Years ago, officials of the Old Town Sanitary District decided to spend down its reserve and cut taxes. Now, they are asking voters to allow for an increase. But what they really want is to disband the district altogether.
The question on the ballot could sound scary, calling for almost doubling the tax the district can levy. However, as the ballot also states, the increase in the 2012 tax year amounts to $4.80 for a home assessed at $100,000.
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Bill Kearns, president of the district's three-member board, says it would add about $14 to the average tax bill in the district.
The district owns the sanitary sewer pipes in most of Prospect Heights and in small areas of Arlington Heights, Mount Prospect and Wheeling.
"About four years ago, we cut the levy and spent the surpluses," said Kearns. "We thought we could raise it again. By doing the reasonable thing, we hurt ourselves."
The board ran up against the tax cap, which prevents many local governments from raising taxes more than the cost of living without a vote of the residents.
The reserves were at least $400,000 when the board cut taxes, but now they are down to about $60,000.
The district's current budget is about $130,000 a year, said Kearns, which he calls bare bones, not allowing any upgrading in the system. The district's expenses include repairs, legal work, engineering, marking pipes for construction, issuing permits for new service, insurance and audits.
"Sanitary sewers can last a long time, but we do need to be raising money in reserves," he said. "We want to get our revenue to a point where we can afford to outsource work, like we are currently doing."
The district's single employee, superintendent Vito Badalamenti, is currently on disability and scheduled to retire at the end of the year. His salary is $75,000, but retirement fees are also expensive for a single-employee body, said Kearns.
According to statute, the district, established in 1967, was scheduled to be disbanded in the middle of the last decade when the last of its area became incorporated, he said. However, residents voted to keep the district.
"Each of the municipalities has its own departments that could probably handle it more efficiently," said Kearns.
Why does the district need more money if it is wants to disappear?
Well, it might be around for quite a while yet. Attorneys believe the district can be dissolved either with a referendum or by getting a law passed in Springfield.
"We don't know how long it will take. We're dealing with government agencies," said Kearns.
Prospect Heights Mayor Nick Helmer said city officials talked with those from the district about four months ago about what the alternatives would be if the district does not survive financially.
"Something has to happen," said Helmer. "We need sewer lines. They better get permission to increase the taxes, or we're going to have to look to see if the district can be taken over."