CHAMPAIGN — Over the strenuous objection of residents, the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District board voted Wednesday to annex the Prairie Meadows subdivision in Savoy.
The vote was 5-2, with board members Linda Bauer, Willard Broom, Brad Diel, Ron Peters and Don Uchtmann voting for the annexation, and Margaret Chaplan and Jermaine Raymer voting against.
Although the annexation takes effect immediately, residents of the subdivision, located south of Church Street and east of U.S. 45, won't begin paying property taxes to the MTD until the spring of 2015.
Over the weekend, said Prairie Meadows resident Christy Arnold, representatives of 59 of the 66 homes in the subdivision signed a petition asking the MTD to hold off on the annexation.
"It just feels like we're being forced into something that we don't need or want," she told MTD board members. "It just feels like it's all about getting the money."
Resident Brian McCoy agreed, saying "this feels like a rush to generate our tax money to help support the MTD. But 59 of the 66 residents signed a petition that says we don't want and/or need services. I don't know how we could possibly come up here and tell you any more than we don't want it, we don't need it."
Members of the group were disappointed after the board vote.
"But we can't do anything about it now. There's no legal action we can take, there's no way around it. We're stuck," said resident Natalie Erickson, who urged the MTD board to delay the annexation.
They estimated they would pay $250 to $300 more per year in property taxes because of the annexation. Homes in the subdivision, they said, are valued at $250,000 to $300,000.
Wednesday's annexation vote was the first in a series of six scheduled to come before the MTD board over the next year.
Board member Chaplan had suggested postponing the annexation.
"I recognize the MTD's authority to annex even though the residents object, the existence of agreements with all of the governmental units involved, and the policy that the district's boundaries ideally should correspond with the city's boundaries," she said. "But just because we can do it doesn't necessarily mean we should so it."
She said the annexation "does no good for the MTD's image and it only reinforces the negative stereotypes" about it.
But Bauer argued that "sitting on this board ultimately I'm looking at what's best for the community in order to provide the best service, and to have an orderly growth."
Earlier the board members informally reaffirmed a 13-year-old MTD policy that said the transit district would "exercise its authority to annex all areas not taxed as farmland within the cities of Champaign, Urbana and Savoy. As these municipalities extend their jurisdictional boundaries, MTD will follow suit with subsequent annexations."
"If we were to pass over Prairie Meadows at this time, what do we tell the next area we want to annex?" said Diel. "And as far as paying taxes and not feeling like you get services, I pay taxes to the Champaign school district and I've never had any children and I don't anticipate having any children in the school system, and I pay taxes for it. I also pay taxes to the MTD and I've never ridden an MTD bus in my life.
"That being an example of it's a service we don't use and a service that we don't want. I understand that, but it's a community resource and the community should pay for it."
Uchtmann, the chairman of the MTD board, said "I give great deference to the voters of this community who opted to create a mass transit district in the first place back in the '70s. In my view in so doing they were defining our community, our shared burden in which public transportation was viewed as a public good, a way in which we care for one another as a community, those who can drive and those who can't."
Also Wednesday MTD board members learned that July ridership was 485,152, or 8.5 percent greater than that in July 2012. It extended the bus system's string of ridership records to 11 consecutive months.