Nunda Township officials bicker over $3.2 million road district tax levies

Highlighting ongoing gripes over balance of funding for cities and villages versus unincorporated areas

Nunda Township Highway Commissioner Mike Lesperance threatened to take legal action against other elected officials for the township ahead of a vote to alter his proposed property tax levy.

The Thursday spat between Lesperance and the Nunda Township Board of Trustees highlighted the concerns of municipal officials like McHenry Mayor Wayne Jett, who has criticized Lesperance for a property tax practice that led local governments to see less in road maintenance revenue from the township.

Each year, township road districts levy property taxes for different funds. State law requires that a certain portion of one of the funds be shared with the city or village in which the taxpayer lives, while townships are given sole control over the other fund.

Over the past decade, Lesperance lowered tax collections for a fund that cities and villages are supposed to get a cut of and at the same time, raised the levies for the district’s permanent road fund, which goes toward only the township.

“The imbalance has caused hardship on the rest of the municipalities in the township,” Nunda Township Trustee Rob Parrish said.

The highway commissioner’s proposed levy for next year would have allocated almost $583,000 to the road and bridge fund shared with municipalities, and more than $2.3 million to the permanent road fund controlled solely by the Nunda Township road district.

Parrish at first proposed raising the amount that would be shared with municipalities while also proposing a $100,000 cut to the overall levy to take it down to nearly $3.1 million.

That prompted the highway commissioner to warn he would file a lawsuit against the board. He said there is a legal argument that highway commissioners’ levy proposals must be approved by trustees, and Nunda Township attorney Scott Puma agreed.

But McHenry Township Highway Commissioner Jim Condon tried and failed to sue the McHenry Township Board of Trustees last year in an attempt to prevent a cut of nearly $1 million to the levy he proposed from going into effect. The case was dismissed by a judge in the McHenry County court, and technical issues with his appeal prevented a higher court from ruling on the merits of the case.

Parrish ultimately agreed to pass a levy of almost $3.2 million as Lesperance wanted, but insisted on trimming the township-dedicated fund to $1.89 million, down from more than $2.3 million. Parrish also proposed beefing up the fund shared with cities and villages to just more than $1 million.

Once the levy is sent to the McHenry County Clerk’s Office, Lesperance said he has the authority to change those line items within the levy back to what he originally proposed, as long as the total levy approved by the board does not change.

It is unclear if that is true.

“To the best of my knowledge, we’ve never dealt with that specific issue before,” McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio said. He said he would have to consult with the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office if it arose.

Parrish’s proposal to raise the revenue for the fund shared with cities and villages and reduce the fund for only the township passed 3-2.

Support came from Parrish and his brother who also serves on the board, Trustee Tim Parrish, and Trustee Johanna Donahue. Trustee Karen Tynis and Supervisor Leda Drain voted no, both because they wanted to avoid provoking Lesperance to file a lawsuit against the board over the matter.

“You’re not elected to do this. You’re elected to audit the bills,” Lesperance said. “The municipalities have dozens of ways of generating revenue apart from property taxes. They have sales tax. They have all kinds of avenues of income.”

Pubic records show cities and villages within Nunda Township have seen about $860,000 less from the road district tax levy because of the reductions made from 2015 to 2019, compared with whether the levies had stayed at their average levels in the five years before 2015.

That includes about $271,000 more that could have gone to Crystal Lake, around $230,000 for McHenry, $112,000 for Prairie Grove, $102,000 for Island Lake, $66,000 for Oakwood Hills, $25,000 for Port Barrington, $24,000 for Bull Valley, almost $19,000 for Holiday Hills and $18,000 for Lakemoor, according to McHenry County clerk’s office records.

“I don’t work for myself and the Parrish brothers who live in municipalities,” Lesperance said. “I work for the people who live on Nunda Township roads. And I’m not going to raise taxes. That’s a given. The idea is not to short the municipalities. The idea is simply to properly fund the road district. I admit it is an unintended, unwished consequence.”

Condon, the McHenry Township highway commissioner, said in an interview that the state law that splits township revenues among municipalities, has led to people living in unincorporated areas having an advantage over residents of cities and villages.

“They’ve been getting a very good deal,” he said of unincorporated homeowners. “The costs of the road in front of their house has been shared by the people that live in the municipalities.”

It was the latest public dispute between Lesperance and the board. Trustees last month cancelled leases of his personal work vehicles to Nunda Township that they felt raised ethical questions because the leases put taxpayers on the hook for maintaining and insuring the vehicles, while Lesperance also sometimes used them for private jobs.