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Article updated: 5/17/2012 12:43 PM

Carol Stream site escapes park taxes for 6 years

By Christopher Placek

The only two certainties in life are supposed to be death and taxes.

But residents in one Carol Stream neighborhood aren't so sure.

Six years after folks started moving into the 145 townhouses and three commercial buildings that comprise their subdivision, not a single person has paid so much as a penny in property taxes to the park district.

And here's the strangest part: No one is exactly sure why.

Park officials say the free ride likely will end next year when the district secures a spot on the residents' property tax bills -- roughly two years after they first learned of the problem.

Officials say the Fountains at Town Center neighborhood at Lies Road and Gary Avenue has been in the park district's computer system since the subdivision was built in 2006.

But officials said they didn't realize the properties weren't actually on the tax rolls until 2010.

They said the problem apparently began in 1995 when the land was annexed into the village and the boundaries of every applicable taxing body except the park district.

In the six years since the townhouses and businesses were built, officials estimate the district has lost more than $200,000 in property tax revenue that should have been collected from the neighborhood.

Ironically, the land sits across the street from what will become the park district's $18 million recreation center now under construction, and just east of the park district's temporary headquarters in the village's Historic Farmhouse.

The glitch may have gone undetected even longer had a voter from the neighborhood not told officials in February 2010 the district's $37 million referendum question for park improvement projects -- including the new rec center -- wasn't on his ballot.

Since then, officials have been working to figure out why the land wasn't included in the district's boundaries all along, and how to fix the problem, Executive Director Arnie Biondo said.

On Monday, the park board formally approved plans to annex the property.

"We assumed all these years they were in the park district," Biondo said.

The land on which the Fountains at Town Center now sits was once the Hartsing family farm -- one of the last open spaces in Carol Stream until it was purchased and developed by Pasquinelli Homes. A three-party agreement among the Hartsings, the developer and the village was approved in July 1995.

As a standard procedure, the village notifies other taxing bodies when annexations occur, and those agencies in turn file the necessary documentation to annex the properties to their districts, said Bob Glees, the village's community development director.

"Included in our annexation agreements is standard language that says the property owner must annex the property into the fire district and park district," Glees said. "It's up to those taxing bodies to follow through on that."

That documentation goes to the county clerk's office, which puts the properties on the tax maps and allows taxing bodies to collect revenue from them, said Paul Hinds, DuPage County's chief deputy clerk.

He said mix-ups occasionally occur with a "couple parcels here and there," but not on as large of a scale as a 145-home subdivision and three commercial buildings.

"That's a pretty good size," Hinds said. "We haven't had one (a mix-up) like that for a good while."

Biondo said the request to annex the former Hartsing property preceded the current park district staff and the village's community development department, so it's unclear how the oversight occurred.

But it's not the first time it's happened. Officials discovered in 1999, after another park district referendum, that the 140-home Autumn Ridge subdivision on Lies Road was never annexed into the park district. And a nearby subdivision of eight homes also was not within the district's boundaries.

Now, officials say letters will be sent to the affected residents at the Fountains at Town Center to inform them the park district's collection of taxes will take effect on next year's tax bills.

Jennifer Hallisy, property manager of the Fountains at Town Center residential development, said the issue hadn't come up at previous condo board meetings. She met with the board again Tuesday night and since no one had yet received any notice from the park district, she said the association has no comment.

Park board President Brenda Gramann said during Monday's meeting that she wants the park district's letter to residents to be "nicely worded."

"Considering their location to the new rec center," she said, "I'm hoping they should not be overly disappointed with us."

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