SAVOY – The Savoy Village Board and the leaders of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District have reached a tentative truce in their feud over who has jurisdiction over mass transit in Savoy.
Following negotiations Wednesday morning between the two sides, the Savoy Village Board voted 6-0 Wednesday night to direct attorney Paul Hendren to draw up an agreement with the MTD.
Under the proposal, the MTD would agree not to annex any more territory in Savoy without either the consent of the Savoy Village Board or a petition by village residents.
"We, as the elected council of this community, need to have a say when we need mass transit," said Savoy Mayor Bob McCleary.
In exchange, the village board would agree not to vote on an ordinance creating its own mass transit district. The village had proposed starting a district as a defensive measure to keep out the MTD.
"We came to a meeting of minds so that both of us will pull back from Armageddon, as it were," said MTD board Chairman George Friedman. "They can put their Savoy MTD ordinance in a file drawer and always whip it out if they need to. And we will put our annexation plans in a file drawer."
"We can stay status quo: no new taxes, no new service, no buses on our streets, not our buses, not their buses," said Savoy Trustee Jan Carter Niccum.
Hendren said the agreement would be binding not only to the current C-U MTD board, but to future boards.
"Governmental bodies make agreements regularly which have a binding effect beyond the term of office of the officials who make those decisions," Hendren said.
Friedman said his board will consider the agreement at its meeting at 3 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Illinois Terminal, 45 E. University Ave. Champaign.
Savoy Trustee Brant Lewis said he would like the Savoy Village Board to consider the agreement at its Oct. 5 meeting at the Savoy Municipal Center, 611 S. Dunlap Ave.
"This issue has been a thorn in our side for a long time," Lewis said.
Village Board member Joan Dykstra said Savoy needs the agreement because she doesn't trust the MTD board after watching it annex Wilbur Heights, Rolling Acres and southwest Champaign in recent weeks.
"I saw them mow over neighborhoods that could ill afford to have the MTD," Dykstra said. "We need something in writing. The citizens of Savoy want some resolution to this controversy."
"We have not intended our actions to sound threatening," Friedman said. "Obviously, they have been threatening, and I apologize for that. We didn't mean to be making threats."
Dykstra said she fears that the mass transit lobby could persuade the Illinois General Assembly to pass a bill eliminating the 30-day waiting period mass transit districts now need before forcibly annexing territory.
If such a bill were to be introduced, Dykstra said she would want the village board to proceed with creating the Savoy MTD.
"To me, the formation of a Savoy MTD would still be pretty viable," agreed Lewis.
McCleary said he opposes forcible annexation, but he also opposes increasing property taxes.
The MTD has a property tax rate of 26 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a $250,000 home in Savoy with the standard homestead exemption would pay an additional $203 per year to the district if it were annexed.
McCleary said he was concerned that the proposed Savoy MTD board would eventually levy its own property taxes if voters approved a ballot question allowing it.
"The last thing I ever want to do is to raise taxes, and I'm convinced if we passed an ordinance creating a new taxing body that it would mean new taxes," McCleary said.
"There will be no taxes without the approval of the people," responded Lewis. "There are mass transit districts in Illinois that levy no property taxes."
Friedman said he won't back down from his belief that all Savoy property owners should be paying real estate taxes to the C-U MTD.
"I still believe that, with Savoy being part of the community, it ought to be part of the MTD," Friedman said. "I don't think a multiplicity of mass transit districts in the metropolitan area is a good thing. There may come a time when Savoy may want to be part of the C-U MTD, and we would be available to discuss that."
McCleary said he is pleased the village was able to negotiate a plan that avoided putting Savoy either in its own district or within the C-U MTD.
"I will never accept forced annexation by a nonelected body," McCleary said. "On the other hand, creating our own district is the nuclear option."