Special Service Area Assessment tax on homes in four Lake Forest, IL developments are exclusive to Lake Forest

October 26, 2011

A meeting was held at Elawa Farm in the classroom at the southeast end of the complex, 1401 Middlefork Drive in Lake Forest, for residents of Amberly Woods, MIddlefork Farms, Regents Row, and Willow Lake Farms to discuss the Special Service Area (SSA) tax that has been levied on these property owners for the purpose of generating revenue for Lake Forest School District #67 (K – 8th).

I heard about the Elawa Farm meeting through an e-mail forwarded me by Brian Costin sent to him by Howard Handler, Gov. Affairs Director of the North Shore-Barrington Association of Realtors, requesting that Costin contact Illinois Policy Liberty Leaders in the Lake Forest area about attending the meeting. The same e-mail announcement was forwarded by Handler to Chicago area newspapers and Pioneer Press publications.

Brian Costin, as Director of Outreach at the Illinois Policy Institute in Chicago, heads its Liberty Leaders program. The Illinois Policy Institute is a non-profit organization, whose 10-point program is being utilized throughout Illinois to evaluate transparency at all levels of government under the auspices of the right of the public to know (letting the sunshine in).

Of note is that a transparency project is presently being conducted in regard to a Local Transparency Overview of Shield’s Township, including evaluations of Lake Bluff School District #65 and Lake Forest School Districts 67 and 115.

http://illinoispolicy.org/uploads/files/2011-2012ILLegGuideLocalTransparencyProject.pdf

Close to sixty concerned citizens turned out on a rainy and wind-swept evening to listen to a brief informational session presented by Howard Handler, who like other real estate agents throughout this state and nation, believe in fair taxation, not under the roof taxation.

Related by Howard Handler is how each property owner of Amberly Woods, Middlefork Farms, Regents Row, and Willow Lake Farms, through a Special Services Area tax assessment (SSA), will be paying over twenty years between $9,580 and $15,000 or more above and beyond the property taxes they are already paying annually to Lake Forest School District #67 to cover “impact” costs their developments have imposed upon District #67 through increases in school enrollment.

What makes the extra SSA tax assessment so unfair and unjust is that impact fees have already been paid by the developers of the four Lake Forest properties to compensate for increased school enrollment in District 67.

For those unfamiliar with Special Service Area assessments, this explanation was taken from a handout distributed at the meeting as published on the nsgbar.org website: “SSA is a special taxing district created by an ordinance of a municipality or country. Most often they are created to fund the costs of new infrastructure or to pay for repairs and maintenance of existing infrastructure, such as a sewer system. SSA is a tax lien on the property; the assessment appears on a property owner’s tax bill as a line item. Those assessed a SSA are supposed to particularly benefit from the SSA more than others.”

Since Lake Forest District #67 has no authority to impose SSA assessments, how did the tax come about?

It was through a request by District #67 that the City of Lake Forest establish criteria for SSA tax assessments. Determined criteria was that SSA assessments could be levied on five to six unit developments. Two to four unit developments were excluded from consideration.

Home owners were reminded that, unlike property taxes, SSA assessments are not tax deductible. Mr. Handler did suggest that a home owners’s tax attorney should be consulted as he is not a lawyer.

Troubling is how Alan Albus, FOIA Officer of Lake Forest School Districts 67 and 115, denied FOIA requests made by Howard Handler to disclose how SSA monies were being used by District #67. Is SSA tax money being credited into a general District 67 fund from which those paying the SSA assessed tax receive no benefit?

According to the SSA Act and various court rulings, a description is required of the specific services to be provided, yet the ordinances which detail the use of SSA monies by District #67 are never described beyond the vaguely worded “facility improvements and programs.” Might such a broad and nebulous description be considered adequate to hold up under law?

Those assembled were told that the City of Lake Forest or the Lake Forest School District 67 could abolish the SSA’s in short order to release home owners in the four Lake Forest developments from paying the assessed tax.

They were likewise encouraged to contact both elected Lake Forest School District #67 Board members and members of the Lake Forest City Council, urging them to take immediate action to abolish the unfair SSAs tax for funding School District #67

For ease of contacting, distributed was a list of names and telephone numbers for Lake Forest City Council and School District 67 Board members. This information was obtained and compiled from their respective government’s websites.

Four post cards were likewise distributed to be mailed out, addressed to Aldermen Donald P. Schoenheider and Thomas H. Morsch, Jr. of the Third Ward; Mayor James J. Cowhey, Jr.; and Julia Wold, President of the School District #67 Board.

Common to each post card were these words found in paragraph three: “As you know, the developer of my subdivision has already paid significant impact fees to off-set any impact. To then charge a elect group of residents $9,580 to $15,600 or more for the exact same reason is unwarranted, especially when School District 67 reports sharply declining enrollment.”

Why should Amberly Woods, Middlefork Farms, Regents Row, and Willow Lake Farms be subjected to a Special Service Area (SSA) tax when similar impact fees have already paid been by the developer?

Why should a greater tax burden be placed on just four selected Lake Forest communities for the benefit of District #67 and not on the rest of Lake Forest?

Lake Forest might be a unique community, but as related by Howard Handler, he knows of no other Illinois community that has imposed such an unfair and unjust additional SSA tax assessment on home owners for the purpose of school funding, and this might apply to the entire nation!

Such uniqueness Lake Forest can do without. The SSA tax assessment must be abolished!

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