Serwatka Weighs In on SSA Debate

Here is what Lakewood Village Trustee said in the comment section under this article on the Turnberry Lakes Special Service Assessment district:

Paul Serwatka

Paul Serwatka

Deliberation over this issue essentially evolved into a Paul Serwatka filibuster – and for very good reason!

I believe very strongly that every member of the Lakewood Village Board, excluding myself, committed a gross injustice to hundreds of Lakewood residents by arbitrarily and capriciously instituting this new SSA.

While there are many residents in other parts of Lakewood who were not affected by this gross injustice, it is imperative to remember that if government can commit injustice to Turnberry area residents today; it can commit injustice for the Gates area or any area tomorrow – an injustice to one must be viewed as an injustice to all.

First and foremost, we need to call this exactly what it is.

THIS IS A 50-YEAR PROPERTY TAX!

For the past 25-years, 597 homes were included in an SSA to maintain the Turnberry lakes.

My home was one of the 597.

This SSA had come to expire and a new mechanism was needed to collect funds to maintain these lakes.

While many residents thought it better to handle it amongst themselves, thereby enabling them to do away with the village, the imposition of a tax, the added expenses (prevailing wage and administrative) and government bureaucracies – there were some, primarily the 77 lake-front lake owners, who preferred to create a new SSA district.

Opposition was raised early on by roughly 300 residents on the outskirts of the district.

These residents were quickly released from the burden of the proposed new SSA district.

My home was among those that were being released and would no longer be responsible for paying.

So, I had no skin in the game.

I was not fighting for myself.

The new, arbitrarily selected, district would be comprised of approximately 293 properties while 77 lake-front homes surround the Turnberry lakes.

These are the lake owners and my understanding is that they have actual ownership of the land up to and under the lakes to the center of the lake.

The TPA came to the village board asking them to institute this new SSA.

The village board told the TPA, specifically, that if they could demonstrate “strong support from the residents” from within this new, arbitrarily selected SSA District that they would move forward in instituting a new SSA.

The TPA came back and informed the village that they had distributed a survey informing residents of the proposed new SSA and asking them to vote YES or NO on supporting it.

They “reported” that they indeed had sufficient support. The following stats were “reported to the village.”

– 293 surveys distributed
– 221 replies received
– 186 “YES” votes
– 84% approval

It was then reported to the trustees as well as to the residents, that “there was support by an overwhelming majority of the residents polled” and a new SSA would be instituted.

(We’ll set aside the fact that the 186 alleged “YES” votes only equate to a 63% approval of all actual property owners in the new, arbitrarily selected district.)

The village then sent out a letter to residents notifying of the following:

– A new SSA district was being instituted.
– This would constitute a TAX on their property and become part of their property tax bill.
– The amount assessed would be calculated using a .15% multiplier against the assessed value of their property
– The amount assessed would increase as their property value increased.

This was cause for alarm for many residents as they said they were never informed of any of this.

On Wednesday, July 8th, I met with 4 residents who contacted me, pleading with me to help them.

They explained to me that they were misinformed by the survey that was provided to them by the TPA and after having voted YES, and then receiving the letter from the village telling them entirely different information, they would never have voted YES.

They then showed me a petition signed by 19 of their neighbors attesting to the fact that they felt misled by the survey and light of the new information provided, no longer wish to vote YES.

The residents then provided me a copy of the initial survey that was provided and voted upon.

I read the survey and quickly ascertained that it, in fact, provided NO SUBSANTIVE INFORMATION WHATSOEVER. It talked of the importance of the lakes to the vitality of the village.

It talked about how the lakes affected everyone’s property values and it talked of the importance of maintaining the lakes.

It then stated that in order to maintain the lakes, they were being asked to contribute to a new SSA. They were told the amount being asked would equate to “approximately $165 on average for each residence.”

And that “the specific amount would be contingent on the assessed value of their home”.

No other facts or data were provided.

