Budgets continue to be a concern for most Lake County communities, but there have been signs of life after the economic body blows of the past few years.
And maybe even a guarded sense things may be loosening up.
Whether that happens is still uncertain, but what follows are some of the expected issues and items of note to watch for in 2012.
Tapped out? Nearly a year has passed since the Illinois Department of Natural Resources approved allocations of Lake Michigan water for several Lake County communities. How or if it will get to local taps is the next question for a project originally pegged at $252 million.
Lake Zurich and Long Grove already have dropped out of the consortium of nine entities that initially sought the allotments to potentially replace dwindling or expensive-to-treat groundwater supplies.
Other members include Wauconda, Volo, Lake Villa, Lindenhurst, Antioch, Fox Lake and Lake County, which operates two water systems.
As there are several potential providers, the question now is where communities will get the lake water, whether it will be a collective effort and how much it will cost.
There could be answers in 2012 and public education campaigns will roll out to explain what is happening.
"This is a decision for the elected officials," said Peter Kolb, Lake County public works director.
On the road: Motorists in Lake County can expect another busy road construction season with several big projects planned.
Lake County alone is planning $54 million in work in what assistant county engineer Al Giertych describes as a "very active year."
Big projects include the widening two sections of Delaney Road, between Sunset Avenue and Wadsworth Road, at a cost of more than $20 million.
In the southern part of the county, Quentin Road on either side of Route 12 will be widened to five lanes, a $9.8 million project.
Near Libertyville, Peterson Road will be widened from Route 45 to west of Route 83 at a projected cost of $13 million. The timing is subject to right of way acquisition, but the Peterson Road corridor is considered important for its economic development potential.
Work on two tunnels beneath Route 176 and east and west of Fairfield Road also will begin in spring in advance of widening the intersection in 2013. A fourth roundabout, this one at Cedar Lake and Monaville roads, also is on the county's list.
The Illinois Department of Transportation does not release its construction plan until spring, but one project being paid for by Lake County is expected to cause major delays.
Prep work has begun, and the widening of all legs of the intersection of Milwaukee Avenue and Route 137 and Milwaukee north to eliminate the last two-lane stretch of the busy route will begin in earnest in spring.
That project includes a traffic signal at Casey Road, an underpass and a connection to the Des Plaines River trail, sidewalks and other features.
And, without question, there will be keen interest in the findings of the Illinois Route 53/120 Blue Ribbon Advisory Council, which is expected to make a recommendation by summer.
The council, under the auspices of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, has been charged with determining whether there is a consensus to extend Route 53 north and, if so, how it should be paid for and what the road would look like.
Trash heap: An initiative to greatly reduce the amount of materials thrown away in landfills by substantially boosting recycling is expected to get public legs during 2012.
After more than a year of work, a county-appointed task force last fall produced a list of 36 recommendations covering residential users, as well as construction and demolition debris.
The goal over time is to greatly increase the amount of material diverted from landfills through recycling efforts.
Suggestions include mandatory programs if certain goals aren't met, which is likely to be a consideration for the dozens of communities in the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County.
"It's one thing to write it, it's another to start implementing it," said SWALCO Executive Director Walter Willis.
A food scrap collection is expected to be introduced as a pilot program in 2012.
Residents also are reminded that, as of Jan. 1, it is no longer legal to dispose of unwanted electronics in the regular trash.
Fielders future: There is no permanent stadium for the Lake County Fielders in Zion. The team has filed a lawsuit against Zion, contending it needs a ballpark to run a financially successful operation.
Will the stadium be built? Will the Fielders play ball in Zion in 2012? Will they play ball anywhere in Lake County?
The strained relationship between the team and city came to a head in 2011 over the unfinished stadium at Route 173 and Green Bay Road.
Zion maintained the Fielders owe the city $340,000 in back rent for 2010 and 2011. The team, headed by Richard Ehrenreich, refused to pay rent because Zion didn't build the permanent ballpark as promised.
Zion received a $1.3 million grant from state taxpayers to install professional stadium lights, a playing field, dugouts and a parking area.
On the docket: The trial of a Deerfield man for the April 1, 2010, murder of Marina Aksman of Vernon Hills is likely to be held in 2012.
Daniel Baker, 23, faces up to life in prison if convicted of beating the 50-year-old Aksman to death with a baseball bat after he invaded her home.
Police say Baker became enraged over Aksman's efforts to break up his relationship with her 21-year-old daughter, Kristina Aksman.
The couple was found five days after the slaying in northern Montana, where Baker was arrested.
No trial date has been set, but a hearing on what is believed to be the final defense pretrial motions is scheduled to begin Jan. 31.
Changing faces: June will see at least six longtime school superintendents turning over their reigns to the district to others.
In Fox Lake, two veterans will retire June 30. John Benedetti, who heads Grant High School District 124, and Ron Pazanin, the leader of Big Hollow Elementary District 38.
Warren Township High School District 121's Phil Sobocinski and Lincolnshire-Prairieview District 103's Larry Fleming will also retire in June.
Susan Zook of Hawthorn Elementary District 73 and Roger Prosise of Diamond Lake Elementary District 76 will also step down at the end of this school year.
Get out the vote: Voters will have several important election decisions to make in the coming year, as most county and state seats will be up for grabs.
Among them is the 8th Congressional District race, where Congressman Joe Walsh, a Republican from McHenry, will face Richard Evans of Wheaton and Robert Canfield of Palatine in the primary.
The Democratic primary for the seat pits Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates against Raja Krishnamoorthi, also of Hoffman Estates.
The general election could be one of the most watched races in the country.
Candidates are also lining up to try and replace outgoing 31st State Senator Suzi Schmidt, who decided to not seek re-election after domestic issues exploded in 2011.
Republicans Larry Leafblad of Grayslake, Linwood "Lennie" Jarratt of Round Lake Beach, Michael White of Lindenhurst and Joe Neal of Wadsworth will compete in the April primary for the Republican nod. The winner will face Lake County Board Member Melinda Bush, a Democrat from Grayslake.
At the county level, the races for coroner and state's attorney are also expected to be hot. Four candidates are running for coroner, and six candidates are on the ballot for the state's attorney's office.