Covering the Land of Lincoln

Parkhill’s interests in SVPWD board has benefitted his business

It seems curious that a town the size of Mahomet would have two water districts. 

Within the Village limits there are about 9,500 residents. And just outside, there are about another 6 to 7,000. There are places in Mahomet where you can look across the street to look at land not within the Village limits. Some places receive services from the Village: water, sewer, road maintenance, law enforcement, And others do not. 

It was and is by design. 

There was a time when Mahomet did not want to expand its borders, which in the 1960s did not look like they do today. For the Parkhill family, who owned vast acres of farmland to the north of the Village, this posed a problem with their entrepreneurial spirit. Olen “Bud” Parkhill wanted to develop the family land, but getting Village services, particularly water and sewer, wasn’t an option.

He wasn’t powerless, though. In 1966, he (along with Harold Dorsett) decided to build the infrastructure needed for water and sewer through a non-profit, Sangamon Valley Public Water District. Through this non-taxing body, land north of what’s now I-74 was able to develop.

Its reach has been and will continue to be important. In 2021, the district expanded its boundaries through a state-approved annexation process in order to deliver a clean water source to residents whose wells and homes have been affected by the 2016 People’s Gas leak. With that expansion, SVPWD went from being able to serve residents within a 4.5 square miles radius to just over 42 square miles. 

Under the current board, SVPWD is not looking to encourage new development, but rather wait until developers are ready to move forward, then provide water and sewer service to that resident or business. For the most part, the Village of Mahomet has jurisdiction over development within a 1.5 mile radius of their borders, and makes the final decision on how that land is zoned. 

When petitions to elect SVPWD board seats instead of having them appointed circulated and were encouraged by former board member Olen “Bud” Parkhill, and current board members Mike Melton, Bob Buchanan and Mike Larson (now former member), it became evident that something more might be at play. Parkhill (50 years), Melton (40 years) and Buchannan (30 years) served on the board for decades and Larson had been a board member for 12 years. 

What’s more is that Parkhill had asked current board president Meghan Hennesy to serve, just as he did board member Colleen Schultz. Hennesy and Parkhill had a friendship that both parties seemed to enjoy very much. Melton even sang Hennesy’s praises as she ran for the Mahomet-Seymour School board just a few years ago. And all four men continually voted for her to be in the lead position. 

But, what appeared to be overnight, the tide turned. 

On the surface, it may just appear that Parkhill was sore after he was not reappointed by the Champaign County Board in 2021 when it was pointed out that he was a major developer within the Sangamon Valley Public Water District. As a few other board members were appointed by the county, the hold Parkhill had on the SVPWD board seemed to be vanishing. For years upon years, as evidenced in board notes, SVPWD board members chose who would be in the seats. 

It is true: currently Parkhill and his organizations own approximately 600 acres of undeveloped land in SVPWD’s former boundaries, 2880 acres.  This means that Parkhill’s interests include about 20-percent of SVPWD territory that is within or just outside Village limits. He also owns even more property that is developed in both the SVPWD and Village of Mahomet limits. 

A lot of that land is located along Prairieview Road could be prime for development. Every year the Village of Mahomet puts about $25,000 into the Prairieview escrow account. The Village also split the cost of first drafts of what could happen on that land. Truck stops, which Village planner Kelly Pfeifer insists are called “travel centers”, hotels, multi-family developments are just a few options in the layouts Parkhill is in possession of. 

He also owns the land just south of Fox Run. Sketches of one layout were provided to the Mahomet Daily via FOIA. Through reading emails provided via FOIA, a commercial development and expansion of the mobile home park were also discussed. 

Of course, as long as land is zoned a particular way, a developer can make progress on that land. Just because Parkhill owns land doesn’t mean that he would personally benefit from the services provided by the Sangamon Valley Public Water District. So, in order to answer the question of why would these men all of a sudden change their mind as to how board members are seated, some questions needed to be answered. 

