'Dirty, rotten politics': Talks between Elk Grove Village and fire district heat up
Elk Grove Village officials say the proposed data center redevelopment of an unincorporated residential subdivision -- and millions of dollars for the homeowners who have agreed to sell -- won't happen unless the Elk Grove Rural Fire Protection District finally agrees to let the village and two other towns take over fire and emergency medical services there.
But members of the fire board -- who all live in the Roppolo subdivision and have pending sales contracts with the developer -- say the two issues are separate. And, they'd be violating conflict-of-interest provisions in state law by voting on the intergovernmental agreement as currently drafted.
"They've stuck us between a rock and a hard place," said Heather Maldonado, one of the five elected members of the fire district board. "It's between us voting illegally on something potentially, and our neighbors are happy, or we don't vote on it, our neighbors are pissed."
"It's just a threat," board member Dawn Jablonski added. "Dirty, rotten politics. That's what it is."
The fire board has been negotiating with officials in Elk Grove Village, Mount Prospect and Des Plaines for years over a deal. It would allow the municipal fire departments to service the area now covered by the district -- 57 single-family homes in the Roppolo neighborhood north of Landmeier Road, four mobile home parks along Touhy Avenue and Elmhurst Road, and several industrial and commercial properties on either side of Higgins Road.
Annexations by the towns, and the resulting shrinking tax base, have left the district nearly insolvent.
Fire district trustees say negotiations were moving along in recent months, until Elk Grove Village Manager Matt Roan sent a letter July 13 to Stream Data Centers, copied to the fire district. He wrote the village won't consider the company's petition for annexation and a special use for operation of three data center buildings and an electric substation -- unless the district inks the agreement by July 28.
The fire board "has continually refused to move forward with this agreement," Roan wrote. "Most notably, the entire board of trustees for the district are seeking to sell off their ownership within the district as part of your development's acquisition of their properties without resolving this matter."
Mayor Craig Johnson said the data center project "can't survive without" the village's water and sewer services.
"If the fire district doesn't agree to it, it's all off with Stream," Johnson said. "We've danced long enough."
Carlos Maldonado, Heather's husband and the fire board president, said village officials "convoluted" redevelopment of the Roppolo subdivision with discussions over the fire services agreement.
"The (intergovernmental agreement) and annexation are two different monsters. They have no co-relationship," said Maldonado, adding that village officials could annex their properties right now if they wanted to. "You don't go to negotiate with somebody giving them ultimatums."
He said the fire board and municipalities agreed in principle "on most things" during a meeting Wednesday. But the next day, a business owner sent the board a letter saying the five trustees would be violating state law by voting on an agreement in which they have a personal financial interest.
The three trustees present for a district board meeting Thursday night -- both Maldonados and Jablonski, whose husband, Jim, also is on the board -- said they would abstain from a vote.
Carlos Maldonado said they could take a vote if one key provision in the agreement were struck. It calls on the district to resolve objections to the creation of one of three special service areas the towns established to fund their future fire protection costs.
The Maldonados and Dawn Jablonski helped circulate petitions of their fellow neighbors that put the new taxing area on hold in February.
Carlos Maldonado said the towns' decisions to establish the new tax districts were "unilateral," and residents legally objected to them.
The key issue for the fire board appears to be disposition of the district's assets -- its tanker truck and the fire station at 1415 E. Algonquin Road.
"Everything comes down to money," Carlos Maldonado said. "We want to be fairly compensated for the assets that we have. We want them to also feel that they are fairly compensated for the services when and if we dissolve."
Voters ultimately would have to approve the district's dissolution as early as the March 2024 election.