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updated: 2/17/2014 3:58 PM

Wauconda trustees not sold on plan to outsource 911 services

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  • Frank Bart

      Frank Bart

  • Doug Maxeiner

      Doug Maxeiner

 
 

Wauconda trustees aren't sold on a newly unveiled proposal to outsource the village's 911 services as a cost-savings measure.

"The safety of our community is the priority, and saving money is secondary," Trustee Teri Burke told the Daily Herald on Monday.

The board, Burke added, will "do what is best for the community."

In a separate interview, Trustee Ken Arnswald criticized how the proposal was announced. Nearly identical messages from Mayor Frank Bart and Village Administrator Doug Maxeiner were sent to residents and the media Friday before the plan was run past board members, he said.

"I was very disappointed that I was not given any information ... before it went out to the public," Arnswald said. "This is not a done deal, and we've got to stress that."

After months of closed-door discussions about 911 services that spawned rumors and passionate online discussions, Maxeiner confirmed what many in the community feared Friday when he proposed closing the police department's dispatch center and contracting for services with nearby Lake Zurich.

The move could save Wauconda about $2.1 million over five years, Maxeiner said.

If the 911 center closes, 10 full-time and two part-time positions would be eliminated. That's weighing heavily on Arnswald's mind.

"I've lost a lot of sleep on this," he said.

The other agencies using the center -- Wauconda Fire Protection District and Tower Lakes and Lakemoor police departments -- also would need to find new dispatchers.

Wauconda residents have voiced their displeasure on social media. It was particularly a target in a Facebook group called "Of Wauconda For Wauconda" that largely has been critical of Bart since he took office in May 2013.

On Saturday, Monica Knigge, the wife of former Mayor Mark Knigge, staged a 12-hour sit-in at the police station to support the dispatchers. She was joined throughout the protest by residents.

The issue isn't on the agenda for Tuesday's village board meeting, but critics of the plan are expected to pack village hall anyway. If that happens, the 7 p.m. meeting could move to Wauconda High School.

That's happened twice in the past year because of controversies in town.

Maxeiner is expected to talk to the village board about the 911 center Feb. 25. His presentation will objectively look at the proposal's impact on community safety and the town's finances, Bart said.

The board could vote on the plan in March.

Trustee John Barbini said people should attend upcoming meetings and email Maxeiner if they have questions about the plan.

"We want to make sure there are no stones unturned," Barbini said. "They need good information, just like the board needs good information."

The village board has never publicly debated outsourcing 911 services. Because the dispatchers are members of a labor union, such discussions legally can occur behind closed doors.

"(That) kind of complicates the situation," Barbini said.

Bart has been criticized for how he's handled several high-profile issues since becoming mayor, particularly his decision to replace ex-Police Chief Douglas Larsson and a lack of action on a plan to bring Lake Michigan drinking water to town that led a water agency to sever ties with the village.

Barbini acknowledged dumping the 911 center, which was renovated in 2011, could be viewed as an effort by Bart to reverse decisions made by the previous administration.

But the discussion about outsourcing really is part of the union negotiations and the board's long-term financial planning, Barbini said.

"I could see where people could draw that conclusion," he said. "But as a board member, very few things occur in isolation."

The 2011 renovation occurred after village officials promised to modernize the facility if voters approved a tax-rate increase for the fire protection district. The measure passed.

Trustee Lincoln Knight recognized some people might see the outsourcing proposal as a bait-and-switch scheme because of that pledge.

"Absolutely that's a concern," Knight said.

Regardless of the outsourcing recommendation, the dispatchers' fates ultimately lie with the six trustees, Bart said.

"This is not one person's decision," he said. "This is going to be a discussion in front of the village board ... and the board will vote on it."

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