Village of Lakewood President Paul D. Serwatka has released a list of accomplishments in 2017. You can read about them below:
Friends and Neighbors,
2017 has proven to be a very busy, very transformative, and very positive year for our village – paving the way for a better Lakewood for years to come!
I would like to take a moment to share with everyone, a sort of “Year in Review” to recap just some of the more salient events and accomplishments from the past year.
The hundreds of residents, who have opted to receive my Lakewood Tax-Fighter Community e-Newsletter, will find much of this content to be familiar, as they have followed along in our transformation throughout the year in “real time” often even playing a key role at times when community input, involvement, or support was called for.
So, with much to boast of, I hope you’ll make yourself comfortable, perhaps grab your beverage of choice, and join me as I re-walk the path of Lakewood’s 2017 Year in Review…
It is said that history is written by the victors.
Looking back at the many victories our village has achieved in the past year, this adage rings quite true. And, while we’ve certainly had our share of challenges and have endured some battles, Lakewood has emerged quite victorious and has definitely carved its way into the “books” of McHenry County and Illinois history.
The Property Tax Referendum
Our path of victories began in November 2016, with the successful passage of Lakewood’s historic Property Tax Advisory Referendum. This taxpayer initiative, spearheaded by myself and [now] trustee Phil Stephan, entailed several weeks of circulating petitions in order to gain ballot access, before appearing on the November 2016 Presidential Election Ballot.
The referendum question as posed to residents was as follows: “Shall each taxing body located partially or wholly within the corporate limits of the village of Lakewood be required to seek voter approval by referendum prior to increasing its annual total property tax levy?”
As expected, this advisory referendum passed overwhelmingly, with 92% approval of Lakewood voters!
This was the beginning of many victories to come as Lakewood residents officially and formally declared: “It’s time to start spending responsibly. If the village board wants to raise our property taxes, come ask us first!”
And, as they say “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, then flattered we should be – as other government officials took notice of our success – subsequently inspiring our county board and state representative to attempt (unsuccessfully) to have our exact referendum placed on the countywide ballot at the 2017 Consolidated Election!
Lakewood Tax Fighter Sign Revised
Election of a New Village Board
In April of 2017, on the heels of our successful Property Tax Advisory Referendum, we saw the election of a new village president (yours truly) and three new trustees, followed by the appointment of a fourth new trustee who filled my vacated trustee position.
This new group, comprising a majority of 5 of 7 board members, pledged a commitment to restoring accountability in our village government and lowering property tax burdens for Lakewood families. The new board members were sworn into office in May.
In the months following, the board certainly endured its share of trials and tribulations – including more than two months without a village administrator – as we quite literally transformed our Village Administration and Police Dept., as well as some key ordinances within our Village Code.
Say No to TIF
Dissolving Lakewood’s $66 Million TIF District
On June 13th, after many weeks of discussion, I proposed an ordinance to dissolve Lakewood’s $66 Million Dollar TIF (Tax Increment Finance) District.
After deliberation, a crowded hall of more than 100 residents erupted into cheers and applause, as our new Village Board voted 4-1 in favor of the dissolution of this $66M TIF, thereby absolving Lakewood residents from a great degree of financial risk.
Dissolution of this TIF also meant the termination of the Intergovernmental Agreement with Woodstock D200 which pledged Lakewood tax dollars as collateral to the Woodstock School District in the amount of $9000 per student/per year – the cost of educating Lakewood students who may eventually reside within the boundaries of the TIF District – once homes were built in that Redevelopment Area.
Dissolving this TIF District and terminating this Intergovernmental Agreement were a tremendous victory for Lakewood and surrounding taxpayers that earned statewide recognition for the Village of Lakewood as “a step in the right direction for Illinois”. Read this Illinois Policy Article Here.
Chicago Sportsplex Bids Farewell to Lakewood
Later in June – Though we had long been told that the Sportsplex and the $66M Lakewood TIF were independent of each other, it was pretty well presumed that, absent this enormous multi-million dollar subsidy, the principles behind the Chicago Sportsplex would likely not be very interested in pursuing this development in our village.
