The Feb. 14, 2014 edition of the Lemont Suburban Life newspaper includes an article summarizing important topics discussed at the Monday Feb. 10, 2014 Village Board meeting.
The first topic reported on was titled “More Sports Complex details”.
It contains two assertions by Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves that deliberately(?) or very carelessly omit very critical aspects of this project.
Mayor Reaves is reported to have said that “… one of the major obstacles (to advancing the project) has been that almost all the engineers with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District have changed since they started the project.”
This is certainly a non-controversial aspect of a delay in the project’s planning process, everyone can understand how loss of knowledgeable personnel would delay planning efforts.
However, the far more important and controversial hold-up to the project’s progress is something Mr. Reaves failed to reveal to the public. Specifically, the land in question may not be used for human activities until the contamination that caused its designation as a “Brownfield” site by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) has been cleaned up and the IEPA officially approves of the results.
Talks with representatives of the IEPA have indicated that the site’s physical nature will make this a very expensive process.
According to applicable Illinois Environmental law, the property owner, in this case the MWRD, is responsible for all clean up costs.
However, Mr. Reaves has generously volunteered to use Lemont taxpayer funds to pay for this effort since the MWRD has declined to do so. (Note: When questioned about his decision to use Lemont tax revenues to pay costs that are legally the responsibility of another governmental entity, Mr. Reaves said that once we elected him he could do what he wanted, and that if you don’t like what he does, then vote him out of office next election.)
The second, and far more misleading comment made by our Mayor, was reported as: “…unlike Libertyville, Lemont would not have to purchase land or pay property taxes.”
As Mayor Reaves very well knows, no property owned by a governmental unit is subject to local property tax.
More offensive and misleading is Mayor Reaves’ failure to disclose that Lemont has tentatively agreed to pay the MWRD 25% of the yearly gross income of the Complex as compensation for using the land. Unlike a purchase price, this is permanent cost of doing business and should have been disclosed as such as part of this remark.
More importantly, Mayor Reaves suggests that building the proposed Sports Complex on land owned by another governmental agency would be a positive thing because Lemont taxpayers would not have to buy land for the project.
This implication is definitely not true... building the Lemont Sports Complex on land leased from the MWRD is a terrible, irresponsible idea!
What Mayor Reaves failed to disclose about erecting a building on property leased from the MWRD, is that at the end of the lease, if either party chooses not to renew, then, by law, the rights of ownership for the Sports Complex would be transferred from Lemont to the MWRD.
This factor is the primary reason why attempts to interest private investors to use their funds to build and operate the proposed Sports Complex on this site has failed.
This means that if built, the Lemont Sports Complex, an asset that would have cost the Lemont taxpayer’s up to $39 million - just in construction and financing costs, would be lost without compensation to another local governmental unit that could then reap all the benefits (if any) of its operation. Or, the MWRD could tear it down to use the underlying land for another purpose more appropriate to their mission at that future time. Who knows, maybe the then Mayor of Lemont would be as generous as Mr. Reaves and volunteer Lemont taxpayer funds to pay for the demolition costs of the (formerly) Lemont Sports Complex.
Mayor Reaves’ deliberate(?) or careless omission of the whole truth about the problems regarding building the Sports Complex, may be an attempt to hide the fact that this is not a happy talk “win-win” situation, but one that is a much darker and riskier “lose-lose” one.
Why is this so?
If the Sports Complex revenues fail to cover the finance and operating costs, the Lemont taxpayers will have to pay increased taxes to make up the difference. This could run into the millions of dollars.
On the other hand, if the Sports Complex was profitable at the end of the lease with the MWRD, what assurances would the Lemont taxpayers of that time have that the MWRD would not find a creative way to decline to renew the lease so that they could take possession of the Complex and enjoy 100% of the profits?
From our current and near term perspective as taxpayers, the failure to maintain profitability is of more immediate concern and it is the more likely outcome, given the results of a multitude of impartial studies and real world experiences of similar ventures by local municipalities.
While the less likely lease renewal problem is far into the future, we should still ensure that this unauthorized scheme of the Lemont Board and Mayor not be allowed to continue. Really, would we current taxpayers appreciate a financial “time bomb” of this magnitude from our Village’s past efforts? Imagine if the Village Hall had been built on leased land, that the lease was up, and that the landowner refused to renew!
The very real and significant problems plaguing the proposed Sports Complex outlined here are probably why the Village Board and Mayor have worked so hard behind the scenes to find a legally defensible way (for now at least) to deny the voters of Lemont the opportunity to vote on the funding of this project. They probably accept that the success of the project is at best a 50 – 50 proposition, and that if given the chance, the Lemont voters would overwhelmingly vote against funding such a hair-brained scheme. As things now stand, from the perspective of the Village Board and the Mayor, the number one obstacle to moving this project forward, the voters of Lemont, have been neutralized. The fancy word for this situation, being denied the opportunity to vote, is “disenfranchised”.
If you don’t like the Sports Complex concept and/or don’t like being “disenfranchised” by their “within the law”, but “ethically” questionable conduct, please let the Board Members and Mayor hear from you.
You must complain, complain, and complain some more about it in as many formats as possible: come to a village Board meeting, write letters to editorial pages, post on facebook, post on Patch, put a “Stop the Lemont Sports Complex” sign in your front yard (after it thaws), talk about this with your friends, whatever.
For sure, let the Board Members and Mayor Reaves know that whatever happens, that they will not run unopposed next election.