Future of the Knollwood Fire Department
This is a long story; if you're new to the discussion, you might want to start in the May 2018 section and then work your way up.
[Update October 8, 2018]
A number of people have asked about what the final intergovernmental agreement actually says; here it is.
[Update September 19, 2018]
The Knollwood Fire Department is expected to cease operations on September 30, 2018.
On August 31, the Rockland Fire Protection District voted to accept the intergovernmental agreement (IGA) offered by Lake Forest and Libertyville. The Lake Forest City Council, the Libertyville Fire Protection District board, and the Libertyville Village Board each signed off on the IGA as well. The agreement takes effect on October 1, 2018.
The Lake Forest and Libertyville Fire Departments will share responsibility for responding to calls in Knollwood and the Sanctuary.
Lake Forest Fire Chief Pete Siebert has asked us to share the following documents:
- Letter to RFPD residents (this letter will also be sent by mail)
- Letter from Lake Forest offering employment to Knollwood paid-on-premise firefighters
- Notification to residents and businesses that use alarm monitoring
Chief Siebert also stated:
"My offer stands to meet or talk on the phone with anyone who has concerns or questions. I respect everyone’s right to their own opinion, and feel sometimes a one on one conversation can be helpful.
"Moving forward, our goal is to provide outstanding service to the Rockland Fire Protection District citizens, business owners, and visitors. I sincerely hope Knollwood Fire employees will consider applying for a POP [paid on premise] position with Lake Forest. I realize there are many other options out there, but Lake Forest is the only option that would allow them to continue to serve the Knollwood community. We have a great track record of hiring POPs fulltime, I just hired one of our POPs today, he starts on shift October 1st. I also realize some people are not interested in a career position, if they can meet our minimum qualifications, we are interested in hiring them too. I got my start in the fire service as a paid on call firefighter, I respect the dedication and commitment of all Knollwood firefighters, past and present."
Fire Chief Pete Siebert
Lake Forest Fire Department
[Update August 29, 2018]
NOTE: Meeting this Friday, August 31, at 3 pm, at the Knollwood Fire Station, 14 Skokie Highway
The Rockland Fire Protection District has called a meeting for this Friday for possible action on an intergovernmental agreement for fire and ambulance service between the RFPD, Libertyville, and Lake Forest. The agreement is set to commence on October 1, 2018, and end on September 30, 2038 (with automatic renewal thereafter on a year-by-year basis).
The version of the agreement that will be under consideration is attached here. You will see comments by the RFPD attorney, pointing out provisions that have changed from previous proposals.
[Update August 25, 2018]
Thursday morning there was a hearing about the lawsuit brought against RFPD board president Dan Rogers and Trustee Bob Grum and the request for a restraining order. The judge needed more time to review the case and continued it until August 30.
When Tuesday's unfinished Rockland meeting was reconvened on Thursday afternoon, no mention was made of the lawsuit or that morning's hearing. Trustee Rogers stated that he had had a visit from a resident resulting in a long, civil, and respectful conversation, and that led him to postpone the decision. He asked for a motion, which the board passed, to table the decision until "after the weekend or maybe longer."
[Update August 22, 2018]
On Tuesday, August 21, the RFPD board held a public meeting, which consisted mainly of comments and questions from the public directed to the Rockland board and/or representatives from Libertyvlle and Lake Forest.
The meeting video is available below. Turn up the volume on your device; anyone who wasn't speaking directly into a mic is hard to hear.
Shortly before the meeting convened, the trustees were notified that a lawsuit had been filed against Dan Rogers and Bob Grum and some other parties. They were further notified that there will be a hearing Thursday morning (August 23) to see if a judge will issue a temporary restraining order against proceeding with the Lib/LF proposal.
After the close of public comment at Tuesday's meeting, the RFPD's attorney took the board aside - during open session - to have a private conversation with them. The meeting was then suspended, to be reconvened two days later. Still remaining on the agenda was the Board's discussion and possible vote on the proposal.
[Update posted August 20, 2018]
We have received a copy of a letter sent today from the Village of Lake Bluff to the trustees of the Rockland Fire Protection District reiterating the financial benefits of their shared services proposal and additionally offering to compensate Rockland for personnel-related expenses incurred on Lake Bluff's behalf - even if Rockland elects not to accept Lake Bluff's proposal. The amount Lake Bluff is offering is $3,208 per month, or $38,496 per year.
