CRYSTAL LAKE – Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley and Village of Lakewood President Erin Smith addressed more than 100 prominent residents Tuesday at the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce State of the Community Luncheon.
Both leaders highlighted their communities' achievements in 2013 and looked forward to goals in 2014 during the event at the D'Andrea Banquets & Conference Center in Crystal Lake.
Shepley took the opportunity to defend the recent tax increase, saying while it was not ideal it was the responsible decision and still keeps the city's rate below every other municipality in McHenry County.
The 8.3 percent tax increase – roughly $1.2 million in new revenue – goes to cover police and fire pensions and fire department operations. Unlike many municipalities, Crystal Lake does not use property tax for the general fund and is able to sustain those services on revenues such as retail tax, which primarily comes from non-residents.
"Sixty percent of the money comes from people who don't live in Crystal Lake," Shepley said of the retail tax. "That's called OPM – other people's money – and we like that."
Shepley went on to highlight the economic growth in the city including a full downtown business district and major companies such as Texas Roadhouse and Anderson Volkswagen set to open in the coming months.
One lowlight for the city has been the continued court battle with Community School District 155 over the $1.18 million bleacher expansion at Crystal Lake South High School.
Shepley said he loves the school district and the schools, but hopes officials change course on pursuing an appeal on the ruling that favored the city.
"I think they got this one wrong," Shepley said. "I'm not speaking on behalf of the city council. I'm a taxpayer too and I think they are wasting our money."
Smith focused her presentation on the beneficial partnerships that have helped the smaller Lakewood thrive.
She lauded the relationship with the Crystal Lake school districts and Crystal Lake Park District that both serve the residents of Lakewood. She said the potential community center or aquatic center the Crystal Lake Park District is pursuing would be a boost for Lakewood.
For 2014, Smith was confident major progress would be made on a project that would transform the intersection at Routes 47 and 176 into a lighted intersection to increase safety in an area that sees more than 40,000 vehicles per day.
She was also confident about more commercial development, specifically a major restaurant that could move in to the existing village hall location, but said there was no rush.
"We know who we are in the Village of Lakewood," she said. "We're not willing to change the character of our community to accelerate economic development."