Lake in the Hills village trustees postpone asking the McHenry County Board to consider consolidating sanitary district

LAKE IN THE HILLS – A vote to pass a resolution encouraging the McHenry County Board to dissolve and consolidate the Lake in the Hills Sanitary District with the village was postponed by Lake in the Hills trustees. 

Outgoing Lake in the Hills Village President Paul Mulcahy, who initiated looking into the consolidation, called the Lake in the Hills Village Board’s decision to table the resolution “completely and utterly irresponsible.”

“All the questions that I’ve heard from this Board of Trustees cannot get answered until this ordinance is passed by the county,” Mulcahy said at Thursday’s Village Board meeting. “By doing this, even postponing this, it’s one of the most irresponsible things I’ve ever heard out of this board, or witnessed out of this board, in 20 years.”

In August, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed then-state Rep. Jack Franks’ bill, House Bill 229, that grants the McHenry and Lake county boards the power to eliminate a taxing body for which it appoints a majority of the trustees, provided its boundaries are completely within the district.

Under the new law, county boards must cite a legitimate reason that concludes that the body proposed for elimination provides either unnecessary or duplicative services. Citizens in the body’s boundaries can petition the county clerk to force the proposed elimination to a voter referendum.

The law allows the McHenry County Board to eliminate a handful of bodies, such as the Lake in the Hills Sanitary District, the Crystal Lake Rural Fire District and the Greenwood and Hebron drainage districts.

The Lake in the Hills Sanitary District is a separate government than the village of Lake in the Hills and levies a separate property tax. The district provides wastewater collection and water pollution control for about 11,000 customers in Lake in the Hills, and parts of Crystal Lake and Huntley, according to village documents and sanitary district manager Rick Forner. Forner said the district has 10 employees.

Mulcahy has said the consolidation of the sanitary district would be more efficient and reduce expenses, in part by eliminating the district’s property tax levy, which sits at about $600,000, according to a Lake in the Hills staff report presented to the board in February.

“This is something that needs to be done not just here, but all over the state,” Mulcahy said Thursday. “And this is the opportunity to set a precedent, and show all the other government bodies that this makes senses, it’s the right and proper thing to do, it’s a way to get property taxes in this state under control.”

The state has nearly 7,000 units of local government.  

Mulcahy told the Village Board on Thursday that staff have “exhausted every possible way” to obtain information on the district, which doesn’t have a website. Passing a resolution would be the first step that would allow the County Board to start looking into the consolidation, he said. 

After being in the community for more than 50 years, Forner, who spoke at the meeting on behalf of the sanitary district, said the resolution should be addressed when the new board is seated, and questioned how the elimination of the tax levy would affect operations.

“Nowhere [do village documents] show how the loss of that money will be made up,” Forner said. “Will it be higher rates, higher water rates? Reduced services? Or reduced upkeep on a $43 million facility?”

Trustees Bogdanowski, Harlfinger, Bob Huckins, David McPhee and incoming Village President Russ Ruzanski voted to postpone voting on the resolution. Trustee Doug Cummings abstained.

“I think this is a great idea. I’ve looked at the numbers and I see the potential,” Trustee Ray Bogdanowski said. “But how this is going to work for our village, how we’re going to run it, are things that are not answered.”

Trustee Stephen Harlfinger agreed: “It feels like we’re getting shoved in the face that we need to push this through for the people. I think the people would want us to do our homework a little bit more.”

Franks, the McHenry County Board chairman, said the board has not formally discussed dissolving the Lake in the Hills Sanitary District, but it would be looked at if Lake in the Hills passed a resolution asking the county to consider it.

“I’m an individual who firmly believes in consolidation and getting rid of governmental taxing bodies, but before we can make that decision, we have to do that empirical analysis to make sure that the savings are real and the residents will be getting the services they desire and expect,” Franks said. 

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