This presumption was confirmed in the weeks following the Dissolution of Lakewood’s $66M TIF District, when the board received a letter from the lead principle of Chicago Sportsplex, Lou Tenore, essentially informing us that his group is no longer interested in pursuing this development project.
We wish the Chicago Sportsplex folks all the best in their endeavors, elsewhere.
Taking the Power Back
Amending some key ordinances pertaining to key village positions – including the hiring, firing and direction of our Village Manager, Chief of Police and Finance Director, was an important step in restoring accountability within our village administration and controlling administrative costs within our village.
Under previous ordinances, our Village Manager was given sole authority and discretion in the hiring, firing and direction of our Chief of Police and Finance Director – and, although Village Code did not provide for it, we also employed a full time Deputy Manager. Under these ordinances, our village board had no authority and no direction was required by the board.
In June, I proposed the amendment of these key ordinances. The board’s approval of these ordinance amendments brought about three important changes:
1.Hiring, Firing and Direction of our Chief of Police and Finance Director would now be conferred upon the 7 elected members of the Village Board with the President making a recommendation and the board of trustees providing Advice and Consent via their vote.
2.Eliminating the position of Deputy Manager
3.Consolidating the positions of Village Manager and Finance Director to the singular position of Chief Administrative Officer.
These ordinances, as amended, return a tremendous amount of control to the residents of our village and greatly help to restore accountability within our village administration – paving the way for the, quite literal, transformation of our village administration that soon followed.
Transforming Government Stamp web
The Transformation of Lakewood’s Village Administration Begins
The amendment of these key ordinances, the restructuring of these key positions, and the creation of this new Chief Administrative Officer “CAO” position was admittedly a somewhat unorthodox approach to municipal government, embarking into somewhat unchartered territory. Knowing this, certain challenges were to be expected – none more challenging than finding the right LEADER, capable of not only the multi-faceted skills of managing our village, but also the capability of handling village finances, creating & implementing budgets, levying property taxes, etc.
This restructuring, if successful, would bring a quite substantial savings in administrative costs for our village – with no cut or reduction in services.
In July, we experienced an understandable short period of “trial and error” with the hiring of our first CAO, a Lakewood resident with some pretty impressive credentials in both the private sector managerial and finance arenas. After about a month, however, it became apparent that she, and this position, were not the “right fit” and we continued on in our search, once again. Our search continued for more than two months as we set out to find the “right” LEADER.
This “trial and error” demonstrated that for this new administrative structure to be a success, it was imperative that our new CAO possess; a strong personality, as well as a high level of both managerial and financial skills, solid experience in creating and implementing budgets and setting tax levies – and most importantly, to me – was having a “reform mindset” and the willingness to begin the daunting task of Zero Based Budgeting as we looked to create efficiencies and reduce redundancies. (More on this later)
The Transformation of the Lakewood Police Dept.
As was also the case in the selection of Lakewood’s new CAO to head our village administration, the first, most integral, step in transforming our Police Dept. was appointing the “right” Chief of Police.
On June 27th, I made the recommendation to appoint Lakewood Sgt. Mike Roth as Lakewood’s new Chief of Police. The board approved this appointment.
Chief Roth was formerly a 28-year veteran of the Cary Police Dept. with the last 20-years being in a management and leadership capacity – retiring from The Cary Police Dept. as Deputy Chief, in 2014. He subsequently joined the Lakewood Police Dept. in August, 2014 and was promoted to Sergeant in April of 2015.
In his time as a Lakewood Police Officer and Sergeant, Chief Roth has earned the respect of his fellow officers as being a “hands-on, very proactive leader, who takes great pride in, and works tirelessly toward, the betterment and professionalism of the Lakewood Police Dept.”
He has also earned the respect and praise of many Lakewood residents who have interacted with him, over the years, in our community.
Together, Chief Roth and I assembled a written plan that created a substantially higher degree of professionalism, increased public safety, and created efficiencies within the Lakewood Police Dept., including:
▪ A greater police presence via increased police patrol
▪ Increased supervisory roles, with two new Sergeant positions
▪ Additional formal police training
▪ Revamping of Police Dept Policies and Procedures
▪ Scheduling changes and salary restructuring
▪ And the best part – All of this was accomplished with a ZERO increase in budget!
