The end of January Northwest Herald Editor Dan McCaleb got Lakewood Village President Erin Smith to say that “in the future” Lakewood might be willing to discuss returning its fire protection to the Crystal Lake Fire Department. (The link provided is is not a link to the story; it’s a link to a page that will allow you buy the story for $2.95, if you so desire.)
For as long as I can remember (back to 1958 in McHenry County), Lakewood’s fire protection was provided by Crystal Lake.
But a couple of years ago Crystal Lake proposed a pricing structure that would have eventually eaten up Lakewood’s entire budget,.
While fire protection is important, Lakewood residents also value snow removal, road repair and police protection. Some even want a bicycle path and algae removal.
So the village staff and board did some hard-nosed cost-benefit analysis and concluded that it could start its own fire department, run by a private firm, American Emergency Service Corporation, and save money after the second year.
Lakewood now has begun the fourth year of a five-year contract for privatized service. Twenty-two months are left.
The Lakewood Village Board before it went into Executive Session Tuesday night. From left to right, you see Village Trustees Carl Davis, John Pfeuffer and Gene Furey,Village Clerk Janice Hansen and Village President Erin Smith.
But “the future” mentioned in McCaleb’s column is now.
The rest of the Lakewood Village Board before closing doors on the public to discuss litigation and personnel. From left to right are Village Manager Catherine Peterson, Village Attorney Richard Flood and Village Trustees Kenneth Santowsk, Dorothy Pfeuffer and John Burton.
At the Tuesday before last’s closed session to discuss litigation, the Lakewood Village Board talked about settling the suit with Crystal Lake over disputed non-payment for fire protection service and returning to the fire protection umbrella of Crystal Lake.
Crystal Lake has lost about $750,000 in revenue each year because of Lakewood’s pull-out.
On a 6-1 vote (Jeff Thorsen voting “No”), it has raised its city sales tax rate by 75% at Mayor Aaron Shepley’s behest.
Crystal Lake First Station nearest to Lakewood
Empty stores are everywhere.
Clearly Crystal Lake would love to have Lakewood return to its fire protection foal.
But, unlike the headline on McCaleb’s column, it’s more about the money than the good government goal of shared services.
Bryn Mawr subdivision sign on Route 176 near Route 47
(Logic would say that the Lakewood fire station should serve the subdivision in Crystal Lake that is closer to Route 47 than Route 14.
(Likewise, the Crystal Lake Fire station on Bard Road should be protecting Country Club Additions, Turnberry and other nearby Lakewood subdivisions.
(But, logic doesn’t always work in local governmental relations.)
Lakewood Fire Department on Haligus Road near Route 176
Before Crystal Lake wanted to charge Lakewood residents the same tax rate that Crystal Lake residents and businesses paid. Just as Lakewood residents would pay for Crystal Lake library services.
The city would not recognize that the mix of buildings in Lakewood is markedly different from that in Crystal Lake.
Lakewood does not have much business property. No high rise hotels.
Lakewood does not need all of the equipment that Crystal Lake needs to protect its large corporate structures.
In the past, Crystal Lake officials have failed to understand the concepts of marginal costs and marginal revenue.
The marginal cost of providing fire protection to Lakewood is low.
Any extra revenue is almost pure gravy.
Now, it may not seem fair to some city council folks that homeowners in Lakewood would pay less than those in Crystal Lake.
I can tell you it doesn’t seem fair to me that Crystal Lake gets to keep all my sales tax.
So, where one lives has advantages and disadvantages.
But getting “less” than one wants for something may be worth thinking about.
And maybe Crystal Lake is having such thoughts now that it thinks it has a stretched thin budget.
Main Crystal Lake Fire Station
Right not the city budget is getting less than “less,” that is, nothing.
That resulted from a misconception of its bargaining position, of thinking Crystal Lake thought it had all the fire protection marbles in town.
Obviously, Lakewood came up with a satisfactory solution.
But, now the two sides are back at the bargaining table again.
And, it appears serious discussions are taking place.
I can’t imagine more isn’t on the table that fire protection. After all, what Lakewood has in place seems to be working well.
There has to be a third leg to the negotiations. Maybe even a fourth leg.
From left to right, Council members Ellen Brady Mueller, Ralph Dawson, Cathy Ferguson, Attorney John Cowlin, City Manager Gary Mayerhofer, Mayor Aaron Shepley, City Clerk Nick Kachiroubas, and Council members Brett Hopkins, Carolyn Schofield and Jeff Thorsen.
I would observe that if Crystal Lake wants to settle the suit, maybe Crystal Lake is not so sure it can win its collection case against Lakewood.
Likewise, if Lakewood wants to settle the suit, maybe Lakewood is not so sure it can emerge victorious.
It’s been my experience when one side of a lawsuit wants to settle, they are nervous about the outcome of their case.
What will the resolution be?
It certainly will be discussed in public if the contract with American Emergency Service Corporation (Lakewood’s fire protection firm) is to be amended. I am not aware that contract changes can be kept out of an open meeting.
And, any lawsuit settlement will have to be at least voted upon in public, while it may be discussed in private by both ruling bodies.