Wauconda candidates divided on 911 center's future
Nearly two years after Wauconda officials first proposed mothballing the police department's high-tech 911 center and outsourcing the service to Lake Zurich, the issue continues to divide the community and elected officials -- and the candidates running for seats on the village board.
Four of the trustee hopefuls who'll appear on the April 7 ballot said they want to keep the 911 center in town. Some have been emphatic about it.
The other four said they don't have opinions on the matter, even though the controversy has enraged many residents, prompted public protests and led to considerable media coverage.
Incumbents Linda Starkey, Chuck Black and Ken Arnswald and local volunteer Tim Howe are running together as the United For Progress team. They've said they want to save the 911 center.
They're opposed by Trustee Joseph Coster, who was appointed to fill a vacancy last year, political newcomers Dwight Thomas and Jason Anderson and Wauconda Park District Trustee Bob Cook. That quartet will run as the For Wauconda slate.
They have not publicly supported the center's continued operation.
All eight candidates have answered questions from the Daily Herald about the 911 center and other local issues.
Officials began discussing outsourcing the 911 center in 2013 after Mayor Frank Bart took office.
Bart has said the inquiries started before he was elected. He's the only elected official who has publicly criticized the 911 center as being too costly to be sustainable.
Voters were promised dispatch services wouldn't be outsourced if they approved a tax increase for the fire protection district in 2010. That measure passed.
Even so, during his campaign and afterward, Bart repeatedly criticized that referendum and the promises made to the community.
Outsourcing to Lake Zurich could save Wauconda about $2.1 million over five years, Village Administrator Doug Maxeiner said last year during a public presentation that drew hundreds of residents.
There's a human impact, too. If the 911 center closes, 10 full-time and two part-time jobs would be eliminated.
The community has overwhelmingly opposed outsourcing, staging protests and filling board meetings to voice its displeasure. The issue has since taken a back burner at village hall.
The Wauconda Fire Protection District and the Tower Lakes and Lakemoor police departments pay Wauconda to handle their 911 calls. Those agencies would be affected if the center shuts down, too.
Arnswald is among those who want to keep the 911 center operating.
"We have state-of-the-art equipment and we have good personnel operating the equipment," he said. "We need to stabilize and expand our customer base."
Black believes officials should market the service better. That could lead to more clients.
"Where other towns will need to upgrade, we are proven and ready to go," he said.
Howe said a bustling 911 center could help position the village "as a potential hub" for prospective businesses.
"That's a revenue driver we could use," Howe said.
Starkey said the center deserves a proper marketing push, too.
"The efforts toward getting positive results over the past two years have been on an infinite back burner," she said.
The candidates on the other slate were not enthusiastic about the 911 center's future.
Cook said continuing to run a 911 center is "(throwing) more money at the issue." More facts are needed before anyone can make a decision, Cook said, but he also pointed out that other towns -- such as Lake Forest and Libertyville -- have closed 911 centers and consolidated.
Coster said it's too soon to make a decision. He wants more data to determine how the center is performing compared to other 911 facilities.
"Many are proposing that we keep the 911 center and sell its services to other communities," Coster said. "This is only possible if we have a high-performing center."
Thomas said he supports the 911 system "in general" but said he'd have to get more information about the impact of outsourcing "before commenting on this issue."
Anderson said he didn't have an opinion on the issue. Even so, he urged the board to make a decision one way or the other.
"I don't think people should have jobs in question lingering on," Anderson said.
Three seats on the ballot will have 4-year terms. One will have a 2-year term.
Howe and Coster are competing for the 2-year term. The others are in the mix for the 4-year seats.Wauconda candidates divided on 911 center's future