The implementation of this plan enabled our village to add to Lakewood’s Police Force, two very seasoned, very experienced, veteran officers, both of whom have since been promoted to supervisory roles as Sergeants.
The addition of officers, Todd Richardson and Paul Olszak, and their two new supervisory roles as Sergeant, along with Chief Roth taking on the role of an “active working chief”, have enabled our village to have additional officers on duty and an over-all greater police presence throughout our village, “around the clock”.
Chief Roth has also taken on the rather arduous process of rewriting & updating many of our police dept. policies & procedures (many of which were outdated by more than a decade).
Lakewood officers now obtain a myriad of important, additional police training.
Lakewood Police have now also joined ILEAS (Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System). This is a valuable resource to receive and provide manpower at emergencies.
The list of new improvements and activities within Lakewood’s all new Police Dept. goes on and on – from the Chief’s Reading to Kids Programs, to the new electronic reporting, to the officer evaluation systems, new communications, etc.
And, in step with the very literal transformation of our Village Administration and Police Dept., some of our Officers have even volunteered their time and talents, over the last several months, working to remodel the Lakewood Police Department at Village Hall.
We are truly lucky to have such dedicated, committed officers!
And, at risk of redundancy, it is worth repeating, this has all been accomplished with a ZERO increase in Lakewood’s Police Dept. Budget!
The board’s approval of this amended ordinance allowed the Ice Cream Man to return to our village and, as also promised, I personally called Tropical Chill Ice Cream myself and invited them to begin visiting our village.
My invitation was happily accepted and I soon began receiving dozens of emails and social media posts from delighted residents, sending photos of happy children with their ice cream covered smiles & telling me how delighted they were to hear the songs of the ice cream truck and to watch as the colorful ice cream trucks came rolling down their streets.
Legitimizing Lakewood’s Planning & Zoning Commission
On July 25th, after appointing a new Chairman and a new Commissioner to Lakewood’s Planning & Zoning Commission, I proposed the disbanding/decommissioning of Lakewood’s very questionable Planning & Zoning Committee.
Commission vs Committee
It is statutorily mandated by the state of Illinois that our village maintain an independent Planning and Zoning Commission.
This Commission is to be comprised of up to 7 residents, independent of the board of trustees, who are appointed by the president and board of trustees, and is intended to serve the following functions:
• Conduct Public Hearings
• Review evidence
• Make Findings of Facts
• Make recommendations to the village board of trustees on important issues including; Special land use requests, Ordinance text or map amendment requests, Plans for future development, Subdivision requirements, Site plan approvals, etc.
In 2008, under our former village president and board of trustees, a Planning and Zoning Committee was created.
This Committee was a distinct and separate entity from the statutorily mandated Planning and Zoning Commission. This Committee was comprised of the village president and two trustees selected by the village president.
This Committee served very specifically, and very intentionally, to bypass the statutorily mandated (and independent) Commission.
This Committee, comprised of the president and two trustees, held its own hearings and then essentially made recommendations to themselves and fellow board members. As such, this Committee was widely regarded as grossly improper and, while it’s existence was never legally challenged, the mere appearance of impropriety, and the legal disputes that arose amidst some of it’s decisions, were certainly reason enough to reconsider it’s continued existence.
By disbanding/decommissioning this Planning & Zoning Committee our village is now assured that, after a decade of questionable Planning and Zoning decisions (including the approval of the $66 MILLION TIF/developer subsidy), all such future matters will now only be heard, and all recommendations will now only be made, by our statutorily mandated, completely independent and entirely legitimate, Planning and Zoning Commission.
Placing important issues such as these before an independent Planning & Zoning Commission, moving forward, will serve well to avoid the many costly and upsetting disputes that have taken place between residents and the village in prior years.
The 2017 Flooding Crisis
In July – 2017 also brought record rains and flooding. Many of our friends and neighbors on the east side can personally attest to this. Crystal Lake actually rose to record levels causing the lake to be closed and causing it to flow over Lake Ave. near Main Beach. I am told that this has never happened before – at least not in the 50 or 60 years that some residents can attest to.
Record rains aside, it is no secret that the east side of our village has substantial deficiencies with inadequate storm water detention as well as inflow & infiltration of storm water into the sanitary system.
