Willson CL Library Architect Donating Big Money to Library Referendum Campaign

The following letter from bond analyst Steve Willson, was published originally in the Northwest Herald.  It is re-published below with permission from the author:

Questionable Contributions


Many years ago it was common for investment banks to contribute to local elections and receive hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions of dollars in underwriting business in return.

Sometimes there was an explicit quid quo pro; other times, a wink and a nod was enough.

The situation was so obviously corrupt and so pervasive that the SEC passed a rule prohibiting investment banks from doing any business in municipalities where the bankers made political contributions.

Unfortunately the SEC doesn’t regulate architects.

Engberg Anderson, the architectural firm hired by the City of Crystal Lake for the Library, a firm that stood to make hundreds of thousands of dollars if the library referendum passed, made a huge contribution to the “Library YES” committee, a contribution equal to a third of the Committee’s budget.

This fact was known before the election but not reported by the Northwest Herald.

When I told the City Council that if Engberg Anderson received more contracts from the City, this would be as just like the corruption prohibited by the SEC, the Mayor launched a blistering personal attack on me from the podium.

This story also was not reported by the Northwest Herald.

I recommend that the citizens of Crystal Lake be on the lookout for the name Engberg Anderson on any future City payouts.

Steve Willson
Chairman, McHenry County Good Government Association

= = = = =
You can find McHenry County Blog’s pre-election article about the $8,000 contribution here.


Willson CL Library Architect Donating Big Money to Library Referendum Campaign — 26 Comments

  1. Great story.

    Makes you wonder how much the firm involved would really make upon completion of the project.

    A previous blogger questioned the credibility of those involved with the library who allowed it into such disrepair that $9 million is required to fix it.

    That is a lot of money!

    Also, when you consider CL property taxes, how is that with all that money the library is supposedly “falling down?”

  2. Thank you Steve for attempting to educate the voters!!

    Re: “Unfortunately the SEC doesn’t regulate architects.”

    Nor apparently does it regulate unions and highway construction companies.

    Who paid for the signs and their placement relative to passage of the recent Constitutional amendment which is already resulting in threats to FURTHER reduce Illinois bond rating?

  3. Something could be done, if elected parties who control the spigot on public funds would simply do it:

    Require that until local district property tax falls below 2.75% (that is, below DOUBLE national average rate), no non-emergency funds will be allocated to any project whatsoever.

    All budget expenditures from the ground up should require needs-justification each fiscal year (until the crisis-level property tax rate, which destroys property values and thus breeds ever-higher property tax rates, is out of the critical zone it now occupies: median 3.66% in McHenry County, High of 4.66% in Woodstock).

  4. The ongoing disservice the NWH is providing to the community by failing to objectively report on important matters is but one reason why I throw even their most generous subscription offers into the trash.

    McHenry Country is a target-rich environment for quality reporters, yet the NWH seems far more comfortable with lifestyle over life-impacting.

    Thanks, Steve, for your persistence.

  5. The new Library is as big a debacle
    as the South High School bleachers.

    Shepley & the library board are
    BEHAVING AS BADLY as the majority
    of the District 155 board did.

    As always, great info Mr. Wilson.

  6. Susan: The term “elected parties “, does that refer to individual candidates or to the party they represent or to both?

  7. The entire sentence was:
    susan on 12/11/2016 at 9:41 am said:
    Something could be done, if elected parties who control the spigot on public funds would simply do it:

    I meant those who control the spigot…those who are empowered to turn off the gushing flow of public money.

    I’ve never heard an elected official say they need one thing more than another.


    They profess Need of $9-$35 million for library

    They do NOT profess need of lower property tax rate.

    The two potential Needs are mutually exclusive.

    CL residents may therefore conclude their rulers do not believe there is a need for lower property tax rate.

    (Because they presented no evidence that the benefit alleged by choosing their preference the library would outweigh the harm done by increasing property tax burden.)

  8. If they lower taxes they appear to think they will have insufficient funds to buy your votes.

    Hell, if they consider quitting borrowing to buy your votes, most elected seem to think reelection isn’t in their future.
    20 Trill in Fed debt not including State, County, and School debt, need more proof of the mind set we face?

    Sad part is most keep voting for same old same old partisan non sense.

    If you can’t see partisan politics is killing this country, you are truly blind.

  9. The Crystal Lake City Council and Library Board are non-partisan.

  10. Sickening, but what would you expect?

    …. the architects and PR firms do exactly the same thing to fund referenda proponents against the taxpayers so they can line their pockets if the referenda pass in sneak, low turnout spring elections.

    It’s a great ‘investment’ for the architects, construction outfits and PR brainwashers!

  11. Whatever happened to the potential Centegra Cayman Islands scandal?

    I believe it was centered on the board of a local non-profit using that institution to set up another very profitable “self insurer” in the Cayman Islands of which members of the board where the propertiers or owners.

