Round Lake: Lots to offer, much to consolidate
The growth, politics and economic struggles of the Round Lake communities are the subject of a new video in the Illinois Policy Institute’s "Forgotten Illinois" series, which provides a voice to small-town Illinoisans.
Round Lake is in Lake County, 40 miles north of Chicago, and encompasses four small villages: Round Lake proper, Round Lake Beach, Round Lake Heights and Round Lake Park. It boasts lakes, beaches, parks, diversity and a close-knit feel. The villages have populations of between 2,000 and 30,000 people.
Despite population and socioeconomic growth over the last few decades, political boundaries divide the Round Lake communities and property taxes are the highest in the state. Because the villages are divided by governmental borders, they each have a police department and village board. Only the fire department and park district are coordinated.
“There have been ballot initiatives to try to get that changed,” Ken Slove, owner of Lovin Oven Cakery in Round Lake Beach, says in the video. “What are we talking about here? We are talking about money.”
For example, consolidating duplicate jobs in Round Lake and Round Lake Beach could save taxpayers up to $3 million each year, according to the institute.
A bill stalled this spring in the General Assembly that would have expanded local governments’ ability to consolidate.
Meanwhile, Round Lake homeowners struggle with high property taxes.
According to the institute, Tax Foundation data show the median Lake County property tax bill is almost $7,000 – the highest in Illinois and one of the highest in the country.
Vicki McCarthy, who operates a small business out of her home, moved into the area in 2000 and says that despite paying high property taxes, she likes the Round Lake area and would like to see local and state government ensure it’s a robust community in the future.
“There are a lot of parks, a lot of lakes; there’s a lot of open-air feel,” McCarthy says in the video. “It’s just a great place to live, to be. I would like to see industry coming in instead of leaving. There are so many people you talk to, they are selling their homes. I’d like this to be a state where people want to come in so we can actually build a real future for our children, for their children.”
The Rev. Lisle Kauffman, a Round Lake resident for nearly 50 years who has served as police and fire chaplain, says he has seen Round Lake improve since he arrived in 1969.
“The citizens have worked very hard to make this what it is,” Kauffman says in the video, noting that the biggest difference is the amount of diversity, specifically Hispanic-owned businesses. “There has been a significant investment in making this community work. I’m sure you can find people who think it is not working. I’m not one of them.”
As of the 2010 census, according to the Illinois Policy website, Hispanics account for more than 25 percent of Round Lake's population, 48 percent of Round Lake Beach's and 38 percent of Round Lake Park's.
Yolanda Lomeli, owner of multiple Round Lake businesses, including Lomeli’s International Supermarket, moved to town 18 years ago looking to open a business with her brother.
“We took a tour, and ever since then I felt my heart was here,” Lomeli says. “I did say if I was ever to open up a business, I would do it in Round Lake.”
Lomeli says the diverse culture in the Round Lake area appeals to her, and the citizens make her feel welcome.
“Everybody greets each other out here," she says.