The City of Geneva and the GPLD Shuffle the Public Property Cards, but the Cards are Marked

What’s left in your wallet?

The Geneva Public Library District (GLPD) placed a referendum on the ballot in April of 2017 asking voters to approve a new $21.8 million bond issue to build a new library on the site of the old Sixth Street School. The referendum passed by 96 votes with a 32.5% voter turnout of 7705. No one asked for a recount.

Results of the April 2017 Geneva Public Library District Referendum

The purchase of the Sixth Street School had its share of drama. The Library Board initially said it would hold a referendum on the purchase. Then the board had enough spare change lying around to offer the County $1.5 million plus $300,000 for demolition. The price “drifted” up to $1.8million and the demolition cost to $450,000 because of asbestos and an underground storage tank (both problems were known to be present for at least a decade). https://www.dailyherald.com/article/20150327/news/150329040/

The cost of the new 57,000-square-foot library was substantially north of the $21.8 million in bond receipts (not to mention the interest on the bonds). The GPLD wants to “transfer” the old library at 127 James Street to the City of Geneva for $450,000. The City of Geneva has not proffered a budget for remodeling and maintaining the new 30,000-square-foot space. Apparently, the $450K will come from spare change the City has found lying around.

But is the transfer ethical or even legal? Three Illinois statutes seem important: one authorizes transfers between municipalities but does not mention payments, another Act creates the statutory basis for the existence of Library Districts such as the Geneva Public Library District, and a third act sets out the general rules for the sale of publicly owned real estate.

The Act that authorizes Public Library Districts in Illinois ((75 ILCS 16/) Public Library District Act of 1991) contains these definitions for the purposes of the Act:

“District” means a public library district established under this Act and includes a proposed public library district.

“Library” means a public library, including one privately endowed or tax-supported or one established under this Act.
“Municipality” means a city, village, or incorporated town.

The Act that authorizes local government property transfers (50 ILCS 605/) Local Government Property Transfer Act contains this definition:

The term “municipality” whether used by itself or in conjunction with other words, as in (a) or (b) above, shall mean and include any municipal corporation or political subdivision organized and existing under the laws of the State of Illinois and including, but without limitation, any city, village, or incorporated town, whether organized under a special charter or under the General Act, or whether operating under the commission or managerial form of government, county, school districts, trustees of schools, boards of education, 2 or more school districts operating a cooperative or joint educational program pursuant to Section 10-22.31 of the School Code, sanitary district or sanitary district trustees, forest preserve district or forest preserve district commissioner, park district or park commissioners, airport authority and township.

Notice that the Library statute does not define a Library District as a “municipality” and for “purposes of the act” the act narrowly defines “municipality.” By its plain language, the Library Act does not give Library Districts municipality standing to participate in transactions permitted by the Government Property Transfer Act. The Transfer Act contains a very lengthy list of eligible “municipalities,” including Park Districts. But the list does not contain “Library Districts.” The Loophole-Louey at City Hall employed by Mayor Burns will point to the phrase “but without limitation” as their loophole. But the City Code requires that when two provisions apply to a given matter, the more restrictive provision “shall [defined in the code as “must”] govern.”

A couple of other library districts in Illinois have taken a bite out of the property transfer apple. Has anyone challenged their action? Does the applicable city code in those cases contain the “most restrictive shall govern” clause?

A two-party political system is ugly and difficult to watch, very much like professional wrestling. Geneva’s Burns’ single-party system is even less attractive and much more expensive to watch than the WWE. And, just like the WWE, the fix is in. What about a referendum? Or, at the very least, a public auction of the old library and let Mr. Fritz send the new owner a property tax bill?

Rules for a Public Auction of the 127 James Street Old Library

The Transfer Act is silent on the price of the parcel being transferred, so it will be asserted, perhaps correctly, that the City is not required to pay anything. If so, how did the $450K come into play? I do not recall the GPLD divulging during the referendum campaign that the gifting (or selling for a nominal sum) the old library was part of the plan. Who negotiated the $450K, and on what authority? By voting for the library referendum, Geneva taxpayers may have forfeited the property tax income from the old library. And the “yes” voters may have unknowingly granted the City a blank annual check to remodel and carry the expenses of a “new” City Hall that is three times bigger than the current City Hall. The Library Board (unwittingly) snuck in a perpetual tax liability as a reward for (narrowly) passing its $21.8 million request.

(65 ILCS 5/11-76-4.1)(from Ch. 24, par. 11-76-4.1)
    Sec. 11-76-4.1. Sale of surplus real estate. The corporate authorities of a municipality by resolution may authorize the sale or public auction of surplus public real estate. The value of the real estate shall be determined by a written MAI certified appraisal or by a written certified appraisal of a State certified or licensed real estate appraiser. The appraisal shall be available for public inspection. The resolution may direct the sale to be conducted by the staff of the municipality; by listing with local licensed real estate agencies, in which case the terms of the agent's compensation shall be included in the resolution; or by public auction. The resolution shall be published at the first opportunity following its passage in a newspaper published in the municipality or, if none, then in a newspaper published in the county where the municipality is located. The resolution shall also contain pertinent information concerning the size, use, and zoning of the real estate and the terms of sale. The corporate authorities may accept any contract proposal determined by them to be in the best interest of the municipality by a vote of two-thirds of the corporate authorities then holding office, but in no event at a price less than 80% of the appraised value.
(Source: P.A. 88-355; 89-78, eff. 6-30-95.)

Does the GPLD have a valid appraisal of $562,000 for the 127 James Street property? This is the lowest appraisal that would make a sale of price $450,000 comport with the above statute. Proper notice is mandatory, and a 2/3’s yes vote of the Library Board is required (5 yes votes). Has an appraisal been done? Where is the required resolution? How would a “yes” vote be fair and ethical to those library district taxpayers who do not live in the City of Geneva?

The Last (August 2019) Certified MAI Appraisal of the 127 James Street Old Library Property was $1,500,000

In 2018, The City of Geneva had No Interest in the Old Library

Slow down! Thursday night, the Library Board is to vote to “sell” the old library to the City of Geneva for $450K. This will put the City of Geneva taxpayers on the hook for renovations and expenses and potentially take $1.5 million off the tax rolls. The 2018 Burns letter claims “no further interest” in the building, but a secret last-minute deal is about to be cut. Why is the Library Board donating $1 mil to Geneva City Council? This is madness that begs for a more complete and transparent public vetting. A public auction of the property or a referendum are both paths to open, honest government. The current path is the Geneva Way – ambush the taxpayers.

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