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posted: 7/9/2010 12:01 AM

Who pays for Grafton dysfunction? The taxpayers

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What's the cost of not getting along?

In Grafton Township, where the supervisor and trustees have been at war for more than a year, it comes to more than $300,000 - or about the size of the township's projected budget deficit this year.

That sum includes mounting legal bills, unpaid vendors and the salary and benefits of a new township administrator - all expenses stemming from Supervisor Linda Moore's dispute with township trustees.

While the township's projected deficit of $336,000 this year would be unremarkable to most units of government, in small Grafton Township, it's about a third of the township's annual revenues.

The biggest expense, by far, has been legal bills. Last year, Grafton Township spent $88,000 on legal bills, about double what the township budgeted for the year, according to Moore.

So far this fiscal year, which started April 1, the township has incurred $149,000 in legal fees, mostly arising from the ongoing court battle between Moore and the township's four trustees, township officials say.

And those fees will only rise. Trustees have budgeted $230,000 in legal fees this year, and the township may be on the hook for up to an additional $20,000 when Rockford attorney John Nelson submits his bill for defending Moore, she said.

Several unpaid bills topping $1,000 each also add to the cost of the dispute. Moore refuses to pay more than $30,000 in bills for services she did not approve.

The largest bill is for more than $19,000. The township owes that amount to a forensic computer company the trustees brought in to investigate allegations Moore tampered with important files on township computers. The firm never released its complete findings because it hasn't been paid.

Moore also disputes the trustees' hiring of Township Administrator Pam Fender, a move they admit was prompted by their inability to work with the supervisor. Fender earns $40,000 a year plus benefits.

Moore was the only board member to vote against the deficit budget late last month.

"It is wrong to adopt a budget with a 30-percent deficit," she said. "It is not responsible."

She also criticized trustees for tabling a measure that would increase one-way bus rates for the senior transportation service to $2 for most trips in Grafton Township, $3 for Sun City residents who live in Rutland Township and $5 for trips to Randall Road or Woodstock.

"I think that extra money would definitely help to keep the bus afloat," Moore said. "With a deficit budget, at some point there won't be enough money in the bank to write checks."

But Trustee Betty Zirk said even with the shortfall, the township should have enough cash to last the year without resorting to borrowing. That assumes the township can repay the $611,000 it owes the township road district in three annual payments, instead of one lump sum.

"We're going to have a deficit no matter what," Zirk said. "We have no other alternative."

The road district paid the township $611,000 to buy the township's Vine Street property when township officials expected to move into new offices they planned to build in Lake in the Hills.

But after a lawsuit filed by Moore and other residents halted construction, residents at the township's annual meeting directed the township board to return the money.

Fender, who is also a Huntley trustee, said Huntley paid the township $10,000 to cover the cost of transporting Rutland Township residents and may not continue that payment if the township raises rates for Rutland residents.

One possible bright spot is that the litigation between Moore and the trustees is likely to be resolved soon. Testimony concluded in the case last month, and final briefs are due by the end of July.

Judge Michael Caldwell's decision in that case, which could come sometime in August, should help resolve many of the issues leading to the current budget situation, such as who in the township has the authority to sign contracts; whether Moore has the right to fire Fender or the township's legal counsel; and whether Moore has to pay disputed bills.

Until then, unpaid vendors will just have to wait for their money.

"I'm not sure if it'll be a ruling from Judge Caldwell or if they'll go to small claims court," Moore said. "At this time, I'm just following the advice of John Nelson."