County might give $2.34 million in Winchester House fund back to taxpayers

Taxpayers would receive a few bucks each from defunct fund with about $2.3 million in it

It wouldn't amount to much per individual, but Lake County officials agree nearly $2.34 million in a defunct property tax fund for the former Winchester House nursing home should be rebated.

Official action wouldn't occur until March, and the best way to do that needs to be determined. But the general consensus of the county board's financial and administrative committee is that with limited options, a rebate would be best.

"It goes beyond symbolic," said committee member John Wasik of Grayslake. "It's money we had earmarked for this nursing home and should be returned to the taxpayers."

Since 1982, county property tax bills have included a tax levy for Fund 218 to operate the Winchester House skilled nursing center.

But in July, the county's involvement officially ended when all 98 residents of the five-story building at Winchester Road and Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville were transferred to a new state-licensed facility in Mundelein. The building is closed and will be demolished.

"This is a property tax fund that only applies if you have an operational nursing home," explained Lake County Finance Director Patrice Sutton.

The remaining money can't be used for any other county purpose. And because the fund was limited to the operation of Winchester House, even applying it to future demolition costs, for example, is off the table, barring a change in state law.

"Bottom line, I think it needs to be rebated to the taxpayers," committee member Linda Pedersen of Antioch said.

Sutton said the rebate amount to each property tax-payer would be "very minuscule," likely a couple of dollars.

How best to do that needs to be considered in more detail.

The county doesn't have a process to create and send rebate checks, for example. And even if it did, the possibility the checks might not be cashed would delay the close out of the fund and create administrative issues, Sutton said.

"We knew this was coming, but there is additional research that would need to be completed to really flush this out," she added.

"This is something I absolutely, positively have to get right. I've done some preliminary research but I need more time."

Sutton was directed to research the correct and most efficient way to proceed and report to the committee early next year.

Meanwhile, all utilities have been disconnected, entryways secured and the building made safe ahead of a planned demolition in late spring.

The Libertyville Fire Department has been using the building for training, such as high-rise firefighting and search and rescue operations. Several departments have been invited to a multi-company training event in mid-November.

"We're very grateful and thankful," said Fire Lt. Justin Hubbard. "It's not too often we get a building of this size to train in."

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