Our View: Lake in the Hills Sanitary District should pursue consolidation

July 16, 2017

The Lake in the Hills Sanitary District should do what’s best for taxpayers and stop trying to block attempts to consolidate it.

The district’s former board was trying to kill a potential consolidation before it even had been properly studied.

Under a new law written by McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks during his final term as a state lawmaker, the McHenry and Lake county boards can eliminate governments that are entirely within their respective counties, and to which the boards appoint a majority of the trustees.

The sanitary district is one of a handful of McHenry County taxing bodies that could be eliminated under the law, but a proposed Kane County land purchase by the district would make it ineligible for consolidation.

Franks has claimed the proposed land deal under the district’s previous board was a blatant effort to stymie any effort to consolidate the small unit of government into the village of Lake in the Hills – and we agree.

Former sanitary district Trustee David McPhee, now a Lake in the Hills village trustee, told the Northwest Herald that expanding into Kane County was never discussed during his almost nine years on the sanitary district board.

Although the sanitary district has maintained that the acquisition is the culmination of more than three years of planning, a review of meeting minutes since 2014 show it was not until March 27 that the district board included land acquisition on its agenda.

Sanitary district representatives have not given a clear reason as to why the additional land in Kane County is needed, making it even more apparent the purchase was arranged only to avoid being folded into the village of Lake in the Hills. We’re still waiting for an explanation as to why the district wanted to buy 13.88 acres in Kane County, at an estimated cost of $950,780, according to court records.

Although a McHenry County judge temporarily halted the proposed land deal, pending a ruling on the legitimacy of the new board of trustees trying to undo the deal, the legal wrangling will end up costing taxpayers.

Incumbent Trustees Terry Easler and Shelby Key, who has not relinquished his seat even though his term expired April 30 and was not renewed, are arguing the new trustees were never legally appointed by the McHenry County Board, in part because the boundary expansion into Kane County took away its authority to do so. Easler and Key need to stop clinging to their power through the court system and accept the new board’s decision.

The district serves about 40,000 residents in Lake in the Hills, Huntley and Crystal Lake.

If the County Board recommends consolidation after a review of the district’s finances and operations, voters still would have a chance to shut the idea down via referendum.

Consolidating the sanitary district could save $400,000 a year, according to a report from village staff. About $675,000 of the district’s $6 million budget comes from its property tax levy, while the rest comes from user fees.

Having nearly $1 million to buy land out of a $6 million budget makes us question how this small unit of government was able to gather such a large pile of money. The district hasn’t said how it planned to pay for the land. However, the fact it was going to buy land at a price equal to about 16 percent of its annual budget without so much as a town hall meeting to inform customers – let alone voter approval – is alarming.

Illinois still has more units of local government than any other state – about 7,000 – and property taxpayers need less government.

If a consolidation could reduce residents’ property tax bills, the district owes it to the taxpayers and customers it serves not to block the change.