Doing the math, we calculated the assessments against nearly 40 of these homes.

The assessments varied in range from $220 to $410 with most being between $250 and $350 – a far cry from the “ $165 average per residence” as reported in the survey.

And knowing, now, that the assessment will be determined using a multiplier against their homes assessed value it is reasonable to assume that these amounts would increase exponentially over 50 years!

Here is the part that I find truly astounding.

On Thursday, July 9th, I sent an email to village manager, Catherine Peterson asking her to forward, to me, the actual survey that was distributed to residents along with something showing the votes that were tallied.

She replied, informing me that she did not have any of these documents.

She stated “I was just given the figures that generated that quote from one of the TPA reps. I’ve asked for the details, and I’ll let you know as soon as I hear back.”

So, here we are, just days before we are to vote on imposing a 50-YEAR PROPERTY TAX – the entire proposal of which was predicated on the idea that there was “overwhelming support by the residents” – and come to find out the village staff and board had never even seen any documentation of these reported facts!

The next day, Friday, July 10th, I received an email back from village manager, Catherine Peterson informing me that she was in receipt of the surveys and roster of votes and providing me with same.

The survey sent was, in fact, identical to the one shown to me by the concerned residents.

The vote roster consisted of a simple spread sheet with names, addresses and a column for YES or NO.

On Saturday, July 11th, I spent a couple hours knocking on doors of residents who were marked as having voted YES.

I spoke with 18 residents.

16 residents indicated that they too felt misled and in light of the new information provided would not vote YES.

Two residents adamantly stated that they never submitted a survey.

They did NOT vote at all and were upset that they were marked as YES votes.

But, it gets worse, yet.

The night of the village board meeting, as the board’s deliberations turned into a bit of filibuster on my part, I informed the board members of all my findings.

They made clear that my findings were of no consequence to them.

I then posed some very direct questions to members of the board as well as to the village attorney.

Question 1 to board members:

– Have you read the survey that was provided to residents?

To this, they answered that they had “received” the survey

Question 2 to board members

– Do you believe the information provided in the survey was accurate and adequate so as to allow residents to make an informed decision?

To this ALL board members answered that they did not recall what the survey said.

Question 3 to board members

– Have you seen the vote roster or counted the votes?

ALL TRUSTEES stated they never saw a roster of votes.

Question 4 to ALL BOARD MEMBERS, STAFF AND VILLAGE ATTORNEY

– Have any of you actually seen any of the ballots showing that the votes took place and verifying the votes as reported?

The answer by ALL BOARD MEMBERS – ALL STAFF – and THE VILLAGE ATTORNEY HIMSELF was a resounding “NO! We have never seen any ballots or even a vote roster!”

NOT A SINGLE MEMBER OF THE BOARD, THE STAFF OR THE VILLAGE ATTORNEY HAS EVER SEEN A SHRED OF EVIDENCE VERIFYING ANY OF THE ALLEGED VOTES!

THAT SHOULD ABSOLUTELY FRIGHTEN EVERY RESIDENT IN THE ENTIRE VILLAGE!

I then presented three questions to the village attorney.

TO ATTORNEY:

1. In your professional legal opinion, do you believe the survey, as provided, constitutes reasonable information for residents, with which to provide informed consent?

To this he responded that he had no knowledge of the contents of the survey.

2. In light of:
– the information contained in the survey,
– the information that was spelled out after the survey,
– The absence of actual ballots cast
– The fact that residents today, as well as others not here today expressed not having an understanding of all the facts,

And being that the creation of this entire SSA has been predicated on the notion that there is “Strong support from residents”
. Are you comfortable in advising board members to move forward on creating this SSA?

4. Now knowing all of this, are you, or would you be, comfortable defending the village against any litigation that may arise from moving forward today- with the current perceived consent – we have today?

The Village Attorney responded to these questions by stating that he was perfectly comfortable advising the board to move forward and would be willing to defend the board for free because the entire process of the survey and votes was not a requirement under state law.

