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posted: 11/9/2012 8:58 AM

Editorial: Vernon Hills and a collaboration that saved services

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

There's no shortage of examples of the effect of conflict between competing governments and government officials, usually at the expense of the people they serve. You see it in the gridlock on the federal level that threatens to drive the economy over a fiscal cliff. It happens in the state legislature, where long-simmering problems, such as pension debt, remain unsolved. It's even present within many local governments across the suburbs.

The weak economy, the rise of partisan politics and the individual struggles we all face coping with our own problems often conspire to make us feel as though public servants miss the point about why they are in office. So, when governments work together to solve problems and address needs, it's worth noting, and the Daily Herald has been covering just such a case in Vernon Hills, where the village and park district boards saw an opportunity to benefit the community and quickly worked to make it happen.

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Time will tell whether the decision to buy the financially troubled Lake County Family YMCA's Vernon Hills facility meets expectations, but the collaboration at least demonstrates creative problem solving and ought to encourage cooperation elsewhere.

The joint effort was launched shortly after the YMCA announced in late September it would close its facilities in Vernon Hills and Waukegan. Key attractions for village and park officials were two important amenities at the 30,000-square-foot Vernon Hills operation -- an indoor swimming pool and affordable child-care programs.

The park district has neither, and officials feared that with the demise of the YMCA, both would be critical losses for the community. With 155 children in the YMCA's child-care programs facing uncertain prospects, local officials had to move quickly. The village and park district boards met several times to assess the situation and determine a response before an Oct. 31 deadline.

The result was an "agreement in principle" with the YMCA in which the village will lend the park district the money from its reserves to buy the building and 9 acres. The amount of the pending purchase was not immediately disclosed, but it is more than the $1.4 million initially offered and rejected by the YMCA. The village and park district also are sharing responsibilities for inspections of the roof, mechanical systems and other building features.

True, not every community has $20 million in reserve funds to draw on for such an agreement as Vernon Hills does, but that doesn't have to impede community leaders wherever opportunities to work together in the public interest may arise. Indeed, this effort shows -- in addition, of course, to the value of building those reserves if possible -- what governments can do when they think and act collaboratively.

"It's been outstanding, the dialogue, and it continues," said Jeff Fougerousse, executive director of the Vernon Hills Park District. "That's how government should work."

We couldn't agree more.

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