More information being provided to the County Board’s Legislative and Audit Committee 8:30 AM April 10th meeting about the McHenry County Conservation District’s attempt to obtain more taxing power through the bills that State Senator Pam Althoff has introduced is below. Yesterday the first “poop sheet” was published.
SUPPORT SB 3341 & SB 3342
SPONSOR SENATOR PAMELA J. ALTHOFF
Amends the Conservation District Act (70 ILCS 410)
McHenry County Conservation District
Located in a county with more than 300,000 inhabitants, McHenry County Conservation District created in 1971 is unique and considerably larger in size and scope than any of the other four (4) county conservation districts in the State of Illinois (Boone, Macon, Putnam and Vermillion). Serving an urban/suburban/rural county contiguous to the counties of Cook, Lake, Kane and Boone requires balancing the high demand for public access and site amenities while preserving the natural and cultural heritage that defines the region.
Today, the McHenry County Conservation District is responsible for the guardianship of more than 25,000 acres of open space and 32 conservation areas, 30 miles of regional trails that provide access to over 100 miles of an integrated trail network, and is nationally recognized as a leader in conservation and environmental stewardship . In addition to local preservation efforts, the District played a collaborative role in establishing the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge in NE Illinois and SE Wisconsin.
Successful Voter-‐Approved Referenda for Preservation, Restoration & Public Access Recreation Improvements
In response to the growing population in McHenry County, the McHenry County Conservation District obtained statutory authority through the Illinois General Assembly in 1989 to increase its
maximum debt limit from .575% to 1.725% through voter approved referenda.
From 2000-‐2007 the EAV of McHenry County grew 90%, averaging more than a 9% annual rate of growth, creating an unprecedented pressure on open space to be lost to residential and commercial development.
In order to protect their open spaces and natural resources from development threats, McHenry County residents overwhelmingly approved two separate Conservation District General Obligation Bond Issuances:
- the first for $68.5 million in 2001 and
- a second for $73 million in 2007.
With the proceeds from these two bond issuances, the District experienced an amazing rate of growth,
- acquiring 12,155 acres of open space (doubling the amount of land under its protection),
- created 8 miles of regional bike trails and 34 miles of multi use trails, and
- developed 21 additional sites to provide public access.
Several of the properties acquired such as
- Camp Algonquin (circa 1907) located along the Fox River and
- Kennedy Way Station and Inn -‐ Stage Coach Stop (circa 1853) at Brookdale Conservation
- Area McConnel Farmstead (circa 1852)
contain historic structures falling in disrepair and require stabilization and restoration to preserve them for current to future generations, others require universal access improvements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as the removal of unsafe structures before public access can be granted.
During this time, the District was able to successfully manage this astonishing rate of growth through prudent management of tax revenues available to it under the limits of the Illinois Property Extension Limitation Law (PTELL).
However, after reaching its peak in 2008, McHenry County’s EAV fell by more than 25% through 2012 and an additional 8% decline is forecasted for 2013.
The decline in EAV has resulted in the District reaching its maximum statutory tax rate (1/10th of 1% of the EAV) of its corporate levy, which accounts for 83% of the District’s total annual operating revenue.
The reduced maximum statutory rate will cause the District to lose an estimated $2 million dollars of property tax revenue over the next five years.
Facing Budgetary Restrictions–Responsibility to Protect Voter-‐Approved Public Investments
With a total annual operating budget of $9 million dollars, drastically reduced future tax revenues, and the extraordinary growth the District experienced from the referendum approved bond issuances, the District can no longer afford to adequately maintain all the critical infrastructure, assets and natural resources in public trust currently under its management.
Most recently, as the District looked to refinance its outstanding debt, the District became aware of the stacking issue after receiving a legal opinion from bond counsel that the statute does not sufficiently distinguish voter approved bonds from those bonds issued subject to the District’s non-‐referendum debt authority.
While the District’s bond counsel took this view, other attorney’s said while it was somewhat unclear, the District probably had the authority under the current statute, but should follow bond counsel.
The current language as interpreted would penalize the District for asking its voters for the additional bonding authority and places the McHenry County Conservation District at a disadvantage from other conservation districts as well at other units of local government who have similar statutory authority.
It corrects an unintended consequence that occurred when the Conservation District Act (70 ILCS 410) was amended in 1989 to allow the McHenry County Conservation District to increase its maximum debt limit from .575% to 1.725% through voter-‐approved referenda.
It clarifies that voter-‐approved bonds are excluded from non-‐referendum debt limit.
SB3341 adds a refunding bonds piece so they do not count towards limit (a refunded bond is a bond that is still outstanding, but the money to pay for it is held in an irrevocable fund for payment.
SB 3341 also provides McHenry County Conservation District the flexibility to use non-referendum bonding authority for the development of real property acquired with voter-‐approved referendum bonds for a limited and specific purpose.
Development is limited to the improvement or maintenance of existing trails, parking lots, bridges, roads, picnic shelters, and other improvements, adding or improving access to conservation areas to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, demolition of unnecessary or unsafe structures and the stabilization, revitalization or rehabilitation of historic structures.
SB 3342 allows only the McHenry County Conservation District to ask voters for a corporate rate up to .15% via referendum.
For information, contact Elizabeth S. Kessler, Executive Director of the McHenry County Conservation District at 815.260.7206 EKessler@MCCDistrict.org or Andy Dylak, Director of Finance & Administration at 815.338.6223, ext. 1226 or ADylak@MCCDistrict.