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McHenry County holds first committee meeting to discuss Lake in the Hills Sanitary District consolidation

The Ad Hoc Lake in the Hills Sanitary District Committee meets Tuesday morning. The group was created to begin a transparent debate regarding whether the sanitary district could be eliminated and its functions folded into village government like other county municipalities that manage their own wastewater services, McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks said.
The Ad Hoc Lake in the Hills Sanitary District Committee meets Tuesday morning. The group was created to begin a transparent debate regarding whether the sanitary district could be eliminated and its functions folded into village government like other county municipalities that manage their own wastewater services, McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks said.

WOODSTOCK – McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks on Tuesday proposed a timeline that would lead to the consolidation of the Lake in the Hills Sanitary District.

Franks called to order the first meeting of the Ad Hoc Lake in the Hills Sanitary District Committee on Tuesday morning. The group was created to begin a transparent debate regarding whether the sanitary district could be eliminated and its functions folded into village government like other county municipalities that manage their own wastewater services, Franks said.

“Our idea is to have a very collaborative effort – everything open and as much input as we can – to determine whether this does make sense,” Franks said.

The meeting marked the first movement since a legal battle between Lake in the Hills Sanitary District and McHenry County ended this summer.

Franks and the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office took the sanitary district to court last summer to foil an attempt by several of its former trustees and managers to prevent discussion of consolidation. The plan was to buy 13.88 acres of land – at an estimated cost of more than $950,000 – about a mile and a half away from the southern boundary of its service area.

Private email communication between district officials and engineers, attorneys and real estate brokers revealed that the sanitary district seemed eager to close any land deal it could in Kane County in order to prevent consolidation.

McHenry County Judge Thomas Meyer halted the district’s proposed Kane County land purchase, and later granted a preliminary injunction blocking the sale. Lake in the Hills Sanitary District officials agreed to stop trying to annex land across the Kane County border that would block the McHenry County Board from potentially consolidating the district with village government.

Both sides agreed to dismiss the case without prejudice and bear its respective legal fees, according to court documents.

The move allowed McHenry County to move forward with plans to possibly consolidate the district.

Under a new law written by 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 board supports the investigation into the consolidation,” said Eric Hansen, sanitary district president.

In June, Franks appointed trustees Hansen and Kyle Kane, who voted to reverse the decision on the land deal and ignited a legal battle.

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

“That’s how we have to reduce our property tax burden,” Franks said.

Franks made a presentation at Tuesday’s meeting, titled “Steps Required to Dissolve Lake in the Hills Sanitary District” on the meeting agenda.

At the heart of the timeline to consolidate the sanitary district are two County Board resolutions.

“One to propose consolidation and a second to actually do it,” Franks said.

The county must first approve an ordinance that details the purpose for eliminating the sanitary district and the cost savings that would come with it. That ordinance must be published on the county’s website and in an area newspaper of general circulation.

Franks would then commission an audit that would detail all claims against the sanitary district, all of its receipts, real property and debt. Once the audit is complete, the board can adopt an ordinance dissolving the sanitary district.

If the board approves that resolution, a 30-day window opens to allow voters within sanitary district boundaries to force the issue to a binding referendum. To halt to dissolution of the sanitary district, voters would need to submit signatures from 7.5 percent of voters in the district.

“They would need 200 signatures if someone wanted to challenge it,” Franks said.

If no petition is filed within 30 days, the dissolution ordinance takes effect.

Franks’ opponents say they will get the signatures needed to stop the dissolution and claim the County Board chairman is rushing a move that is political.

“It’s not going to be an easy thing to do,” said Terry Easler, the sanitary district’s incumbent trustee. “The whole premise behind the whole idea is somebody is using Lake in the Hills as a political football. It’s all it’s about. [Jack Franks is] a Democrat in a Republican county.”

“Anything he has to say, I would take with sour grapes,” said Franks, who said Easler was “violating the public trust” when the sanitary district tried to prevent discussions of consolidating the district by purchasing land in Kane County.

Franks said the next Ad Hoc Lake in the Hills Sanitary District Committee meeting should happen in early 2018.

WHO’S ON THE COMMITTEE?

County Board members Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills; Robert Nowak, R-Lake in the Hills; John Reinert, R-Crystal Lake; Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake; Larry Smith, R-Harvard; Kay Bates, R-McHenry; and John Jung, R-Woodstock.

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