Local News

County-funded road improvements leave Wonder Lake homeowners’ association with $300K in the bank

Lawsuits brought against current, former residents over unpaid dues helped build reserve

When Ron Bunday was sued by his Wonder Lake-area homeowners association for nearly $1,500 over unpaid dues, he became the latest among more than two dozen other owners also sued for nonpayment, records show.

The Indian Ridge Improvement Association – which includes 450 homes – was trying to collect as much as it could from 2013 to 2015 from residents who had fallen behind on paying their dues, so it could save up for what would be a huge and costly neighborhood project.

The neighborhood needed to repair its roads – which were then still privately owned, maintained by the association and in poor condition – which was why taking legal action was necessary at the time, said Caroline Mayer, president of the Indian Ridge association’s board.

But the roads ended up getting brought up to par without costing the association any money, even though more than $4.3 million went toward the street improvements, according to McHenry Township records.

The taxpayer-funded deal left the Indian Ridge association with about $303,000 in its bank accounts as of July 31, when the association sent its annual newsletter. That’s almost six times the average annual expenses for the association, which manages two private lakefront parks, over the last three years.

The reserve was built by an association practice of spending around half of what had been budgeted each of the last three years, while also accumulating some of the previously unpaid homeowners’ dues through litigation, according to Mayer and association records shared by an Indian Ridge resident.

None of it had to be spent on the newly rebuilt roads because of a McHenry County program initiated in 2016 that dedicated more than $8 million in public funds to upgrading 23 miles of privately owned subdivision streets to meet current standards for public roadways. They were then transferred into the county’s ownership, with township governments agreeing to take over their future maintenance, unburdening homeowners associations of that duty.

The Indian Ridge neighborhood was the program’s largest project, records show, and McHenry Township chipped in just more than $136,000 to improve village of Wonder Lake-owned streets in the area, too.

The program has been the subject of criticism from current and former local officials, including Jack Franks, who served as county board chairman just after the program started and opted not to expand it. One of his criticisms was that the county funding was not distributed equally among townships.

Realizing the homeowners association ended up not even needing the money for the road project that it sought from people like Bunday through litigation was frustrating for the former longtime Indian Ridge resident.

He has since lost his Indian Ridge home to foreclosure and moved in with a family member on the west side of Wonder Lake.

He said if it wasn’t for the judgment entered against him in the Indian Ridge lawsuit, he might have had an easier time refinancing the home or finding another way to help him retain ownership.

He was disappointed to hear the association has as much money as it does.

“It makes me not like them even more,” Bunday said. “It’s frustrating, right? It sure is.”

Franks suggested the Indian Ridge association should consider returning the funds to current homeowners on a pro-rated basis based on how long they’ve been paying dues. He added the people who were sued by the association like Bunday, over less than $1,500 in each case, might feel “abused.”

“It’s one thing if the [association] actually needed the money. There is certainly a legal argument it is overtaxing and all the homeowners should get their money back,” Franks said.

Bob Anderson, a former McHenry Township trustee who has pushed for the annexation of neighborhoods like Indian Ridge into the village, suggested the association give some of the money back to the county.

Mayer is unlikely to support rebating any of the money for now, she said. The association is eyeing a number of projects, such as cutting down some trees on the Indian Ridge association’s property, fixing a damaged fence in one of its two beachfront parks, replacing playground equipment and securing the shorelines.

“As soon as that is all done, I guarantee we will not have that kind of money,” Mayer said. “We have been saving our money for years because we thought we had to pay for our roads. Now the fact is we have no roads. We can do the things that we’ve been totally ignoring because the roads were the most important thing to us.”

The association in 2019 started a program to let residents with lower incomes, as verified by McHenry Township officials, get back their dues from Indian Ridge. In 2020, $2,500 was budgeted for the program and $800 was distributed, while none was distributed through July this year.

For the last two years, the association spent none of the $50,000 it budgeted for beach and park improvements and maintenance, the association newsletter shows. Mayer cited COVID-19 as the reason the association decided against starting the work.

“If we end up with a big chunk of money left over, maybe we will refund the dues. Maybe people won’t have to pay the dues for a year,” Mayer said. “We know the projects that have to be done. And to get them done that money has to be there.”