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posted: 7/5/2017 5:30 AM

Lawsuit dismissal means Naperville Twp. road budget dispute is over

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A lawsuit that pitted the Naperville Township road district against the rest of Naperville Township over money and power has been dismissed for the second time, and now both sides agree it's over.

The lawsuit was deemed moot by the Illinois Second District Appellate Court because all of the parties involved when it was filed during a budget dispute last year were voted out of office and the budget it concerned has expired.

Now the new leaders of the township and road district, Supervisor Eddie Bedford and Highway Commissioner Richard Novinger, say they're ready to move on without a legal battle.

"Going forward, the township and I are on the same page," Novinger said.

Novinger's predecessor, Stan Wojtasiak, filed the suit in May 2016 over $544,325 worth of budget cuts approved by former Township Supervisor Rachel Ossyra and former Trustees Janice Anderson and Kerry Malm.

The cuts left the road district unable to pay all its salaries, so the lawsuit sought reinstatement of its proposed fiscal 2017 budget of $2,619,330, along with a ruling the township "abused its discretion" in enforcing the cuts.

No such ruling came from the appellate court, which effectively said it was too late to address a budgetary issue for a spending plan that ended March 31. Without the budget matter in play, the court would not issue a ruling simply to create a precedent for future disputes.

The dismissal followed a similar move in July 2016 by a DuPage County court, which also tossed out the suit.

While Novinger said he never expected any funding would come back to his district as a result of the lawsuit, he recently pursued oral arguments in the appeal in an attempt to have the court define the balance of power between townships and township road districts.

Each road district is technically its own taxing body, separate from the township and able to propose its own budget.

But once the highway commissioner puts forward a budget, the township board has authority to approve it in full or in part as trustees deem necessary.

"Can a township board cut a road district budget to the point where it can't function?" is the question Novinger said he hoped the lawsuit would settle. "That's the issue. How much discretion does a township board have?"

Ossyra said she stands by the budget cuts, which she maintains were within the scope of the township's rights.

"Nothing for me has changed," Ossyra said, "about the actions the board took being, at that time, appropriate, legal and in the best interests of all."

The dismissal, and Novinger's decision not to pursue the case further, means the court will not issue an opinion on the legality of the budget cuts.

The road district's budget for fiscal year 2018 stands at $2.3 million, and Novinger has canceled an agreement with the Lisle Township road district that helped maintain his district's streets while the lowered budget was in effect. Novinger now is servicing nearly 15 miles of township roads with a staff of an administrative assistant, a foreman, two equipment operators and one seasonal equipment operator.

"I was hoping there would have been a ruling addressing whether or not the township overreached its authority," Novinger said. "That was a disappointment. But in the larger picture, no matter what they ruled, it's done. It's over."

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