The Lakewood Village Board voted 5-1 Tuesday night to allow a small 50-year tax the $55-56,000 annual proceeds of which will be spent to keep the lakes of Turnberry Subdivision clean and clear.
This year a Special Service Area (SSA) tax district covering a much larger area will expire.
It was unpopular among those taxed who did not live near the lakes.
The 5-1 vote started a sixty-day clock during which opponents to the proposed new 50-year Special Service Area (SSA) of 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation must gain signatures of
- 51% of the registered voters and
- 51% the property owners
in order stop it.
This state law, which I remember voting against in the 1970’s, makes it almost impossible to stop an SSA once a village board starts the process.
A serious challenge was made to a Johnsburg SSA, which resulted in a Circuit Court’s upholding the opposition’s petitions.
The Village appealed and, because the citizens could not come up with the money to pay for representation in the Appellate Court, the lower level decision was overruled.
Before the Lakewood Village Board would even consider this SSA, it required citizens supporting it to produce evidence of consensus in support of the new tax.
Village President Erin Smith, who lives within the proposed tax district, reported that 70-80% of the homeowners to be affected indicated support.
The ordinance, as explained by Village Administrator Catherine Peterson, will limit expenditures to
- algae control
- access maintenance
- dock maintenance
“It does not include fish stocking,” she pointed out, being “very narrowly focused.”
Legal fees for starting the new SSA will come from funds left over from the old SSA.
Work done by village staff will not be reimbursed, however.
Trustee Gene Furey pointed out that the lakes are not natural and, without upkeep, “would revert back to a swamp.”
Opposition was strongly express by newly-elected Trustee Paul Serwatka.
He said he had knocked on eighteen doors at the edge of the proposed tax district and found sixteen who didn’t want to be part of the effort.
Two, whose names, I assume were on the list of those supporting the proposal, told Serwatka, “I did not vote ‘Yes.'”
One of the opponents said that his price would be $165 per year. He said, “Almost no one here pays anywhere near $165.”
At this point, the animosity between Furey and Serwatka surfaced when Furey asked,
“Are you running for office?”
Serwatka is one of four seeking to replace State Rep. Mike Tryon as State Representative.
When Serwatka asked if opponents had the burden to be at the meeting, members of the audience, most in favor of the SSA, answered, “Yes.”
An opponent in the audience criticized the information distributed with the citizen-initiated survey, threatening to sue.
“I will defend this for free,” Lakewood Attorney Michael Smoron offered, pointing out that the ordinance being considered was what was “controlling.”
Serwatka pointed out that assessed valuation was not the only way the taxes to be collected could be apportioned.
Later he told me that he thought the seventy-some homes on the lakes should pay more than those without lakefront property.
He pointed out that he was in the current SSA, but would not be in the new one.
“I have no skin in the game,” he said repeatedly.
After Serwatka commented, “I think you’re doing a great disservice to a number of people,” Smith observed, “I think I know how you’re going to vote.”
“He’s running for another office. That’s what this is all about,” Fuery interjected.
“It would truly be a shame if political activism prevented this board from serving our neighbors,” Trustee Carl Davis commented.
It was the audience’s turn then.
A opponent living on Muirfield said he favored a voluntary approach and that the tax would cause his property value to go down.
“I don’t want my property taxes any higher than they have to be.”
33-year resident Lyle Anderson said that he had “never seen such a concerted effort” and that it had been well-vented.
“I think we need to be realistic about it.”
Loren Hall wondered if the tax rate being authorized was not too high. He thought 11-12 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation would “cover it.” That would bring in $38-40,000.
Don Foster, outside the proposed tax district, questioned the legality of using current SSA money to pay for setting up a new SSA.
The Village Attorney assured him that was legal.
Smith pointed out that there was an overlapping constituency.
Nicole Taylor, a Turnberry Property Owners Association pointed out that all seven Board members supported the SSA tax.
A group called the Turnberry Lakes Club reported having raised about $40,000 in voluntary contributions, its chairman said.
“I have a lot of concerns about how this is bring ramrodded through.”
He pointed out that people hired would have to be paid prevailing wage rates (usually higher than private enterprise would pay).
The contributions would be returned, he said, and would “shut down the TLC.”
“I don’t like the idea of being forced to pay taxes.”
Smith pointed out that she had also originally been in favor of a voluntary approach.
Commenting on what opponents would have to do to stop the SSA, a woman compared it with “salmon swimming upstream.”
Alan Kanaby, President of the Turnberry Property Association, spoke near the end of the meeting.
“We started this process in May of last year.
“These lakes are important to us.
“We did not try to mislead anyone.
“Turnberry to Lock Glen are the areas primary affected.
“Seventy-five percent of the population responded.
“Eighty-four percent of those said they would support it.
“Only thirty-five homes were against it.”
“We wanted a dependable and sustainable source of revenue,” he continued.
“It was voluntary before.
“As a result, the lakes started suffering as fewer and fewer people gave less and less money.
“This has been a long and arduous process for us.
“It’s because we love our lakes and our environment.
“I don’t think anyone has said they don’t want to save the lakes.
“I don’t want salad there,” Kanaby concluded to applause.