could logically come up with without hurting any service to the community."

Revenue shortfalls resulted in a roughly $100,000 deficit in the fire district's proposed budget for 2019, Guth said. Cutting the shared chief role saves nearly $80,000 - half the cost of Freise's $121,431 salary, plus benefits. Officials are seeking a better insurance deal to close the remaining gap, he said.

How the fire district's leadership structure would look without the shared chief has not yet been determined, Guth said, but it'll likely include Deputy Chief Jason Parthun, who has managed daily operations, budgets and scheduling for years.

West Dundee Village Manager Joe Cavallaro said he worries the East Dundee fire district is moving in the wrong direction.

Both departments, along with Carpentersville and Rutland-Dundee, have taken strides in recent years to share resources and standardize operations. And with Freise planning to retire sometime in the next year, Cavallaro hoped East and West Dundee could work with Rutland-Dundee to coordinate administrative and clerical services under one management team.

In a letter to East Dundee fire board members last month, Cavallaro asked to keep the shared chief agreement in effect until May 2019 while the departments evaluated such a merger. Rutland-Dundee fire officials also supported exploring the concept.

"From West Dundee's perspective, we believe that the termination of the shared chief agreement would be a step backward in our cooperative efforts and would result in an increase in the overall cost of providing services to our respective entities," Cavallaro said.

Guth said opting out of the deal won't change East Dundee's level of service or its desire to collaborate with its neighbors. The district intends to continue sharing a fire prevention officer, training programs and other resources with West Dundee - practices implemented under Freise's leadership.

Freise, who has served as West Dundee's chief since 2012, also expressed concerns over the East Dundee board's decision, though he understood its desire not to cut personnel.

"My fear would be that some of the things we've accomplished could unravel and then we could go backward," he said. "I don't necessarily agree with it, but I respect their decision."

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