  12. It’s not unusual for those who stand to profit from issuing bonds contribute to a political action committee (PAC) supporting the bond referendum in Illinois.

    Some examples:

    Architects (Legat, etc.)

    Bond & Disclosure Counsel (Chapman & Cutler, etc.)

    Financial Advisor (PMA Securities, etc.)

    Underwriter (Robert Baird, etc.)


    Not sure if Independent Auditors, and paying agents / registrars / escrow agents contribute to political campaigns in Illinois.


    In addition to those who are involved in issuing the bonds, many of those who stand to benefit from the expenditure of the proceeds of the bonds also contribute to PACs supporting a bond referendum, such as architects, unions, construction companies and others involved in erecting a new building or remodeling an existing building.

  13. In addition to the companies contributing to bond referendum PACs, the employees of the companies in a personal capacity also contribute to bond referendum PACs.

    And in addition to contributing to the bond referendum PACs, companies and their employees contribute to the PACs of board members / trustees whom are up for re-election that support the bond referendum.

  14. The library needs $9M in repairs because any clear thinking, budget balancing, forward looking person who studied the issue would be hesitant — no, more like resistant — no, more like totally opposed — to putting any repair money into a building that cannot meet the current, much less future, needs of its library using citizens.

    AND thank you Mark for a voice of apparent knowledge and experience on this whole contribution to a PAC stuff that Mr. Willson is harping about.

  15. Ygads, you do not mention Crystal Lake’s property tax rate.

    Your assertions of need of $9 million to $32 million plus interest of Other People’s Money do not reference the damage done to ALL County citizens (but especially those in CL) by Crystal Lake’s excessive tax rate.

    your assertions imply you just want what you want, no matter the cost to others.

    You assert the good this library does, yet do not offer comparisons on what other libraries around the country spend and achieve.

    You assert cost needs without offering any comparable figures on what $32 million will buy in other municipalities around America.

    Your indignation is offensive to rational thinkers.

  16. Ygads – the population of Crystal Lake is around 40,000 so perhaps a large portion of the remaining 39,000 people (40,000-1,000 people who visit the library each day), don’t want or need a $31 million library and the resulting tax burden.

    The HVAC company that maintains my furnace and air conditioner in my business has told me that I need a new HVAC system.

    ecause the real estate taxes on my building (5000+ square feet) is around 30 K, a new HVAC system is not in the budget.

    I am paying to maintain it.

    While a remodel, new HVAC and other amenities would be nice, I have to live within my means and ask myself if these amenities will actually provide any “real” benefit or increased revenue.

    The Library people have argued that a nice library will increase property values and make Crystal Lake more enticing to businesses and prospective home owners.

    Let’s look at this.

    The City of Crystal Lake has spent a ton of money on beautifying several business districts.

    However, retail sales in Crystal Lake has remained flat, property values have continued to fall, people are still leaving and we have really not attracted solid retail-generating businesses or businesses that will contribute meaningfully to our real estate tax burden.

    The library project at another point in time, and perhaps in another area besides McHenry County Illinois, would be a great idea.

    People in Crystal Lake are worried and nervous about what is coming down the pipeline.

    Will the state income tax increase?

    Will school funding change and place more burden on local tax payers?

    Ygads, perhaps you are a high income earner with no worries about paying more real estate taxes.

    You need to accept that there are many people in the area who are worried and this is why any sniff of increased real estate taxes is not a popular topic.

    Now, what we really need to nail down is why a very well funded taxing body (the Crystal Lake Library) allowed a building that is actually quite new (compared to many homes and businesses in Crystal Lake) to fall into such disrepair that it needs $9 million in repairs.

  17. Reasonable, You make some very good points, especially about concerns for this community’s growth (or lack thereof) and this state’s financial mess.

    However, you’re misrepresenting the truth of the numbers a bit in your opening.

    Those almost 1,000 people a day visiting the library aren’t the same people every day.

    Many more recognize what a new library would mean to this town, and to their lives.

    There were 8,556 YES votes out of the 19,257 total; that’s almost half.

    Maybe they, like me, feel that spending money now for a 50 year solution to the library’s problems is a better use of tax dollars than fixing stuff like a band-aid and getting nothing new, only to revisit the current woes again way too soon.

    I imagine the library has been sort of like you with their HVAC.

    Not wanting to fix it until absolutely necessary.

    Not wanting to fix it if they might be moving to a different building.

    And while you balance your repairs against potential benefits (or revenue as you are a business) the library has an obligation to provide to the public what they expect, want, need.

    I almost said “what they’re paying for” which might be what it comes down to. We can refuse to pay for a new library, but then we might have to deal with a library that is too hot or too cold to be truly comfortable? Which brings me to your final question.