In Feb. Mike Melton brought up that he was a participant in a 457b retirement plan that is designated for employees of non-profit organizations. Through FOIA, it was also brought to light that Parkhill also participated in that program.

The SVPWD was asked for a lot of information over the next few weeks. FOIA requests for old board minutes, purchases and invoices, repair and maintenance, vendors, land purchases, special water rates, water/sewer main lines plans, gifting of infrastructure and supplies used in the Candlewood Mobile Home Park were all requested.

First, it’s important to understand how development usually works. Outside of what is happening with TIF money in the East Mahomet district, usually developers are responsible for building public infrastructure: water/sewer mains, sidewalks, and roads, then that is “gifted” to the municipality for maintenance. The municipality, in this case SVPWD, would make repairs on water and sewer mains for any subdivision within its territory: Deer Hollow, Cobblecreek or Candlewood.

But, property owners within the subdivision, in many cases a homeowner, are then required to build and maintain their home’s infrastructure, like the water/sewer main and their own driveway. 

This is important to understand because in searching through documents provided by SVPWD, it is indisputable that the lines between Parkhill’s interests as a business owner/developer and board member were blurred. 

The most prominent development that Parkhill owns at this time is Candlewood. Unlike other subdivisions he’s developed, like Cobblecreek, each home (trailer) is not owned by the residents. Parkhill owns all of the land according to Champaign County GIS. 

In the case of Candlewood, it is unclear if SVPWD has the easements or if the infrastructure has been dedicated to the district. The only documents available were signed by Parkhill, who is the owner and was the seated chair at the time. There was no board action taken and no title documents were available. Still, SVPWD maintains the main lines through the Park, just as it does in Cobblecreek. 

According to the Illinois Mobile Home Act, owners are required to maintain the streets, garbage and water and sewer within the park boundaries. 

During his time on the SVPWD board, though, Parkhill consistently used the district’s equipment and employees to service projects (water leaks, sewage issues) that any property owner should have been responsible for. Other SVPWD customers would have paid a markup on items and services, like building necessary pipe structures, Parkhill only reimbursed the district at cost for equipment, using the district funds to compensate for employee time. 

It was not unusual for SVPWD employees to be required to install water meters on the mobile homes at district expense, for example. In other developments that have multiple residents, like an apartment complex, one meter is placed within the community, and the property owner is billed for the water/sewer usage. The landlord is then responsible for billing each tenant. 

Parkhill bypassed this practice during his time on the board. During May’s board meeting, SVPWD decided that one meter would be placed at Candlewood before fall, placing the responsibility back on Parkhill’s shoulders. Additionally, since Parkhill has been off the board, maintenance of anything other than the water and sewer mains has ceased. 

He was also notorious for going to the district property to take meters for Candlewood. SVPWD staff called inventory a “nightmare” because of this practice. Today, SVPWD has a fence and security cameras around the property, not only to keep the water supply safe, but also to keep this from happening. 

It is estimated that from 2008-2018 Candlewood labor and material costs totaled $37,808.00 for standpipe material; $5,265.00 for meters; $12,510.00 for labor of standpipes and $4,860.00 for labor of meters. 

The long-standing practice of water rates for different groups of customers (previously 33 water rates, depending on who the person was) hurt the district. Over the last decade, the district has moved to standard water rates for customers, which has helped it save for capital projects and fair employee compensation. 

Board meeting minutes show that SVPWD was barely surviving through the early 2000’s. Because Candlewood is a transient community, sometimes tracking down tenants who owed for water or sewer was difficult. Any water loss from that community comes at a loss to the district. Most of the time, board members blamed that struggle on people in Candlewood who had not paid their water/sewer bill, when in fact, it was Parkhill’s responsibility. 

It is estimated that standpipe breaks in Candlewood from 2008-2018 cost the district 36,028,800 gallons and meter breaks cost 4,003,200 gallons. In today’s dollars that would be about $320,256.00.