To address this issue, I have assembled a Storm Water Taskforce comprised of Municipal Engineers, Lakewood Public Works and Wastewater Supervisors, along with some key resident experts. The purpose of this “Task Force” is to facilitate a “Round Table/Mastermind” Discussion of experts along with those with a vested interest in resolving our flooding issue. With a consensus of their thoughts and expert opinions, based on their knowledge and expertise, our village board can take their recommendations under advisement.
At September and October meetings of this Storm Water Taskforce, a thorough, targeted discussion allowed for a better sense of direction as to; identifying the overall scope of the flooding problem, causes and contributing factors, possible solutions, a realistic expectation given the magnitude of the problem and costs to cure, and perhaps most importantly, discerning between the causes and responsibilities of the village as a whole and the underlying causes and responsibilities of individual residents, as we take the necessary steps toward resolving the flooding issues as best we can.
A number of Action Items were identified for the village to move forward with and a number of Action Items were identified that east side residents MUST also proactively pursue in order to even begin to resolve these flooding and sewage issues for residents in the Gates area.
While this Taskforce and our mitigation efforts will be ongoing, the village has begun taking steps based on the findings of the Taskforce, thus far. This in mind, the reality is that achievement of this goal will ultimately cost tens of millions of dollars (TAX DOLLARS), it will probably take more than a decade to achieve, and we will never achieve a 100% solution. But we can achieve significant gains if we create an organized, comprehensive plan.
I assure you this will remain a priority. Staff and our board will continue to pursue the creation of a comprehensive plan as well as contending with the challenge of a viable means of funding of appropriate solutions. I will keep residents informed as we move forward.
A copy of the Storm Water Taskforce findings and notes was mailed out to all east side residents. Residents who have opted to receive my Lakewood Tax-Fighter Community e-Newsletter received this information as well. If you would like to receive a copy of the Storm Water Taskforce findings & notes, you can contact me or our Village Hall and we will have a copy e-mailed or mailed to you.
Transformation of Lakewood’s Village Administration – Complete!
A New Captain at the Helm!
November – After our brief “trial and error” period, followed by a two-month search for the right leader, on November 14th, I recommended, and the board approved, the hiring of Ms. Jeannine Smith as Lakewood’s new Chief Administrative Officer.
Ms. Smith offered a somewhat atypical and intriguing combination of public sector experience as well as private sector & entrepreneurial experience with particularly notable experience in what I feel are some critical elements that have been missing from our village administration – and again, most importantly to me – she demonstrated a “reform mindset” and a sincere understanding of the need for all bodies of government to really begin to control spending, to work efficiently, and to tax residents only as necessary.
A few of Ms. Smith’s resume items worth noting:
▪ 9-years as Administrative Officer – Village of Prairie Grove
▪ Notable work in Economic Development (A Huge Plus)
▪ Experienced in developing/implementing budgets, tax levies, etc.
▪ 5-years as Economic Development Officer – Village of West Dundee
▪ Former Secretary of McHenry County StormWater Commission
She is also currently earning her MPA (Masters in Public Administration)
Ms. Smith received high recommendations and regards from:
▪ Village President, Prairie Grove – David Roback
▪ Village President, West Dundee – Chris Nelson
▪ Local Municipal Leaders
▪ State Legislators
▪ Illinois Municipal League, Legislative Director – Joe McCoy
▪ Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, Executive Director – David Bennet
▪ Village Engineering Firm Baxter & Woodman
Collectively, all spoke as to Ms. Smith’s professionalism, drive & leadership qualities, deeming her as “an opinion leader among her peers”, having “fortitude to get things accomplished”, “skills in creating & implementing budgets”, and “Out of the box thinking.”
At the time of writing this Newsletter, it has been 2 months since hiring Ms. Smith as Lakewood’s Chief Administrative Officer. At this point, I am confident that we have found the “right fit…” the right “leader”… to take the helm of our Village Administration, thus completing what truly amounts to the absolute transformation of our Village Administration.
Lakewood CUTS Village Property Taxes 10%
Another Historic Victory for Lakewood that, once again, earned our village not only countywide, but also statewide recognition was our recent 10% reduction in our village property tax levy.
