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Local Government

Judge grants restraining order to halt Lake in the Hills Sanitary District land purchase

The Lake in the Hills Sanitary District voted in April to acquire right of way on the entire length of Square Barn Road. In this view, Square Barn Road runs left to right at the bottom of the frame. Huntley School District 158's (from left) Mackeben and Conley elementary schools and Heineman Middle School are at the top of the frame. Kelliher Park and Wintergreen Terrace are in the lower right corner.
The Lake in the Hills Sanitary District voted in April to acquire right of way on the entire length of Square Barn Road. In this view, Square Barn Road runs left to right at the bottom of the frame. Huntley School District 158's (from left) Mackeben and Conley elementary schools and Heineman Middle School are at the top of the frame. Kelliher Park and Wintergreen Terrace are in the lower right corner.

WOODSTOCK – A McHenry County judge has temporarily halted a proposed Kane County land purchase by the Lake in the Hills Sanitary District, pending a ruling on the legitimacy of the new board of trustees trying to undo the deal.

Judge Thomas Meyer granted the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office and County Board Chairman Jack Franks, D-Marengo, a temporary restraining order Monday that prevents the deal from going through.

Franks has alleged that the proposed land purchase under the district’s previous management was a blatant effort to stymie an effort to consolidate the small unit of government into the village.

The motion filed last Thursday by the county – the same day that two new sanitary district trustees voted to rescind the plan – asked the court to recognize that the new members were legitimately appointed by the County Board, and that their votes to rescind the land deal and a related annexation stand.

The next hearing on the case is scheduled for Aug. 15.

Under a new Illinois law written by Franks during his last 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.

But records show that two members of the district’s three-member board of trustees embarked upon a plan in the months after Franks’ election as board chairman in November to annex the entire right of way of Square Barn Road and purchase 13.88 acres in Kane County about a mile and a half from its service area.

That would make the sanitary district a multicounty district, which not only would exempt it from the consolidation law, but also would take away the County Board’s power to appoint its trustees. It then would fall to the state lawmakers whose districts include its boundaries.

About 40,000 residents in Lake in the Hills, Crystal Lake and Huntley are served by the 11-square-mile district, which voters created in 1963 to handle wastewater management and pollution control. The sanitary district, one of a handful of McHenry County taxing bodies that could be eliminated under a new state law, has been singled out by Franks since he took office in December as a prime candidate for dissolution in a state with about 7,000 units of local government and the highest average property tax burden in the nation.

Trustees Shelby Key and Terry Easler voted April 27 to annex the right of way, and the district also has an option to buy the 13.88-acre property at a cost of more than $950,000, according to court records.

Former Trustee David McPhee, who resigned shortly after his January appointment to the Lake in the Hills Village Board, told the Northwest Herald on Friday that expanding into Kane County was never discussed during his almost nine years on the sanitary district board.

The County Board last month appointed two new members to replace McPhee and Key – Franks said he refused to nominate Key for another term after he sent out a political mailing with April’s bills opposing consolidation and urging customers to contact their County Board members.

However, both Key and Easler are represented by attorney Derke Price, who they also retained in a March 9 vote to help with the land acquisition. Price alleges that the annexation and the proposed purchase make the sanitary district a multicounty entity, which means the County Board didn’t have the authority to appoint new Trustees Eric Hansen and Kyle Kane, and therefore, makes their vote last week to undo the annexation and the land deal invalid.

Should the county and Lake in the Hills proceed with any consolidation plan, sanitary district’s residents can submit a petition to force it to a 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.

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