Woodman’s Foods, which has been under construction in Lakemoor since last winter, is moving toward a late August soft opening date, while also looming is an Aug. 24 hearing where settlement talks on a lawsuit more than four years old will be aired.
Lake County Associate Judge Daniel Jancik ordered all parties to reach a negotiated settlement last spring, the village is currently awaiting a response on a counter-proposal for a monetary distribution.
At issue is the validity of a tax-increment financing district created by the municipality, for a parcel of approximately 114 acres of the southwest corner of the intersection of routes 12 and 120, in Feb. 2015, that would assist in the site’s commercial development. The criteria used in meeting the designation requirements were cited as the parcel being “undeveloped” and “blighted.” The Wauconda Community School District 118 immediately filed suit claiming the property had supported agriculture uses, and a loss of apportionment tax funding.
The Wauconda District Public Library, and the Township of Wauconda, were later added to the complaint, as all three entities have sought relief through numerous county circuit status and discovery hearings, and presiding Associate Judge Margaret A. Marcouiller’s retirement.
“We did have a court order to confer with the school district for a settlement proposal, and at that time, they did not accept,” said Matt Dabrowski, the village’s director of community development. “They returned with a counter-proposal, we responded, and now, we are awaiting their response. We feel confident that we will win, and the Woodman’s development moved forward with the anticipation of the TIF-district would be resolved.”
A tax-increment financing district is a development tool, sanctioned by the state of Illinois, whereby the estimated assessed valuation of a designated parcel essentially has its apportionment rate frozen for a period of up to 23 years. Any tax amounts collected above the frozen rate are placed into a special fund to pay for site infrastructure improvements, or upgrading. Those funds would normally be distributed between the local taxing bodies, at their apportionment rate.
Stormwater receptors and waterlines to the municipal plant were the first improvements to be made at 74 acres of the parcel, purchased by the Janesville, Wisconsin-based grocery chain. The sale of the parcel actually set full construction efforts into motion. Effluent water lines were later installed leading to the Northern Moraine Wastewater Reclamation District in Island Lake, and subsequent grading facilitated construction of the 240,000-square foot store and outlots.
Lakemoor Mayor Todd Wiehofen has attempted to settle the dispute over the litigation period by offering monetary disbursement amounts above what would normally be realized in property taxes. In an Aug. 23, 2016 letter to the plaintiffs, he said, “The Village of Lakemoor would always prefer to settle with its fellow taxing districts in lieu of spending taxpayer dollars to litigate a project that will benefit the entire region.
“As I am sure you are all aware, litigating these matters is extremely costly and time consuming. As the discovery moves forward into depositions, the cost will continue to pile up. As elected officials, I am sure we can all agree that it would be a better allocation of taxpayers’ dollars pursuing growth and prosperity for the region,” he said.
In a recent proposal to the village, it was suggested that the TIF-district could continue until either the village accrued $6 million in taxes, or until July 1, 2026. The district would then revert to the normal share of property taxes allotted. The village rejected the offer, due to the amount of an estimated $12 million of incurred debt for such a time period. The village presented a counter-proposal offering a 60/40 percent split to the plaintiffs, for the district’s full-time period without seeking an extension.
The village’s July 18 reply, obtained by Chronicle Media, gave answers to questions posed by the plaintiffs: The south TIF-district was established for 23 years, going from 2015-38 and that the 40 percent split “would be for all the taxing bodies.” The village estimated “40 percent of the annual projected TIF-district revenue would start at roughly $260,889 on year one, and go as high as $407,827 annually. This amount would be distributed to the plaintiffs to be divided proportionate to their respective percentage of the tax bills.”
“We’re waiting for their reply … having Woodman’s is a win-win, not only for Lakemoor, but the entire area,” said Dabrowski. “The soft opening date is being slated for mid- to late-August, and a September date is being planned for a Grand Opening.”
Woodman’s has three Illinois stores located in Rockford, Aurora, and Carpentersville. The family business has steadily grown and extends the company’s profitability by offering shares and advantages to its personnel, earning an “employee-owned” moniker.
In related news, Wauconda District Public Library Director Tom Kern announced his retirement, after 27 years of service, with an effective date of Sept. 13.
Wauconda Community Unit School District 118 Superintendent Dr. Daniel Coles was not available for comment.