    You state that the library is a “very well funded taxing body” but do they take in enough money to amass a savings account capable of major repairs?

    If they did, how much is okay and how much is excessive?

    If they did, how do you think that would sit with most of the readers of these posts?

    I think they spend their money wisely, and I read that the operating budget has only increased 0.7% in the last 8 years.

    Perhaps you should check out a few of the questions on the library’s web site under FAQs.

    I think you’d find these of particular interest as per your question about the library’s needed repairs.

    What’s wrong with the current Library?

    It seems fine to me.

    What options have been considered?

    Why would it cost $9.1 million to repair the existing building?

    What issues cannot be resolved with the $9.1 million Repair option?

  18. I’m still burned about the city spending MY MONEY on potted flowers for the downtown district while I have to ration my eating and water habits to make ends meet.

    Who are these fools that think they can keep squeezing their golden goose?

    The goose is DEAD!

  19. Ygads demands her desires be fulfilled with her only justification being her opinion that a library is a good thing, and that it must have optimal conditions according to standards set by persons who will profit from more public money expenditure.

    She never mentions cost except her naive insistence that either $9 million or $32 million must be spent.

    She is indicative of the attitude of people so removed from reality that she knows nothing of the property tax rate crisis afflicting her community, and the horrible life-altering effect it has had on real people.

    That is the most flattering conclusion.

    Worse yet is, she knows and she just does not care.

  20. Ygads –

    I actually went to one of the focus group sessions for the library and listened to the pitch.

    I sat very near Ralph Dawson from the Crystal Lake City Council.

    I went with an open mind but as a business owner in Crystal Lake, I see many people in this area struggling.

    I also see the City of Crystal Lake spending a lot of money on several business districts (even after the TIFF district obligation has expired).

    These expenditures are justified with the argument that subsidizing these areas and these building/business owners will improve the economic environment in Crystal Lake.

    This is a similar argument that the Library made in their presentation.

    I simply wanted to point out that these lofty claims have no merit.

    Despite the City of Crystal Lake’s investment to create their version of the perfect Norman Rockwell town, we have not seen overall retail revenue improve, businesses continue to leave and close, our house values have not improved, those who can leave, are leaving, and our real estate taxes keep climbing.

    Perhaps if the City of Crystal Lake had saved some of the money that they spent (and continue to spend) on Aaron Shepley’s little projects, they could have offered more financial assistance to help maintain the Crystal Lake Library, or not dropped the ball on the real economic engine in Crystal Lake – Route 14.

    Just a thought.

    I would also like to point out that overtaxed homeowners have less disposable income to spend at local businesses.

    If taxing bodies keep jacking up their levies to pay for over-zealous projects (using the tired excuse that “it only means cutting out a Latte coffee drink each day”), more businesses will close because locals can not afford to support them.

    I’m sure my favorite coffee shop, Conscious Cup, would hate to lose me and others as loyal customers because we have to choose between saving to pay for our ridiculous real estate tax bill or enjoying a coffee drink, now and then.

    Accept the fact that area residents were asked about the library and the majority said no.

    We can probably further assume that those who didn’t vote were not passionate enough about the issue to take time to vote (and therefore, are not patrons of the library).

    The majority of area residents indicated that they don’t expect, want, or need a new library at this point in time.

  21. Cindy and Susan –

    I am aware of how high the taxes are in this county/city and I would love to pay less myself.

    I am also aware that the library’s share of our tax dollars is small, but if any increase is painful, then one has to hold the line at no increases no matter what.

    At the risk of sounding callous, I hope that you are both library users.

    You are paying for it thru your taxes so you should take advantage of whatever it offers, especially if your living budget is stretched so tight.

    You can use their computers, internet access, specialized and unique databases, attend classes, bring your little kids in for storytimes, borrow movies and music and books (especially the oversized picture books for little kids that are expensive and then read quickly), read newspapers and magazines, even have the librarians do research for you.

    Which takes me back to my main argument, Susan, that libraries are good things, at least they do good things. Whether they’re worth what they cost is a matter of opinion and personal usage.

    I use it a lot and easily get my tax dollars back in savings.

    If you both don’t ever set foot in the library, then I’m probably wasting my time here.

    I’ll admit it seems sort of unfair to pay for the library if you don’t use it, just as it is to pay for schools if you don’t have kids, but most of us pay for police and firemen and never use them either (thank goodness).

    Reasonable –

    I too thought the selling point that a new library would bring more spending into CL a bit weak, but I do think it makes our town more attractive, both to visit and to buy a house in. Higher taxes could counter that but it’d be pretty hard to calculate that in any realistic way.

    I’m sure the library people also wish the city had enough money to just build a new library or at least supplement the cost some.

    I’m not sure how this is any different than City Hall or 3 Oaks. But those are good things for CL, and I believe CL is affluent enough overall that it would be proud to add a modern library to its public amenities.

