Many cities in Illinois and elsewhere are working to ensure they’re able to count every resident in the 2020 Census, and one suburban town is considering going a step further and annexing unincorporated homeowners who live just outside the city limits, a move that would require them to pay higher taxes while boosting the city’s revenue streams and headcount.
Since 2016, the city of Batavia has been trying to convince residents in what they call “unincorporated islands” near city limits or surrounded by the city in some cases, to voluntarily have their properties absorbed into the city.
Community Development Director Scott Buening sent a memo to city officials in December that said they should consider “going forward more assertively” to annex those residents he called “free-riders” becuase some used city services or were located on city-maintained roads, but didn’t pay taxes for them.
Buening said the city stood to gain substantial annual revenue if the annexations were done before April 1, 2020, the date that marks the beginning of the 2020 decennial Census.
At that time, more than 30 homeowners had agreed to be annexed, but city officials were still eyeing 200 more homes to annex, adding an estimated 546 new residents.
In the memo, Buening estimated that the city would gain $79,170 in annual per capita revenues from the state, based on the formula for distributing funds at the time, plus an additional $148,000 in annual property tax revenue that the homeowners would be paying once they’re annexed.
Not all of those unincorporated homeowners want to join the city.
“We do not want to be pulled into the city,” said Paul Nepermann, one of the unincorporated residents. “We see no advantage.”
Nepermann has a number of elderly neighbors who live on fixed incomes that he said likely wouldn't absorb the tax increase or potential higher utility costs.
In May, city officials had drafted ordinances and made the required postings to involuntarily annex ten of those properties. As the last Batavia City Council meeting on July 1, no action has been taken on those ordinances.
“I don’t know if I’m out there with a flaming gun at your head saying ‘well, here we are, you’re going to annex’ as much as we’re pointing out the needs that you should probably think about doing today because it’s not going to get any cheaper,” said long-time Batavia Mayor Jeffery Schielke, referencing the cost to potentially be required to connecting to a city sewer system.
He said many residents came to city officials asking to be annexed after they learned of the delay in response time from the county sheriff’s office compared to the Batavia Police Department.
Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain said via email that his office had revamped all of its patrol areas since he took office last December.
“Our primary response to Batavia would be from the car that covers Blackberry and Batavia Townships with our own and municipal backup nearby in cases of emergency,” he said. “We would be able to cover that area quite well.”
Stewart Diamond, a municipal attorney with Ancel Glink, said the city may be concerned about its population falling below 25,000, which would put its home-rule status in jeopardy. Losing home-rule status would mean the city would lose broad taxing and borrowing abilities unless they convince voters to allow them to keep it via a referendum. Batavia’s 2018 population estimate was 26,316 as of last July.
Diamond said the city is acting within the letter of the law.
“It’s a good opportunity, but it’s just a question of the additional taxes,” he said, adding that the residents could also retain a lawyer to negotiate lower rates or the ability to keep their private utilities for a period of time.
All ten of the properties listed in the ordinances have their own private water and sewer systems, according to a city memo.