Taxpayers will save $1.25 milion with sewage district dissolution

The Lake County Board on Tuesday made official a measure that will provide thousands of property owners in northwest Lake County a rare tax break.

Members unanimously approved an agreement to assume all functions, operations, maintenance and customer service of the Lakes Region Sanitary District in advance of dissolving the 47-year-old agency and eventually striking a line item from tax bills.

"The little guy won this one and that's important," said Kevin Hunter, who as president of the sanitary district board has been working with county officials on the merger. In effect, he and two other board members have worked themselves out of their nominally compensated county-appointed positions.

When the consolidation is complete, an estimated $1.25 million annual tax levy on properties in unincorporated Lake County and portions of Fox Lake, Lake Villa, Volo, Round Lake, Round Lake Beach will be eliminated, saving each taxpayer at least $100 per year depending on their property value.

About 11,000 properties are taxed for sanitary district services. However, there are only 5,500 customers, meaning many have been paying for service they don't get, Hunter said.

"We'll probably have to run the levy one more year to pay down the debt," he added. "Once that's done, the (property tax) levy goes away." The sanitary district board approved the agreement last month.

Customers shouldn't see any difference in service, Hunter said.

The action is considered by county officials as an example of doing away with unnecessary or outdated units of government where it makes sense in order to reduce costs and taxes.

"This is one of our first success stories and I hope we have more to come in the future," said Lake County Board member Judy Martini, whose district includes the Lakes Region service area.

In this instance, a study commissioned by the county determined it would be financially feasible to absorb the Ingleside-based sanitary district, which was created in 1972 as a government agency with taxing authority.

Creating the district was a good idea at the time, Hunter agreed, as septic systems were failing and a collection system was needed to keep sewage out of local lakes and Fox River tributaries.

The district does not actually treat wastewater but collects and delivers it through about 82 miles of sewers to larger county-owned transmission lines and into a regional treatment plant in Fox Lake, which charges separately from the sanitary district.

"By the mid '90s, they had accomplished the goal," Hunter said of the sewage district that encompasses 17 square miles. "They became huge players in the growth or no-growth of western Lake County."

District funding comes from a combination of property taxes, connection and permit fees and user charges.

The district will officially be dissolved after all debts are paid.

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