    The current building has only been good enough for some time, and it will soon be an embarrassment if not a disastrous waste of any more tax dollars.

    If you don’t think a library is an important and good thing for a city, and therefore worth spending money on, then we’ll disagree no matter what either of us says.

    If you do think that about a library, the smartest move forward is to get rid of that old building.

  22. you do sound callous.

    You just restate your emotional argument and tell us all to pay the money anyway.

    You insult people who have argued facts which you are too lazy and condescending to,refute: that priorities of real-life expenses have made a new library building a profligate luxury, low on most citizens’ priority list when compared with needs of economic survival here.

    I think libraries are good.

    I think puppies are good.

    I would like to,insist that every taxpayer take a puppy ( or grown dog, they are good too) home from a local shelter.

    I think that every citizen by law should be forced to pay for said puppies’ care and feeding for the next 20 years ( lifetime of your library bond).

    Now I could go on for a paragraph about the wonderful effect puppies have on human psyches, and how nice they are,

    But I’m probably wasting my time here.

    Because you think that explaining how wonderful something is equates to a logical conclusion that we should all agree to give up one more essential component of our survival-level household budget to make that wonderful dream a reality for you….but only when it comes to libraries, not puppies.

  23. Y Gads – Here is a link to a NW Herald story about the link between high property taxes and the exodus from Illinois:


    We are really at a critical time in Crystal Lake where local residents and businesses are clearly fed up with taxing bodies asking for more and more money, no matter how small the increase is or how important the perceived need is.

    I am guessing that most people in Crystal Lake would like to have a new, shiny library…if it didn’t contribute to their already-high-tax burden!

    That’s really the issue, isn’t it?

    I am guessing that everyone in Crystal Lake would like a new expensive wardrobe, car, new furniture, or a new kitchen, but simply can’t afford it.

    Local residents are probably deferring from purchasing and spending in Crystal Lake because they are struggling to pay their taxes and perhaps want to try a put something away for retirement or their kid’s college.

    We have seen the effect of lost or diminished incomes in Crystal Lake with empty storefronts or our once thriving Route 14 business district filling up with car part stores and resale shops.

    This also has a detrimental effect on making our local area attractive to new homeowners and businesses.

    Struggling businesses have less resources to donate to our local charities.

    People who do have extra disposable income, leave and make purchases elsewhere because Crystal Lake no longer has an attractive mix of stores.

    I can attest, first-hand that business property taxes in some areas of Crystal Lake are making it difficult to survive.

    Most businesses, even if they rent, have to pay property taxes on top of their rent (or it’s included in the rent), and common area maintenance.

    In my opinion, every taxing body in Crystal Lake has room to cut and work toward making this problem better, if they really sharpened their pencils and went back to the basics or went back to what their original role should be.

    It’s time for taxing bodies to be a partner in solving this issue instead of just assuming the taxpayers will pony up.

    Here are some possible examples:

    In my opinion, as Steve Willson has pointed out, a library should not be in the movie business.

    It’s a “nice to have”, but I am guessing that purchasing movies and circulation is probably expensive.

    Private enterprises offer movies at reasonable rental rates.

    How much could the library save by not offering this service?

    What other services is the library offering that are outside of it’s core scope and drive up operating costs?

    I wonder if our city should stick to city-related business and should be staffing, paying insurance for, and running parks – that’s what we have a park district for.

    Is there a potential cost savings in this area?

    I wonder why our city engages in buying, paving, maintaining and plowing parking lots and purchasing other “nice-to-have, but not necessary” amenities for certain, private businesses – costs that other businesses in Crystal Lake have to pay for themselves?

    Why are they building larger outdoor seating areas for a very profitable, national coffee chain?

    This seems more like favoritism and empire-building instead of sticking to what a city should be doing, and keeping costs down.

    Townships should not be in the business of offering park-district activities like yoga classes.

    They should stick to assessing properties and plowing/maintaining roads. We don’t need full-time supervisors in our townships.

    We don’t need full-time road commissioners and staff for townships that overlap municipalities.

    We don’t need overlapping services that our city and park district already offers.

    School districts – that’s a whole different ball-game, but the recent bleacher issue comes to mind – did South High School really need that monstrosity in the first place?

    If you want a new library in Crystal Lake, I would encourage you to work with the City of Crystal Lake and ask them to make some adjustments in their spending and put it toward a new building or to help maintain the existing building until or if we reach a point in Crystal Lake where the economy is better.

    If you want a new library in Crystal Lake, I suggest that you encourage the library to get back to basics and cut some of the services and amenities that do not belong in a library’s repertoire of services.

    The taxpayers are tapped out.

    That’s the bottom line.

  24. I agree.

    What makes America great is free enterprise, not taxpayer subsidized pet projects that unfairly compete.

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