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Some McHenry County officials flee homes in search of cheaper property taxes

Some fleeing area homes in search of cheaper property payments payments

Township Supervisor Craig Adams (left) and newly elected trustees Bill Cunningham and Bob Anderson during the first  McHenry Township meeting since the April election iThursday, June 8, 2017 in Johnsburg.
Township Supervisor Craig Adams (left) and newly elected trustees Bill Cunningham and Bob Anderson during the first McHenry Township meeting since the April election iThursday, June 8, 2017 in Johnsburg.

First it was McHenry County College Board of Trustees President Chris Jenner moving to Florida.

Then it was moving trucks in front of Lakewood Village President Paul Serwatka’s house and an announcement that he plans to resign and move to Alabama.

Now it’s news that McHenry Township Trustee Bill Cunningham sold his Wonder Lake home to move to Wisconsin.

Jenner, Serwatka and Cunningham all share one thing in common: They are hard-leaning, tax-fighting conservatives.

Their recent moves point to a pattern popping up in McHenry County politics: elected leaders packing up, skipping town and leaving behind the governments they campaigned to reform.

It’s a strategy that disturbs elected officials who plan to stay.

“Why do people run for office with the intent of leaving?” McHenry Township Highway Commissioner Jim Condon said. “I couldn’t tell you.”

McHenry Township Trustee Bob Anderson said he has the answer to that question.

“People are giving up on Illinois and leaving. It tells me people are fed up with high taxes,” he said.

“In the end, do I think Illinois can change? No, I don’t,” Serwatka said. “In the end, I think Illinois implodes. We’re not sticking around for the show.”

Serwatka to Alabama

Reports of moving trucks outside Serwatka’s Lakewood home concerned residents that the village president had ditched McHenry County.

At first, Serwatka was coy. He brushed off questions about his destination. He kept quiet on the details. He later revealed he’s ready to open “another chapter” in his life – that his family had bought another home outside the village.

Serwatka and his wife had planned to shop for homes all over the country. Their plans changed in Alabama.

“We had a list of states that we wanted to go look at,” Serwatka said. “We went down there and saw this one property. We were in awe. We decided to quit looking and buy. There was no reason not to.”

The property sits on a 10-acre slice of land – about 10 times the footprint of his Lakewood home, he said. The house itself is 20 percent bigger. The pool is
30 percent bigger. But it was the property taxes, Serwatka said, that left him smitten.

His property tax bill in Lakewood is about $16,000. The property taxes on the Alabama property is a pinch more than $2,000, he said.

A comparison of Illinois figures to those in the Yellowhammer State left one thought in Serwatka’s head, he said: “Man, we really were stupid for sticking around.”

Jenner to Florida

Jenner stuck around longer than he would have liked.

The 60-year-old Illinois native put his Cary house on the market in March last year and intended to move to Florida as soon as possible.

Taxes are lower there, and the weather will be better for his wife, who suffers from a chronic illness. Jenner, who had lived in McHenry County for 25 years, had been considering the move for more than a year. His property taxes had long before become a burden.

“Why would you stick around and get taxed to death here?” Jenner told the Northwest Herald in November.

Jenner and his family moved to Fort Myers in December.

Cunningham to Wisconsin

Cunningham is expected to resign sometime this summer to move to a new house across the border.

“He’s going to Wisconsin,” said Anderson, a friend of Cunningham’s.
“I haven’t received a resignation from him yet, but I believe that’s coming soon.”

Cunningham could not be reached for comment despite several phone calls. Property records show that he sold his Wonder Lake home in May.

Anderson said the trustee’s decision to move was driven by a story eating up many McHenry County residents: high taxes.

A member of Anderson’s Tax Revolt slate, Cunningham was one of the supporting votes that pushed a binding referendum onto the November ballot asking voters whether the highway department should be eliminated.

McHenry Township Supervisor Craig Adams said Cunningham’s departure is problematic.

“He’s advocating to do this, and he’s saying the electors told him they want this done, but he’s not sticking around to see the results,” Adams said.

Serwatka said the decision to leave the state is becoming an easier one to make.

“I don’t see Illinois turning around,” he said. “At what point do you say you’ve paid your fair share?”

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