A long-simmering fight between the Batavia and Geneva library districts is back on the front burner, as testimony began Wednesday in a lawsuit over who gets to add about 1,600 acres in Blackberry Township to their district.
Batavia Library sued Geneva Library in 2007, after the Geneva Library annexed a strip of land 500 feet wide and 3,980 feet long on the southern boundary line of the Geneva school district. Batavia Library officials contend it was done deliberately to block them from annexing land north of that line, as they had done in late 2006. At the time, the validity of the Batavia annexation was in question.
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Former Geneva Library director Jeanne Hintz testified Wednesday that the directors of the Geneva, Batavia, St. Charles and then-Elburn library districts discussed in 1987 how to handle the land that lay between their districts. They decided, she said, to follow school district boundaries. It was an oral agreement, and never acted on by the Geneva Library board, she said.
She also testified that in 2005, the Geneva Library district annexed nearby land that was in the Batavia school district, but only did so because the Batavia Library district said it didn't want it.
In October 2006, the Batavia Library annexed nearly 1,600 acres.
State law encourages library and school districts to align. Hintz said that the few residents of the area in dispute "identified" with Geneva because their land was in the Geneva school and park districts. She said conversations with the owners over the years showed that they wanted Geneva library service but did not want to pay library taxes on their farmland. A 1989 referendum to add the area to the Geneva library district failed, she said, because of that.
Hintz also testified about how and whether Geneva Library officials, including herself and board President Esther Barclay, found residents of the area in question to protest the Batavia annexation by asking for a referendum on the matter. Russell and Lori Ott made such a request.
Hintz, a registrar, processed a change of address for their voter registrations, and notarized Barclay's signature as the petition passer, then delivered the petition to the Batavia Library. She testified she did not know at the time that the Otts were related to a Geneva Library employee, but that the Otts used the library and that gifts in memory of their late 6-year-old daughter had been directed to the library.
As to whether the narrow annexation would serve any people, Hintz replied, "I think we extended library services to as many residents as Batavia did in its ordinance." Geneva Library officials have previously said they believe Batavia Library annexed the land to get more property taxes without having to serve many more people because it excluded residential parcels.
Testimony will resume at 10 a.m. June 26.
The case is being heard by McHenry County Chief Judge Michael Sullivan because a Kane County judge assigned to the case was friends with another judge who happened to be the father of Batavia Library board President Doug Sullivan. Geneva Library requested the change of court.
The case has been affected by other matters, as the two fought over the validity of the Otts' petition, including asking an appellate court whether the Kane County election board erred in refusing to reconsider its ruling when new information was presented. No referendum was conducted.