As one Statewide News Outlet recently wrote:
“Lakewood Village Breaks Mold, Lowers Property Taxes – Lakewood is giving its residents a break from some of the state’s, and the nation’s, highest property taxes. – Lakewood didn’t just lower its property taxes. The village enacted cost saving reforms, including restructuring the city’s administration, to ensure no services get cut. — Other local governments should find the same savings that Lakewood has. — If Illinois municipalities want to stop the chronic loss of residents from their communities, they should follow Lakewood’s lead.”
Read this Illinois Wirepoints Article Here.
Another recent statewide article stated:
“Lakewood Shows What Reform-Oriented Leadership Could do for Illinois – To see what a reform-oriented Illinois might look like under different state leadership, just look at what’s happened the last few months in the small village of Lakewood, Illinois.– You probably won’t hear a similar story anywhere throughout the state.– It goes to show you what can happen when leaders actually make their budgets work through reforms. — The Village of Lakewood might be just one small village in Illinois. But it’s showing the rest of the state what sensible reform can look like in Illinois.” Read This Article Here.
About Our 10% Property Tax Cut
On Tuesday, December 18 2017, the Lakewood Village Board came together to lead by example and voted unanimously to approve my proposal to cut Lakewood’s 2018 Property Tax Levy by 10%.
More than 100 residents attended the December 12th and 18th discussions of my proposed 10% property tax cut for Lakewood. A number of residents spoke publicly in support of my proposed tax cut and a few spoke in opposition to the cut, citing concerns of future funding of village infrastructure, particularly of east side storm water & flood mitigation systems.
I want to make abundantly clear, as I have stated many, many times, that I entirely share in these concerns!
With that said, it is important to understand two things:
1. Lakewood has distinct and separate Enterprise Funds in place that serve to provide for these types of capital expenditures. These include our Impact Fee Fund, our Capital Projects Fund and our Motor Fuel Tax Fund. Capital Expenditure projects such as storm water and sewer systems are NOT the intended purpose of revenues collected for our General Fund via property taxes.
2. Illinois Statute specifically requires that, each year, all taxing bodies request specific property tax amounts based on the premise that local governments should only ask for what is needed to finance their operations for that year.
With this understanding, Lakewood’s Chief Administrative Officer determined that the tax levy being proposed was sufficient to cover village operating expenditures for fiscal year 2018. This levy represented a 10% reduction from the tax levy collected for fiscal year 2017.
And it bears repeating, that this entire 10% tax reduction has been made possible through; the restructuring of village administration, eliminating redundancies and creating efficiencies. NO services will be cut or reduced.
I do want to thank each of the trustees for rolling up their sleeves & digging their noses through all the village financials for a week or more, and most importantly, I thank them for being bold enough to lead by example. Today, Lakewood is truly setting an example of the much needed reform that this, once great, state of Illinois so desperately needs.
I want to particularly thank trustee Phil Stephan, and our new Chief Administrative Officer, Jeannine Smith for the many, many extra hours they put in to make this possible. They didn’t have to do it, but they are true believers!
All said, I can say with complete conviction, that 2017 was a tremendously positive year for our village. It truly was a year of absolute transformation. Our senior staff, as well as our veteran Police Officers, report that the village has never run smoother, more professionally, or more “synergistically,” and as they remind me regularly, they have never been happier at their jobs than they are today.
We still have our work cut out for us, to be sure, and we are well aware of the many challenges that still lie ahead, but, I can honestly say that Lakewood is in a much healthier, happier state than it was a year ago.
We now shift our focus to the year ahead which includes maintaining and improving our current infrastructure, as well as our pursuit of avenues in which to help Lakewood thrive.
As always, your thoughts, questions and concerns are always welcome and always valued.
Working for a better Lakewood,
Paul D. Serwatka
President – Village of Lakewood
Founder – Lakewood Tax-Fighter & Better Government Project
Check out our accomplishments online: www.LakewoodTaxFighter.com
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E-Mail: [email protected]
Please note: All correspondence from [email protected] including all views and opinions, are the personal views and opinions of Paul Serwatka as an individual only and are in no way meant to represent or reflect those of the Lakewood Village Board and should in no way be construed as such. Any official Lakewood Village communications will be sent from – and should be directed to: [email protected]