In Island Lake, new debate over new village hall
Island Lake residents trying to quash plans for a new village hall may have an unexpected ally.
Trustee Chuck Cermak believes officials should reconsider the effort, now that 76 percent of voters opposed the proposal in an advisory question on Election Day.
The overwhelming opposition "tells us what the people want," Cermak said in a telephone interview Thursday.
Village staffers and police now share a building on Greenleaf Avenue. The facility -- a 57-year-old former school on Greenleaf Avenue -- also contains a preschool, a senior center and a gymnasium.
Officials say it needs costly repairs and have been studying if building a new facility is a better option.
Water Tower Park has been chosen as the potential site for a new municipal building. With an estimated base price of $4.9 million, the complex could house village offices, a police station, a community center and other services.
No architectural or site plans have been approved, nor has a funding source been finalized.
Drafted by opponents of the plan, the ballot question asked voters if they favored the construction of "a combined public safety facility." That phrase used in early village documents has since been abandoned.
Voter turnout was very high in Island Lake. Some precincts reported more than 70 percent of registered voters completed ballots.
Of the 2,993 people who voted on the building proposal, 2,285 opposed it, unofficial results showed. Only 708 voters favored the plan.
Cermak, who admitted signing the petition that got the question on the ballot, was impressed by those numbers. People took the time to vote, he said, and officials should consider their opinions.
Cermak suspects many voters were concerned about how the project would affect their personal finances. He now thinks officials should look into repairing and upgrading the current village hall.
"I think it's worthwhile," Cermak said.
Mark Beeson, the Island Lake resident who headed the petition drive that got the referendum on the ballot, said the enormous opposition reflects "the will of the people."
Their message, he said, is to halt the current plans until officials and the public have more information and can determine if construction is affordable.
"Put it off," said Beeson, who will run for trustee in 2013.
Mayor Debbie Herrmann wasn't swayed by the referendum vote. She's consistently criticized the wording of the question and said it didn't accurately reflect the village's current efforts.
Herrmann claimed she's received emails and phone calls from residents who voted against the proposal because they thought it would raise their taxes and who now regret their votes.
"The advisory results verify to me that the general public is not fully educated on what it is we're trying to do," she said.
Herrmann called the existing building "dilapidated" and said repairing it would be more costly than building new. And regardless of which plan is pursued, something needs to be done, she said.
"We sat dormant for way too many years, and we can't do that anymore," Herrmann said.
Trustee Thea Morris said officials need to continue looking at off-site options, too.
"Our current facility does not and will not meet our needs," she said. "It doesn't do any good to put your head in the sand. We have to make a plan."
Still, whatever course officials eventually choose must be within the village's financial limitations, Morris said.
Island Lake voters shot down a second ballot proposal on Election Day, too. It would have turned the village clerk's job into a staff position.
Historically, the clerk has been an elected post.
An estimated 79 percent of voters rejected the proposal. It failed 2,378 to 616.