CHAMPAIGN — The board of the Champaign Southwest Mass Transit District voted unanimously Tuesday to begin the process of dissolving the taxing district that was formed seven years ago to block expansion of the larger Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District.
"This is crazy," said Champaign Southwest board member Jack Dempsey. "The only people getting anything out of this are the lawyers and the auditors. Our citizens, in my particular case, are getting taxed twice. We're getting the (C-U MTD) service, whether we want it or not."
The board voted to send letters to approximately 500 homeowners in its taxing district who live outside the C-U MTD district, inviting them to form another transit district. If there is no movement from those homeowners within three months after the letters go out, the Champaign Southwest board will vote on a resolution asking the Champaign County Board to dissolve it.
"It was a good fight, but it's time," Dempsey said. "Why are we taxing these people for nothing? The answer is that some folks just don't like the MTD, and the other is there's this whole group of people out there who aren't in the overlap area, and if they want to go ahead and do it, then God bless them, and let them form their own MTD."
"Right now, we're protecting the 25 percent who aren't in the C-U MTD to the fact that we exist," said board member Dave Short, who proposed the arrangement several months ago. "Let's let the 25 percent do their thing if they want and get the other 75 percent out of the way. I just don't like wasting time. We have been spinning our wheels since the Supreme Court ruling in April 2011."
That is when the Illinois Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal of a Champaign County Circuit Court decision that found that the two mass transit districts could operate simultaneously.
But problems arose when some homeowners objected to being double-taxed because they were in both taxing districts, and others complained because they were being taxed by the Champaign Southwest district but got no service. Meanwhile, another issue arose when the new Champaign County YMCA opened with limited bus service because it is about 1,300 feet outside the larger MTD's service area and within the smaller MTD's district.
Amy Armstrong, a Champaign resident whose daughter has a disability, attended Tuesday's Champaign Southwest board meeting to ask for a resolution to the YMCA service issue.
"At the very least, I was coming here to ask them to buy a bus and provide service to the Y. Let's make this a transit district. To me, this is a disability issue. We need to be serving those with mobility issues," she said. "I wanted to have a conversation and put a face to those being affected by the lack of bus service."
Armstrong said she was surprised by Tuesday night's vote and wasn't sure what would happen next.
"I'm sure the next step will be for the Y to go back to the MTD board and say, 'You've got the clearance, so how do we serve the community better?' I'm sure that dialogue will happen because we all want to do what's best for the citizens of Champaign-Urbana."
Also at Tuesday's meeting, the Champaign Southwest board voted not to levy property taxes next year. In the past, it has levied about $39,000 a year. Board Chairman Edward Vaughan said the typical CSMTD homeowner pays about $20 a year in property taxes to the district.
The board also approved a $16,000 budget for the new fiscal year. The Champaign Southwest district has $84,695 in the bank.
Brett Kepley, the district's attorney, said that after the board votes to dissolve, those funds can be reimbursed to taxpayers in the district once other bills are paid.