Ballot question could affect fire consolidation in DuPage

  • Dan Cronin

    Dan Cronin

 
 
Updated 2/16/2015 7:34 PM

A ballot question to determine how Warrenville Fire Protection District trustees get their seats could influence whether the agency participates in future attempts to consolidate fire services in DuPage County.

Voters served by the fire protection district will decide on April 7 if they want trustees on the board overseeing the district to be elected or appointed. Right now, the three members of the panel are appointed by DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin.

 

"We as citizens have very little input -- unless we go through Mr. Cronin -- as to who our district trustees would be," said William Mennell, one of the residents who collected more than 1,600 signatures to get the binding question on the ballot. "The people should be able to pick who is spending their money."

Mennell is the president of the fire protection district board. Still, he stresses that residents -- not trustees -- are behind the ballot question.

He said a major reason for the measure is Cronin's interest in consolidating local fire protection districts.

In 2012, a consulting firm hired by the county suggested that DuPage partner with fire protection districts to investigate options for consolidation. Warrenville was one of the districts the firm examined before making its recommendation.

But the consultants found Warrenville to be a financially stable district. Mennell said the district already is providing quality fire protection and ambulance services and doesn't need to be consolidated.

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"Consolidating may help in some cases," he said. "Our theory here in Warrenville is that bigger is not better."

Cronin said he's not concerned about the possibility of losing his appointment power.

"The taxpayers and the voters have every right to consider this issue and to determine what's best for them," Cronin said. "I respect and support that."

But Cronin, who recently was lauded by Gov. Bruce Rauner for his consolidation efforts, said voters should ask what's motivating the group pushing the Warrenville ballot question.

"Why are they doing this?" Cronin said.

According to Cronin, county officials have been trying "to bring transparency and accountability" to the fire protection district in recent years.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It's no secret they have really resisted that," he said.

Cronin said the fire protection district board adopted DuPage's ethics policy but refused to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the county that would have made the policy enforceable.

In addition, Cronin said county officials "on numerous occasions" suggested the district join the West Suburban Fire/Rescue Alliance, which has worked to reduce emergency response times and share resources.

"To date, the Warrenville Fire Protection District has expressed no interest whatsoever (in the alliance)," Cronin said. "They just want to have their own little empire."

But Mennell said the district already is working with other fire departments to share equipment and services. "We're already working together pretty well," he said.

Meanwhile, Kate Perkins -- a former fire district trustee who is working to get the ballot question approved -- said Warrenville "needs to have a voice" if and when a consolidation plan is proposed.

"We need to have an open conversation -- pros and cons -- about consolidation," Perkins said. "And we won't if we have appointed trustees. They'll answer to Dan Cronin, because he's the one who hires and fires them."

Cronin said he only wants what's best for the residents served by the fire protection district.

"It doesn't matter to me whether or not they (trustees) are appointed or elected," he said, "just as long as the district is a model of efficiency and safety."

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