Price for Fire Protection Plenty in Districts' Land Fight

By Spencer, Mark | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), February 20, 1996 | Go to article overview

Price for Fire Protection Plenty in Districts' Land Fight


Spencer, Mark, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Mark Spencer Daily Herald Staff Writer

The Mundelein Fire Department last year replaced a 32-year-old aerial ladder truck for $458,000.

Meantime, the Village of Vernon Hills and Countryside and Vernon fire protection districts have spent nearly $600,000 on lawyers.

The three governments spent $575,236 on legal fees since 1991 to decide what fire district should protect Vernon Hills' southeast side.

Vernon Hills wants Vernon fire district land in Countryside so it can create a municipal fire department and lower residents' taxes.

Vernon Hills' legal bill is the highest of the three and it will continue to climb as the village heads back to Lake County Circuit Court.

"From an ex-professional's standpoint, it's the right thing to do for the protection of people," said village Trustee Richard Emery, a firefighter for the Vernon Fire Protection District for 20 years and now a firefighting consultant.

Consolidating all village property into the same fire district is the first step toward creating a municipal department. That department could share administration and maintenance costs with other village staff members as well as benefit from sales tax dollars the village collects.

Since 1991, Vernon Hills has spent $348,359 in legal fees and other expenses in getting all village residents into the same fire district, according to spending records obtained by the Daily Herald.

That total accounts for about 20 percent of the village's legal spending since 1990.

Of that total, $18,433 was paid to Chicago law firm Chapman and Cutler to lobby for a tailor-made state law to help the village's cause.

The law enacted in 1991 allowed the Countryside Fire Protection District to forcibly annex the properties on the southeast end of the village from the Vernon Fire Protection District.

The Illinois Supreme Court struck down the law last year as being unconstitutional since it only pertained to Vernon Hills.

Land that was annexed by Countryside was returned to the Vernon fire district in January. The district now covers about 90 percent of Vernon Hills.

That included the 121 commercial properties in Corporate Woods, the RiverTree Court Shopping Center and Continental Executive Parke. The value of that land is about $70 million, and is expected to grow in value to between $300 million and $500 million once completely developed, according to estimates from both fire departments.

The commercial properties raise the property value totals within a taxing district, easing the tax burden on homeowners.

During the past three years, Countryside residents benefited from lower property taxes due to the additional tax base.

"The corporate (taxes) really could end up underwriting the residential," Countryside Fire Chief A. Lewis Landry said.

Countryside's tax rate fell 24 percent from 1991 to 1993, in large part to the addition of the valuable properties.

Countryside spent $182,083 in legal fees after the Vernon Fire District challenged the annexation, Landry said. …

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