While this may be true by the letter of the law, my contention remains that I certainly do not believe that any of this behavior and or any of the actions by any of the board members are in any way reflective of the spirit of responsible, honest government,

And while there was, as expected, quite a bit of hostility, throughout my filibuster, from the 50+ lake owners in attendance. ]]And while some say I went on too long or was too animated in my arguments, I can only say that in my campaign I made a promise to the residents of Lakewood…

I promised I would FIGHT for them!

I promised I would do more than just “vote the right way”- that I would FIGHT!

And I believe this night exemplified that I intend to keep that promise – and that I will NOT falter in the face of adversity!


Comments

Serwatka Weighs In on SSA Debate — 12 Comments

  1. After reading Serwatka’s piece on the SSA, and Santowski’s piece on the SSA, it sounds to me like Serwatka dug deep and did his homework and Santowski is a cheerleader for the status quo.

    I was also appalled at the treatment accorded to Serwatka by other board members, as reported in Cal’s article on the meeting.

    Gene Furey in particular seems to feel that he does not owe even common courtesy to Serwatka.

    So be it.

    May everyone treat Gene Furey exactly as he treats Paul.

    If he thinks that is a curse, then that only confirms the unpleasantness of his actions.

  2. I was a little off base on the SSA8.

    They ate me alive.

    You Are correct in your assessment of the whole situation.

    Once they got it passed it would be difficult to stop it.

    They don’t care.

    The trustee next to you was extremely rude.

    So were people in the audience.

    You have your work cut out for you.

    Don’t let them get your goat.

    That is what they want.

  3. It looks to me that the lake residents want to be able to control WHO uses the lake.

    Hope it doesn’t succeed.

  4. I have been intrigued by Paul’s writings for sometime now.

    But, since his becoming an elected govt. representative, I am more than intrigued, I am a fan!

    This guy continues to persevere and walk the walk that others only talk about!

    He doesn’t just talk “good government” he exemplifies it!

    We sure could use a few more “Paul Serwatkas” in government!

  5. Most boards care primarily about following the law to achieve the agenda.

  6. According to the 2010 bond official statement Lakewood has a jump in bond payments from $484,311 in FY 2019 to $689,013 in FY 2020 for a difference of $204,702.

    Not sure if that’s offset by retiring other debt.

    CUSIP 512531.

    http://www.emma.msrb.org

    Lakewood also particpates in the IMRF Regular pension fund, not sure of is unfunded liability (each employer participating in IMRF has its own unique funding status).

    The police officers in Lakewood also participate in the IMRF pension fund, not the Downstate Police Pension Fund, because the population of Lakewood is under 5,0000.

    The most current financial report on the village website is dated April 30, 2014.

    The following is from that report.

    “As of December 31, 2013, the most recent actuarial valuation date, the Regular plan was 83.24% funded.

    The actuarial accrued liability for benefits was $3,485,022 and the actuarial value of assets was $2,901,084, resulting in an underfunded actuarial accrued liability (UAAL) of $583,938.

    The covered payroll for calendar year 2013 (annual payroll of active employees covered by the plan) was $1,352,703 and the ratio of the UAAL to the covered payroll was 43%.”

    So the dilemma is how to follow the bond payment schedule (without incurring costs to refund bonds and extend the payment schedule or issue more bonds) and achieve 100% pension funding, at taxes tolerable to residents.

    So it would be nice if someone would present the residents with a plan as to how that is attainable, preferably on a spreadsheet so residents can easily tinker with the numbers if they so desire.

    A lot of taxing districts have escalating bond payments, where unlike a fixed rate mortgage, the overall payment (principal and interest) increases over the years.

    Sometimes that’s ok if other debt is scheduled to be retired, other times it’s just a game that’s played to keep payments low now to pass a referendum or keep taxes low now, at the expense of higher unaffordable payments and taxes in the future using questionable, overly optimistic or bogus projections for future revenue.

