By Mary Bach-Keller, guest contributor
An unfair agreement needs to stop: Lake Zurich resident urges trustees to call a vote to rescind agreement that benefits lake owners
Many Lake Zurich taxpayers may have no idea that their tax dollars are being spent to patrol “private” lake property. Not only is this currently happening, I believe it has been ongoing for decades and it needs to stop.
Lake Zurich is a private lake
Lake Zurich is actually a private lake, owned exclusively by residents and organizations that own property on the lake. This includes individuals and organizations, (like the Lions Club) as well as the Village of Lake Zurich, which owns Paulus and Breezewald parks, as well as the Promenade.
Lake Zurich residents who don’t own property on the lake can access the lake via village-owned properties, but only for certain activities: swimming, fishing, and kayaking.
The majority of village residents do not own lake property and are not allowed to put a motorized boat in the lake unless they purchase a boat sticker from the Lake Property Owners Association (LPOA) or rent a boat slip from Bill’s Boats, also for a fee.
The LPOA is an organization that only lake property owners may optionally join, and many do. The LPOA handles lake maintenance and controls motorized boat access to the lake, through the sale of boat stickers.
Village marine patrol
A 2017 agreement (see below) between the village and the LPOA requires the village to provide a marine boat and marine officers, employed by the village, to patrol Lake Zurich’s “private” lake.
In exchange for the village providing the marine patrol, the LPOA agreed to reimburse the village annually for specified limited patrol hours, ($4k-$4.5k annually), as well as a flat boat fee of $3k. Both of these reimbursements from the LPOA are supposed to cover the annual expenses being incurred by the village.
“This type of agreement is unprecedented in Illinois.”
My research has shown that these reimbursements are not adequate, and the taxpayers, most of whom do not have access to the lake, are paying the majority of patrol-related expenses.
This type of agreement is unprecedented in Illinois. As far as I can tell, there is no other private lake where a municipality does not own the full lake bottom and pays for these services.
In my opinion, the sole purpose of a village-owned patrol boat is to patrol a private lake. While the marine officers do work on other village-related projects, their main purpose is to patrol the private lake. The expenses that the village is incurring (approximately $150k over the life of the current 5-year contract) are not even close to the amount that LPOA is reimbursing (approximately $37k). See below for a summary.
What about liability?
Some may think that the amounts outlined above are not a big deal, however, my bigger concern, as should yours be, is the risk of liability. If the marine officers were involved in an accident, the village could be sued and if a verdict exceeds the amount of insurance coverage (an expense also paid by the village), the village would pay the difference. Why would the village open themselves to potentially unlimited liability?
Conflict of Interest
It is my opinion that there has been a longstanding conflict of interest with many past village board members and past mayors. Prior administrations elected village officials who were also LPOA members. These officials benefited from having village residents pay the majority of the expenses to patrol their private lake.
“Prior administrations elected village officials who were also LPOA members, and they benefited from having village residents pay the majority of the expenses to patrol their private lake.”
Of the current village administration, I am only aware of one LPOA Member: Trustee Gannon. Trustee Gannon, who is also the LPOA treasurer, was not a trustee when the current contract was approved. Trustee Sprawka, though not an individual member, resides within a community that maintains a membership with the LPOA. He was a trustee when the contract was approved.
Who benefits from the agreement? Not taxpayers
It is my belief that the LPOA needs this agreement. The LPOA is not a typical Homeowners Association (HOA), as there are no restrictive HOA covenants that are attached to lake property deeds, and therefore without the village ordinances mandating an LPOA boat sticker and other rules and regulations, the LPOA has no way to enforce their private rules and regulations.
“In essence, the LPOA is using the village to enforce their private rules and regulations.”
It is my understanding that the LPOA’s main source of revenue, if not the only source of revenue, are these boat stickers.
Before the village passed ordinances related to the lake, the LPOA had no mechanism to require these stickers. It is also somewhat questionable whether the village has governing power over the “private” waters of the lake, since the ordinances are governing the use of the surface water of the lake, something that was clearly prohibited by the 1988 Illinois Supreme Court Beecham decision, which the LPOA lost. However, this matters little because the ordinances are duplicative of the Illinois Boating Act.
What the other side may say
Here is what you might hear from the LPOA or one of their members:
- LPOA pays fully for the patrol. This is simply not true. My numbers are based on actual dollars spent for 2017-July 2020 and averages for the remainder of the contract period, except where noted.
- Safety. The patrol boat, according to the agreement, is only out on the lake 15 weeks out of 52 weeks annually. During these 15 weeks, it patrols Thursday and Friday evenings plus Saturday and Sunday, approximately 20 hours weekly. If the LPOA was truly concerned about safety, what happens to safety the other 8,436 hours of the year?
Safety is not even in the job description of the marine patrol officers, and the boat is not equipped with full water rescue equipment. Marine patrol officers are also not trained first responders. The Lake Zurich Fire Department has a boat designated for water rescues, and they are the trained first responders; this is their job. The safety of swimmers at the beaches are governed by lifeguards employed solely by the village.
What’s the reason for the patrol boat?
In my opinion, the sole purpose of the patrol boat is to to ensure everyone has an LPOA boat sticker. The proof for this is the number of tickets written since 2017 through July 2020: 34. All but one of these is for “no boat sticker.”
If there were no motor boats on the lake, would there be a need for a patrol boat? It is my belief there would not be a patrol boat need. There are many lakes that allow non-motorized craft, and have no patrol boat. Echo Lake is one example.
- The lake is open to all village residents. This is simply not true. While all village residents can access the lake via village owned properties, all village residents do not have full lake rights. In fact, those who don’t own property on the lake, which is the majority of residents, are prohibited from operating motorized boats on the lake, with the few exceptions above.
- LPOA provides lake maintenance and fish stocking. While this is true, lake maintenance and fish stocking are not part of the current agreement, so it is irrelevant. However, it is my opinion that the LPOA has done a poor job at lake maintenance. Per the Lake County Lake Reports, out of the 163 lakes tested in Lake county, Lake Zurich went from the fourth cleanest lake in 2008 to the 47th in 2015. It is my understanding that the LPOA has discussed for years having a proper Lake Management Plan in place, however, they have failed to do so.
Contact village trustees to ask for a vote to rescind an unfair contract
At the October 7, 2019 Village Board Meeting, I spoke out on the inequities of this agreement. Since then, I have requested and received additional information from the village and refined my financial analysis.
In March 2020, Village Trustee Euker and Trustee Spacone challenged the equity of this agreement. Trustee Euker asked that the village invoke the rescind clause, a unilateral clause that would nullify the agreement. To date, this issue has not come up for a vote before the Village Board.
While I agree the lake is a benefit to all residents as it helps draw in visitors, has an indirect impact on our home values, and we are all able to utilize some of the lake benefits, Lake Zurich taxpayers should certainly not be paying the majority (76%) of the patrol costs and should not be incurring 100% of the potential liability as related to this function.
I am not proposing that Lake Zurich should become a “public” lake, nor I am proposing that the patrol of the lake should stop. I am simply asking for the owners of a “private” lake to hire a third party to patrol the lake and not require taxpayers to pay for it.
“It is my opinion that the current agreement is inequitable.”
It is my opinion that the current agreement is inequitable, and I encourage every resident to contact village trustees and our mayor to ask them to rescind the LPOA Agreement immediately.
Even the appearance of impropriety should warrant the village officials to rescind this agreement.
Mary Bach-Keller is a CPA and Financial Analyst who has worked in the financial world far too long. Her passions are her three crazy fur babies and helping rescue/foster other lovable pups: adopt don’t buy.