Outside of using SVPWD employees for maintenance within Candlewood, there were times that the district was instructed to use Parkhill’s companies Parkhill Construction and Central Xavaction. His son’s company T.S.P. Enterprises was also used several times. 

Accounting documents were limited, but those that were provided show that from 2001-2014 the district paid T.S.P. Enterprises $11,436; from 2000-2021 paid Parkhill Construction $317,231.83; and from 2005-2006 Central Xavation $20,153.10. Some of those line items show work throughout the district while other memos are left empty. There were no records prior to 2000. 

The work Parkhill’s compaines/employee did for the district was quality work, other employees said. But it wasn’t always about what needed to be done within the district. When Parkhill Construction did not have contracts coming in, Parkhill would tell the SVPWD general manager to find work for his employee to do. Then the district would pay Parkhill’s company. 

Records also show that at times when Parkhill did not receive rent owed in Candlewood, he would send tenants to work off their debt at SVPWD. After the tenant completed the work for SVPWD, the district would take funds out of the paycheck to pay for the employee’s back-owed lot rent and send that to Parkhill rather than the person who did the work. Long-time SVPWD employees have said that because of wages, it has been difficult to keep workers at the district. They added that while these employees (that Parkhill sent over) helped fill in shortages, they were not trained to do the work that needed to be done in order to keep the district’s assets safe. 

Parkhill’s Candlewood was not the only development that benefited from public infrastructure. As SVPWD installed “trunkline” water and sewer mains, including lift stations to the north and west of Candlewood in 2005, Deer Hollow and Cobblecreek (Parkhill’s development) were able to come to fruition. Parkhill’s investment into Cobblecreek was reduced because of the availability of the trunkline. 

With that development, along with Thornewood, by 2011 SVPWD needed additional capacity. Parkhill had land to sell. In 2012, after 40 years on the board, Parkhill stepped down from his seat, citing a need to spend more time with his family. Just a few moments later, SVPWD purchased two acres of land from Parkhill for $175,000 (that would be about $220,000 in today’s dollars) to expand their water treatment plant. Although Parkhill was never reappointed to the board, he was back in his seat a meeting or two later, according to board minutes. 

The district has also purchased other pieces of land from Parkhill, including a small triangular piece that currently holds an apple tree. 

He also encouraged the purchase of .75 acres near the newest developments of Thornewood from the Schneider family for $40,000 in 2012 (almost $51,000 in today’s dollars). This property houses a storage facility. These properties were appraised at these amounts in 2012, but staff has said that favorable appraisers were chosen after another appraisal came in around $16,000-$20,000 per acre. 

Prior to not being reappointed to the board, Parkhill said that he had more land that he wanted the district to purchase. He owns 14.3 acres contiguous to the water district property. The water district said, being at 50-percent capacity of the current facility, they do not need to expand or purchase any more land for 15 years, if development remains steady. 

The ballot measure in the June 28 primary would likely put Parkhill back in control of the district. Although he was not a registered voter in Champaign County prior to April 2022, Parkhill has the interest and the means to fund candidates who would continue to work in his interest of development. Having held the seat on the SVPWD board until 2021, even not as a registered voter, but a property owner in the Village of Mahomet, perhaps he could even run for a seat again. 

Most races in Mahomet, aside from the Mahomet-Seymour School board races recently, go uncontested. 

Recently, Parkhill entered into conversations with the Village about the property south of the mobile home park. Part of the land was rezoned and annexed for commercial development. FOIA documents show that he is also interested in expanding the mobile home park. 

It seems to be that there is a lot at stake for Parkhill when it comes to the makeup of the SVPWD board. He already has a lot invested in making sure that customers approve the measure to elect board members. Not only did Parkhill have his Candlewood employee circulate petitions, he also used his political action committee, “Committee to Keep Our Water Local,” to send out “Vote YES” flyers to voters in the area. 

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