  7. On June 26, 2015 Erin Smith of the Lakewood Board of Trustee mailed a letter to owners in the proposed SSA-8 tax area – outlining all the specifics of the ordinance.

    Residents had 2 weeks to contact the Village Board with questions/concerns – why did they only voice their concerns to Paul Swateka – the newest member of the board and one who had not attended any of the process meetings?

    Again – between 7 members of the village board, a general manager of Lakewood, a homeowners association in Loch Glen and their board of 7 and the 7 members of the Turnberry Property Owners Assn – the ONLY person to learn of concerns was Paul Serwatka.

    The TPA makes it a point that their phone #’s and e-mails are known to the residents – once the letter went out from President Smith – not one resident called or e-mailed.

    This is a REPLACEMENT tax – not a new tax.

    If not this tax to maintain the lakes – then what?

    Oh yes – there is a group trying to establish a VOLUNTEER donor-based maintenance program that hss simply lost steam as being not sustainable – this group is headed up by a good friend of Paul Serwatka….sorry Paul – as my ole Pappy used to say….”if something doesn’t make sense – look for the hidden agenda and iffen it smells a tad off…something bad is trying to die.”

  8. I can think of another reason why people don’t contact the President or rest of the Village Board:

    the Board is only responsive to people who agree with their positions.

    Maybe people are discouraged and feel that such contacts would be wasted time.

    People contacting Mr. Serwatka probably feel they are being listened to, and some efforts will be made to research the bases of their concerns.

  9. Carol, I do not know to whom you are referring when you say my “good friend” but, I assure you, that of the four residents who contacted me, two of them I had never met before and two of them I had met twice prior.

    As for the 18 residents who I spoke with subsequently, I knew none, personally.

    Furthermore, at least two other trustees were contacted by these residents before they had reached out to me.

    These trustees told the residents that they would vote according to the wishes of the majority in attendance at the July 14th meeting.

    That, alone, is very telling of the ineptitude of at least some serving on the board.

    And, Carol, please understand, I am an absolute advocate of the lakes!

    I was, and am still, willing to contribute to their upkeep!

    But that can NOT have any bearing when weighing the facts…

    The facts remain:

    1. The village said it would only move forward on an SSA if there was “STRONG SUPPORT OF THE RESIDENTS.”

    2. This “strong support” has, by no means, been demonstrated.

    3. Nothing even resembling full disclosure was provided to residents in the survey of support – Furthermore, the board admitted they had no knowledge of the information in the survey!

    4. The board has zero evidence of anything demonstrating support. They admitted they never verified any votes! They admitted no one ever saw a single ballot or even a roster!

    5. It simply cannot be argued. The board was derelict in their duty to residents when they accepted a verbal report indicating sufficient support with no evidence to support this claim, particularly, on something that would have such an impact, on so many residents, for 50 years!

    6. Any evidence, of which there is much, suggesting that this verbal report was inaccurate, simply MUST be treated with deference and some sort of quality control measures MUST be taken.

    THAT – is good government!

    7. You, and others, have stated that I never attended any of these SSA meetings. I remind you that I was not a trustee at the time of these meetings – nor was I included in this new SSA district. So, both of these being the case, I was never invited or notified of any of these meetings as I was not considered a party of interest.

    However, every other member of this board WAS a member of the board then and as such each of them did have a fiduciary duty to EVERY resident in that district – not just to the TPA members or lake owners.

    Yet, every board member, including the president, admitted that they had no knowledge of the information in the survey and every one of them admitted that they have never seen any evidence of any votes or vote count!

    Come on – That should concern everyone!

    Regardless of which side of the issue you are on – This is absolute negligence of the worst kind!

    All of this being true, there simply is no justifiable reason for moving forward on creating this SSA. I am not against the SSA, personally. But, the burden of demonstrating “strong support of residents” has not been met and therefore it should not move forward.

