Coalition aims to merge three Round Lake-area towns into one

A grass-roots movement is pushing a proposal to merge three Round Lake-area villages into one, creating Lake County's second largest city, organizers announced Thursday.

One Round Lake, a coalition of more than 500 residents from the villages of Round Lake, Round Lake Beach, and Round Lake Park, has filed documents with county election officials to place a binding consolidation referendum on the November ballot, officials said.

Bill Gentes, the coalition's spokesman and former Round Lake mayor, said the move is aimed at reducing the property tax burden on residents and making local government more efficient.

"There is so much money wasted by having three separate Round Lake municipalities. The vast redundancies in operations can be eliminated by merging into a single city while saving the taxpayers millions of dollars," Gentes said.

Round Lake-area residents identify as a single community that is served by the Round Lake Area Park District and Round Lake Area Library, he said. Neighboring Round Lake Heights also is part of those park and library districts.

Gentes said redundant village positions, such as having three police chiefs or three public works supervisors, would be consolidated into single positions. Instead of trustees being elected at large, the merger would create an aldermanic city, where representatives would be elected from geographic districts, he said.

"Plus, we wouldn't have to compete against the other Round Lakes on issues like economic development," he said. "We would all be in the same boat and rowing with the same oars."

Gentes said the name of the consolidated city and the cost of the proposed merger are unknown. The movement began about 18 months ago, and referendum ballot petitions have been circulated for about 90 days.

The only opposition to the proposal comes from elected officials, who will "most likely use precious taxpayer dollars to fight an effort designed to increase efficiency and save money," Gentes said.

Officials from the three villages said they have had no discussions with coalition leaders and questioned the lack of time to study the proposal.

Round Lake Beach Mayor Richard Hill said he is not opposed to the consolidation idea but said more data is needed to make an informed decision on whether it would help or hurt the various communities.

"I wish they were more open about it and would have come forward sooner so we could check the idea out," Hill said. "It may be the best thing for the communities, or the worst thing. But, right now, I can't tell because we have no data on how it would affect all the varying communities."

The villages of Round Lake and Round Lake Beach released statements saying there have been no studies about the economic impact or changes it would bring to municipal services.

Round Lake Park Mayor Linda Lucassen said she has filed a formal objection to the referendum.

"I'm not for or against the referendum or consolidation," Lucassen said. "The opportunity should have been presented to us to see if it is beneficial to my municipality or not."

Gentes said the coalition has filed the required paperwork with the appropriate offices to place the binding referendum on the November ballot. However, he said, it's unclear if additional hurdles need to be cleared.

"We have turned in double the amount of signatures needed and filed the paperwork with the appropriate authorities to get it on the ballot," he said. "So, we think it is a binding referendum. But, we're still waiting for the final word."

County election officials said the petition has been filed with the Lake County circuit clerk's office and is going through the certification process. Once it's certified, it will be sent to the Lake County clerk's office for placement on the ballot.

If the merger is approved by voters, the three communities would combine for a total population of 53,919, based on 2014 census figures.

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