If RFPD does choose to contract with Lake Bluff, a proportionate sharing of this and all other expenses will be built in.
This matter has been a bone of contention between RFPD and Lake Bluff for some time, resulting from the fact that the Knollwood Fire Department's paid-on-premise staff is utilized by Lake Bluff at times when their fire department has inadequate coverage.
This is almost $40,000 of additional revenue for the District's budget - but only if RFPD does not contract with Libertyville/Lake Forest.
[Update posted August 9, 2018]
We learned this week that negotiations between the Rockland Fire Protection District and the Libertyville Fire Department have continued. (To our knowledge, the RFPD is not pursuing the Lake Bluff proposal.)
After the May meetings, Libertyville/Lake Forest prepared and presented a revised version of their proposal - we have no specific information on what the revisions were. See the revised proposal, dated June 26, 2018, here.
On July 9, RFPD President Dan Rogers and the district's attorney, Brian O'Connor, met with Chief Carani (Libertyville FD) and Lake Forest City Manager Bob Kiely and Chief Siebert. Reportedly one of many points discussed at that meeting was cost for services, both annual and proposed increases.
After the July 9 meeting, attorney O'Connor prepared an email to Mr. Kiely with comments regarding the revised proposal. See the email here.
On July 13, in response to that email, Libertyville/Lake Forest presented a document outlining proposed changes to the cost structure but did not address any of the other points of concern. See the proposed changes here.
Board President Dan Rogers reportedly asked that these documents be made public. He further proposed calling for a public meeting on August 21, with a format similar to the May meetings, which would allow for public comment.
At the RFPD's regular board meeting on August 13, the board is expected to act to formally set the date, time, and location of the public meeting. The revised services proposal is on the August 13 agenda for discussion but no action.
The Knollwood Fire Department (KFD) has been serving the residents of Knollwood since 1947. Now, for the past 2 years, the Rockland Fire Protection District (RFPD) has been in discussions with surrounding fire departments to explore other ways of providing services.
In December 2017, the District received a joint proposal from Libertyville and Lake Forest; and in February 2018 the Lake Bluff Fire Department presented a very different kind of proposal.
On May 8 and 10, 2018, the RFPD held meetings to allow each community to present its proposal. For readers who want to dig into these proposals first, links are given below; for those who want more of the background, keep on reading!
Evaluation of Proposals
RFPD attorney Brian O'Connor was asked to present an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the two proposals, as well as the consequences of taking no action (ie, maintaining the status quo). His report is presented here.
How Did We Get Here? The Facts in Brief (as of May 2018)
- The Knollwood Fire Department provides services through the Rockland Fire Protection District (RFPD), which covers Knollwood and the Sanctuary.
- The three members of the RFPD board are appointed by the Lake County Board Chairman, Aaron Lawlor.
- In April 2017, residents of the RFPD voted by a large majority to replace this appointed board with an elected one. However, that change can't take place until the next local elections - in April 2019.
- Meanwhile, the current appointed board was soliciting proposals from surrounding communities for sharing or outsourcing fire services. The board had no RFP, no bid process, and no structured plan for evaluating proposals. (It should be noted that the board, was, nevertheless, in compliance with relevant law.)
- In January 2017 Libertyville submitted a proposal to take over fire services; it was superseded in December 2017 by a joint Libertyville/Lake Forest proposal in which the RFPD would contract with those two departments. They would split Knollwood in half and each would provide services to one half. KFD's equipment, station, and personnel would no longer be needed (although some firefighters might be taken on as part-time ("paid-on-premise") staff.
- In February 2018, Lake Bluff submitted a proposal for a phased-in shared services arrangement. In essence, the Lake Bluff and Knollwood fire departments would partner in continuing as a volunteer fire department and would add their own ambulance service.
- Many people have urged the RFPD board to postpone any action on such proposals until the voters can elect their own board. The RFPD has not indicated any particular timeframe for making a decision.
Some Notes and Thoughts About the Proposal Meetings
The following are a few highlights and recollections from the meetings on May 8 and 10, and also on the regular RFPD meeting held on May 14, 2018. They are not comprehensive; however, those meetings were unofficially recorded and the videos may be viewed on YouTube.
