Lake County, Illinois, levies property taxes for 55 municipalities. Three of these have no taxable value. Lake County holds 230 units of government. One hundred forty-four of them elect public officials to their boards. The 27 entities whose board members are appointed by the Lake County Board include two mosquito abatement districts, 8 of the county’s 10 drainage districts, 11 fire protection districts and three of the county’s sanitary districts.
About 85% of residents’ property taxes go to school districts, townships and other elected boards, and the 15% remainder goes to entities with boards appointed by county board or municipal leaders. In a November press release statement, County Board Chairman Lawlor expressed his belief that the taxpayers cannot have real, sustainable, meaningful property tax relief without consolidating or eliminating taxing districts. Further, Lawlor stated that board members should be elected instead of appointed to local government entities.
In 2014, with the sanction of two Lake County Board members, the County Board moved to install a new trustee to the Rockland Fire Protection District three-member board. In 2017, after the local community had presented over 300 signatures against the 2014 appointed trustee, versus 30 for him, the County Board Chairman urged reappointment of the trustee and the County Board moved to approve the appointment.
In 2016, with the sanction of the same local County Board member and the Lake County Board Chairman, the Lake County Board voted to install a second trustee to the Rockland Fire Protection District against the expressed wishes of community residents. At the time of the second appointment, the Lake County Board Chairman publicly inferred the reason for the second trustee’s appointment was to assure that the Knollwood Fire Department (overseen by the Rockland Fire Protection District Board) would be quickly dismantled.
Without full board knowledge, the two sanctioned trustees had requested bids for complete services from two fire protection districts abutting the Rockland Fire Protection District. One or two of these requests was made prior to the appointment of the second trustee.
In April 2016, the Rockland Fire Protection District’s voters approved a referendum to have an elected board of trustees beginning April 2019. There are 10 other fire protection districts in Lake County that have boards appointed by the County Board. There has been no urging by the Lake County Board to consolidate or dismantle these districts. Further, there has been no urging to allow the election of board members in these districts.
The fire protection districts submitting takeover proposals seem to be in a big hurry to gain control before the April 2019 election. It would be more in keeping with the principals inherent in a democratic society to hold off any takeover bids until after April 2019.
The Rockland Fire Protection District will have held its first election. Then, and only then can the presently involved fire protection districts sit down to together to work out a viable solution for the most equable, efficient and cost- effective consolidation of services.
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