Some Lake County property owners get say on tax hike
A yearslong process to bring Lake Michigan water to Lake Villa, Lindenhurst and two unincorporated areas has reached a key point in the pursuit of a special taxing district to finance the $46 million project.
The 11,600 affected property owners will have a chance to voice their opinions on that possibility during a public hearing Tuesday hosted by the Lake County Board. The board is meeting in a special session at 6 p.m. at the Lehmann Mansion, 485 North Milwaukee Ave., Lake Villa, to consider the establishment of what is known as Special Service Area No. 16.
Under the proposal, every property owner in that area would pay a share of the cost of installing 22 miles of pipes and related facilities to bring Lake Michigan water to the two towns and the unincorporated areas of Fox Lake Hills and Grandwood Park.
Between the added property tax and an eventual increase in water fees, the owner of a home valued at $200,000 would pay an estimated $40 more per month over what they pay now.
The public hearing is a required step in a series of actions needed to make the switch from well water to Lake Michigan water, which is considered a more reliable long-term solution to dwindling supplies.
"This is the culmination of a number of informational meetings we've had," said Peter Kolb, Lake County public works director. "It is a key step, absolutely."
Planning for Lake Michigan water began several years ago and initially involved several other entities. Over time, the scenario has changed as communities have taken other avenues.
But Lake Villa, Lindenhurst and Lake County, which operates the other two systems, have stuck together and are on track to have Lake Michigan water flowing through their taps in 2017. The supplier would be the Central Lake County Joint Action Water Agency (JAWA), a wholesale water producer in Lake Bluff that serves nine communities.
As part of the process, the Lake County Board in June approved an ordinance to allow for the formation of the special service area. The county will take written and verbal comments at the public hearing, which marks the beginning of a 60-day objection period.
The official establishment of SSA No. 16 can be blocked if 51 percent of registered voters and 51 percent of property owners within it submit petitions in opposition to the Lake County Clerk. If not, the county board likely would create SSA No. 16 in November. Once approved, the county could begin to borrow money in the form of bond issues backed by property taxes, to a maximum of $46 million, to pay for the project.
Village officials say the need for Lake Michigan water and the financing mechanism to pay for it has been well communicated, and they have not heard much in the way of opposition.
"A majority of the people, I think, are excited and about getting it," said Lake Villa Mayor Frank Loffredo. "This is our window of opportunity."
The communities, along with several others, received Lake Michigan water allocations from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in early 2011. But that approval came with an expiration date and substantial progress must be shown in the interim, Loffredo said.
"The deep wells are dropping. We're being proactive by finding a sustainable source of water," he said. "This is the long-term, least expensive option."
In Lindenhurst, only six of its 10 wells are operational.
"One of the problems we continue to deal with is quantity issues -- we have all shallow wells," said Village Administrator Matt Formica. During the drought last summer, "Several of our wells were sucking sand and not drawing any water," he added.
Digging new wells could cost millions, he added, and would have the affect of sticking a new straw in the same glass, which is why the village is pursuing Lake Michigan water.
"We've given people a lot of opportunities to learn about the project and the process," he said.
Lake County already is a member of JAWA and Lake Villa and Lindenhurst are provisional members, with full membership pending. One benefit of that will be the opportunity apply for a loan from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which comes at about half the market interest rate for a 20-year period, as opposed to the traditional 30-year bond payment period.
"It won't be an immediate hit, all at once for everything," Loffredo said. "Certainly, everybody wants to make it as easy as possible as far as cost."