May 8, 2018: Lake Bluff Proposal
Lake Bluff Village President Kathy O'Hara opened the presentation. The proposal was then described in detail by Village Administrator Drew Irvin and Fire Chief David Graf along with other officers. They presented slides and also used a series of posters that demonstrated response times from each of the fire stations in Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, Libertyville, and Knollwood.
Some attendees pushed hard to be able to vote on the proposals in a referendum. When asked why he was opposed to a referendum, board president Dan Rogers said, "Because I don't like them." He believes they are an excuse for people on both sides to run around the neighborhood spreading misinformation and getting everybody riled up [this is a paraphrase]. The District's attorney explained that a referendum is not feasible.
One person repeatedly asked about the board's "matrix" - a commonly used method for evaluating proposals (just google "proposal decision matrix" for about a million examples). Mr. Rogers repeatedly said that he didn't have one and would review both proposals to see which was better [again, a paraphrase].
The board members were then asked what they considered the most important criteria in evaluating the proposals. Mr. Rogers said better (or at least the same) service and lower cost; Bob Grum agreed; and Karl Snoblin said he would also consider risk and sustainability.
The Lake Bluff proposal and presentation contained a high level of detail, but supporting documentation for some of the figures was not immediately available. Mr. Grum said he would work with Mr. Irvin to gather that information.
May 10, 2018: Lake Forest-Libertyville Proposal
Lake Forest City Manager Bob Kiely and Libertyville Interim Village Administrator Kelly Amidei opened the presentation; Fire Chiefs Rich Carani (Libertyville) and Pete Siebert (Lake Forest) presented a series of slides that, surprisingly, did not contain any details of the proposal.
When asked about the absence of detail, Mr. Kiely was dismissive, saying that the proposal was "all over Facebook" and he was sure everyone had already seen it.
One person alleged that Lake Forest was looking for a way to share the burden of its pension costs. Mr. Kiely denied the charge, saying that Lake Forest did not have a pension problem, and even if it did, this contract would not go far in alleviating it. (Interestingly, a Lake Forester article from October 2016 titled "Fire pension costs straining Lake Forest budget, city officials say" tells a different story: "'The math doesn't work long term,' said City Manager Robert Kiely during the Oct. 3 meeting, adding that the cost of fire service is rising faster than the city's ability to raise revenue.")
The majority of the comments from Knollwood and Sanctuary residents expressed disapproval of the Lake Forest-Libertyville proposal.
Two Lake Forest residents spoke. One urged Knollwood residents to trust their appointed board to make the decision and emphasized that the board has the legal right to do so. The other Lake Forest resident pointed out that you can make numbers say anything you want them to, but you don't close a fire department without a good reason [paraphrase]. He noted that the members of the KFD are known in the community and they know their neighborhood, which is an asset.
The Lake Forest-Libertyville proposal is a conceptual-level proposal with a budget number that is more than twice the cost of the Lake Bluff proposal in the first year. Whereas Lake Bluff believes its costs will go down in the subsequent few years, the costs of the LF-LV proposal will go up each year, largely because of personnel and pension costs.
Many people recalled that the Lake Forest-Libertyville proposal had been rejected by the board in January because the cost was "unacceptable" (you can see a video clip of that discussion here). Mr. Grum and Mr. Rogers apparently believe they can negotiate the cost down. Mr. Snoblin disagreed, saying that the basis for the figures in that proposal was clearly stated and was not subject to reduction except by eliminating services. He believed it would be a waste of time to continue negotiating with Lake Forest-Libertyville.
Mr. Rogers said he had asked the District's attorney, Brian O'Connor, to prepare an analysis of the two proposals to say what's good and bad about each [paraphrase].
May 14, 2018: RFPD Regular Board Meeting
Mr. O'Connor had his analysis ready for distribution at the board meeting. He outlined three options:
- Do nothing - maintain the status quo
- Form a partnership with Lake Bluff, per the LB proposal
- Contract with Lake Forest and Libertyville to take over fire service
He concluded that option 1 (status quo), or a variant thereof, may be optimal, with option 2 (the LB proposal) a close second. Option 3 (the LF-LV proposal) ranked a distant third.
Board President Rogers said the board will continue gathering facts. He will work with Lake Forest-Libertyville and he asked Mr. Grum to work with Lake Bluff.