First step taken toward LITH Sanitary District consolidation

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

A McHenry County Board subcommittee to explore all the facets that would eventually lead to a consolidation of the Lake In The Hills Sanitary District with the Village of Lake In The Hills was convened the morning of Oct. 31.

The ad hoc group of county board members is charged with reviewing the financial and operational contexts of the district’s workings, along with developing a feasible timetable for its elimination as a government entity.

Estimates for full board action have been pegged at more than one year out, with the committee making the recommendation for consolidation should it be purposeful and cost effective. The full board would also have to initiate two ordinances for the dissolution, one for proposing the merger purpose, and upon the completion of a financial audit, a second to effectuate it. At that point, it could also face a binding referendum challenge.

In August, McHenry County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Meyer presided over a settlement in a lawsuit filed by McHenry County to stop the district’s proposed purchase of 13.88 acres for $950,000 in Kane County and extending its boundaries into two counties. The district agreed not to pursue the land acquisition in effect clearing the way for consolidation. Both parties also reached an accord to pay for its own legal expenses, although neither side has revealed the amounts in legal costs expended, during the litigation.

The flap has gone back and forth between both parties, with calls of political maneuvering as the district sought to exempt itself from a state law that the county board’s Chairman Jack Franks had sponsored during his final months in the state legislature, and was signed into law August 2016 by Gov. Bruce Rauner. House Bill 229 gave Lake and McHenry counties the same powers as DuPage County in eliminating a taxing entity whose boundaries are totally encompassed within its own perimeters, and for which it appoints a majority of the trustees.

The sanitary district board of trustees is appointed by the county board.

During a sanitary board meeting July 6, two newly appointed trustees, Kyle Kane and Eric Hanson voted 2-0 to countermand the April decision to annex property and a right-of-way along Square Barn Road that crosses into Kane County. A second 2-0 vote reversed the purchase intent for the farmland road frontage. The third trustee, Terry Easler, sat in the audience and did not vote.

“Once the district board saw their (county) goal was to take it over, our goal was to protect the district and the 35,000 people it served,” said Easler. “We researched what legal means we had available, and the expansion was a perfectly legal move. This is only the first step of the process that could carry over to 2019. We look forward to the process to present our documentation. As a private citizen, it’s trying to open up the other side of this issue. We’re open to a merger study and discussion, but I believe the village has no resources to run this.”

The ad hoc committee consists of John Reinert (R-Crystal Lake), Paula Yensen (D-Lake In The Hills), John Jung (R-Woodstock), Robert Nowak (R-Lake In The Hills), Kay Bates (R-McHenry), Larry Smith (R-Harvard) and Joe Gottemoller (R-Crystal Lake).

“My viewpoint on consolidation is still the same,” said Gottemoller. “They (committee) need to know whether it makes good financial sense or not, we’ll see. Let’s cut down administrations in Illinois, and the sanitary district is a whole administrative network in place, where it would be just another department in any other municipality.”

Gottemoller is also the former board chairman, and lost to Franks in the first balloted vote for the post amid the November 2016 general election. During his tenure, Gottemoller acquiesced to the McHenry County Committee for Township Consolidation’s behest through submitted petitions to explore township consolidation. An ad hoc task force could not agree on mergers for the 18 county townships citing a financial and tax levy discrepancy, and neither could the full board.

In this case, should the board approve the ordinance for dissolution of the sanitary district, the initial measure also must make the case for the action being cost efficient. A required 30-day public notice period must be made, prior to the vote. It would coincide with an asset inventory of the district holdings and equipment, as well as incoming revenue and debt expenses.

Approval for the subsequent ordinance to actually dissolve the district may face a challenge. A petition drive is being discussed to place the matter as a binding referendum question on the next proximal election ballot. A 30-day window is then mandated allowing for the collection of signatures. The referendum question would impact the district’s service area of almost 11 square miles covering Lake In The Hills, and portions of Huntley, and Crystal Lake. If the effort is unsuccessful, the dissolution moves ahead.

“We would need to get about 200 names, which would be the required number for the petitions,” said Easler. “The number is based on a percentage of the population in McHenry County. This ad hoc committee they put together has members from districts 1 and 2, of the county board, which also represents some of our service area. But, this will eventually end up going to a public referendum.”

The next committee meeting will not take place until next year.


–First step taken toward LITH Sanitary District consolidation–