  10. Paul – I disagree with much of what you say regarding the survey having seen firsthand how judiciously they were handled and I do believe that if you had attended some meetings and taken the time to inform yourself on at least some of the research and information that has flowed through this community your decision would have been vastly different.

    On another point that keeps popping up – regarding the equitable payment into the proposed SSA-8 – You and Phil keep saying that lake shore owners should pay more and in fact they will – lakeshore owners have a higher assessed value of their home which translates into more dollars than their neighbor across the street with similar home.

    The SSA-8 is a REPLACEMENT for the old SSA-1 – at a lower rate and with a lifetime cap.

    A volunteer/donor arrangement is not sustainable – simply put if owners don’t want to pay they don’t have to and while some owners say they will pick up the slack from owners who don’t want to pay – do you REALLY want to place the long term maintenance of these lakes on that premise?

    Finally – if this SSA-8 does not pass – another cannot be tried for 2 years…..

    AND – while you say you don’t have a dog in this race – I would remind every owner who lives anywhere near these lakes that it is because of these lakes that your basements haven’t flooded with all this rain.

    And that includes you, Paul

  11. I am frustrated reading these comments by some, like Carol.

    I’m also very frustrated by how this entire process has been handled since the TPA took this over.

    I am very grateful the group of concerned citizens last winter had the foresight to bring this to light and try to come up with a plan that would be a sustainable solution for this neighborhood (HOA group).

    They got the conversation started when no one else would.

    I first thought, “Why haven’t we heard about this from the TPA?”

    Now, I’m sure someone from the TPA will come on here and say they notified people and were working on this for several years.

    We, as members, never heard anything until the proposed HOA group started communicating.

    They and the village board have only jumped in on this once the group of concerned citizens started bringing up alternatives, like a possible HOA.

    By the way, my second question was…. I thought we had a homeowners association called The Turnberry Property Association?

    At the first meeting, we were told that the HOA group formed because the TPA didn’t want to get involved.

    One more thing, all these meetings and mailings the TPA speaks of were mostly from this possible HOA group from my recollection.

    My big disappointment is this “Questionnaire”.

    This only went out after we were told by TPA that it was the only solution.

    I would like someone to post the actual questionnaire for others to see and ask those how are you supposed to fill it out if you’re in favor of maintaining the lakes but not through an SSA.

    There was no way to fill it out if thats how you feel.

    I think most everyone knows that the lakes have to be maintained and are willing to help do that.

    The problem has been this entire process!

    The TPA was supposed to be the group leading these types of neighborhood initiatives and they were late in this with their members and now the village seems to be just running with whatever they are told by the TPA instead of ensuring the TPA did their due diligence as well as making sure the village board themselves do their due diligence.

    If the village didn’t have all their information out to the trustees in advance so they were informed, that’s really awful.

    I feel like the end result here is not how to fund the lake maintenance but the gross failure of the community to come together in a meaningful way and the feeling I have that we lack the confidence in our property association and our village board the we should all have.

    I’m actually ok with an SSA if it is the only choice, I just want the lakes maintained and I want to feel my neighborhood association and village board are out there representing the best interests of the whole community and following all logical due process and diligence.

    They are not there yet!

  12. This sounds very reminiscent of the Lake Dredging SSA that was pushed through in Wonder Lake five or six years ago – an expensive long term tax levied against many residents, but which will largely benefit only a small number directly.

    Sure, residents *can* get some indirect benefit, but it is inequitable to presume that the home 6 blocks away with no lake access has even a fraction of the benefit that a lakefront home does – even if they have the same assessed value.

    I cannot believe that, in light of the questionable methodological issues with the survey, any elected official would take even one step forward until it was determined that they were acting on complete and truthful information.

    There are less than 300 affected properties.

    How much would a new survey cost?

    $500? $600?

    It seems to me that the Village could fix this easily by having a survey of their own that is designed and conducted openly and transparently.

    If, after doing so, a majority of homeowners support the SSA, then move forward.

    If not, not.

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